Steeped in History

May 28, 2012

We have our venerable schools in this country, but nothing compares to the Vaganova Academy, which is planning to celebrate its 275th anniversary next year. I visited the school while I was in St. Petersburg last week (along with Lar Lubovitch and his dancers Kate Skarpetowska and Brian McGinnis). The halls and studios were bustling with activity, preparing for its exams and year-end performances. We watched a girls’ class of international students, with much of the barre done on relevé, and à la seconde turns for the girls.

But things have changed. No more the splintery wood floors that people watered with a sprinkling can every few minutes. Now there are grey Marley floors in all their 30 studios. And artistic changes: We saw two dancers run through a duet from Nacho Duato’s Madrigals, and the students really got the flicking, curving moves of this piece.

But history prevails, as do the artistic expectations. As I wrote in my feature story last January, the hallways are lined with framed photos of early graduating classes—and now I got to see it for myself. I even snapped a photo of Balanchine’s class (below, he’s the second from the right).

The Vaganova museum is a trip in itself. With sections devoted to Pavlova, Ulanova, Nijinsky, Makarova, Baryshnikov, Kolpakova, and Asylmuratova (who now heads the school), it’s a ballet lover’s dream. I hope you get to go sometime.


The Vaganova Academy graduating class of 1921 (Balanchine is second from right)