The American at the Mikhailovsky

November 9, 2014

He’s not David Hallberg, but he’s tall and thin, has beautiful feet and magnificent ballon, and is now in a Russian ballet company.

Meet Mario Vitale Labrador, the 24-year-old from the Bay Area who graduated from the Bolshoi Academy in Moscow and then joined the Mikhailovsky Ballet. Last April he won some of the top prizes at the Ekaterina Maximova Arabesque competition in Perm, Russia, which is where I met him. I saw a unique combination of lightness, softness and resilience. He’s now on tour with the company at the Koch Theater inNYC, Nov 11–23  and at the Segerstrom Hall in Costa Mesa, CA, Nov 28–30.


At right: Mario Vitale Labrador in Perm, photo by Anton Zavjyalov


Born in Alameda, California, he trained with Ronn Guidi at Oakland Ballet, then joined Diablo Ballet before catching the bug to train in Russia. He was accepted to the Bolshoi Ballet Academy around the same time as fellow American Joy Womack. Mario admitted in this Reuters interview  that it’s “very nerve-wracking when you first come to the Bolshoi because it has such a history.” But in his final year, he and Womack were chosen to dance the leads in La Fille mal gardee. After graduating in 2012 he joined the Mikhailovsky, where he is now a coryphé, one step above corps. (Joy is now at the Kremlin Ballet.)



Above: Mario Labrador and Joy Womack, photo by Wendy Perron.

St. Petersburg’s second company, the Mikhailovsky Ballet is reasserting itself as a classical company. With Mikhail Messerer (cousin of Maya Plisetskaya) as ballet master in chief, it is bringing Giselle and Messerer’s stagings of Don Quixote and The Flames of Paris.

Mario told me that one of the reasons he likes the company is that Leonid Sarafanov, a top Mikhailovsky star, has been helpful to him in his roles.

This is an interesting time for the company because it’s just emerging from a three-year period with Nacho Duato as artistic director. When I saw an all-Duato program in St. Petersburg two years ago, I was impressed with how the dancers really dug in to his earthy, almost primitive style. But Duato has left St. Petersburg to take the helm of Staatsballett Berlin. As he admitted to me in this interview, he felt he could give thedancers his older work but not his most current, complex work.



Nacho Duato’s
Prelude, courtesy Mikhailovsky.


Mikhail Messerer, who was at that time overseeing the classical ballets in the rep, now seems to be the overall director of the ballet. I am sure that their Giselle, staged by the great Nikita Dolgushin, will be in good shape. (See Makarova’s memory of dancing Giselle with Dolgushin here.) As Messerer said in the current Dance Magazine, “We really have three prongs: classical 19th-century repertoire, Duato ballets and the Soviet ballets.” And he stressed that Duato will continue as resident choreographer even though he will be busy in Berlin.

The tour is also an opportunity to see the superstars Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev together again in Don Q. No doubt they will stir up a storm of thrilling pyrotechnics. But keep your eye out for the quieter, softer quality of Mario Vitale Labrador. Oh, and need I remind you that his middle name, Vitale, was the name Michel Fokine chose for his son.