Category: vaganova ballet academy

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As requested, here is a quick translation of Eleonora Sevenard’s most recent interview. Tumblr refuses to embed the video link :/ I’ve covered the main points, rather than the entire interview,

Sevenard is a French name, but the family’s connection to France is a tenuous one. When researching their family tree, all the ancestors the Sevenards could find had been Russian living in Russia.

Because “Eleonora Sevenard” is such a beautiful-sounding name – a perfect stage name, really – Eleonora was always told that it was perfect for a creative career. As Vernik put it, it’s hard to imagine an accountant with such a name. Just doesn’t fit*.

Despite her relation to Kshesinskaya, Elya doesn’t come from a “ballet family”. Neither her parents not her grandparents are from the ballet world. Kshesinskaya was more of a family legend, and the Sevenards inherited her costumes. These costumes have since been donated to the Vaganova Ballet Academy’s museum, as they require special care and storage. 

Kshesinskaya’s costumes are very different from today’s costumes. The waist is extremely tiny. When Elya tried the Don Q costume on as a seven-year old child, though it was too big for her, the waist fit perfectly. The costume was also terribly heavy, with a tight corset reinforced with baleen, which restricted movement. Elya couldn’t imagine dancing in such a costume.

Elya started doing ballet at the age of three because of her mom, who is an avid theatre-lover (and who also took ballet lessons as a child). As a child, Elya also did gymnastics, swimming and attended art classes, but she preferred ballet to everything else. She genuinely enjoyed dancing, and when the time came to pursue professional training, Elya, aged ten, agreed to audition for VBA.

Matilda Kshesinskaya is the first Russian ballerina to successfully pull off the 32 fouettes. Elya was worried about not being able to perform the turns and embarrassing herself as a result, so she started practicing early (before fouettes were part of her curriculum at the Academy) by watching videos and trying to replicate the turns herself.

Elya wasn’t always a star pupil. She received a pretty low mark – conditional 3 – during her first exam at the Academy, and was so upset that she didn’t even want to tell her mom about it. She received her first 5 in her 5th year – the only student to achieve such a high mark. Even top students in her class received lower marks. Elya wasn’t happy about this though. She had very mixed feelings. Though everyone was friendly in her class, Elya didn’t feel comfortable standing out. She couldn’t share her joy with anyone and she felt that she couldn’t comfort her fellow student either for fear that they would get angry with her.

Elya’s brother – Peter Sevenard – is an actor. Back when they lived together in St Petersburg, Elya would see him prepare for roles and memorise text, and she saw how very different theatre was from ballet. She doesn’t understand how one can learn a large volume of text and perform it naturally, as if these were your own words and feelings.

Elya doesn’t have a single dream role; she wants to try many different roles. For now, she wishes to continue dancing classical ballet, rather than contemporary / modern, because she feels that classical ballet is the most difficult form of dance, and one that Russia is most famous for. Though modern dance, with its complex shapes and movements, may appear harder – classical form is very uncompromising and strict. There is more freedom of interpretation in modern dance; and it’s hard to compare dancers and performance to each other, especially if it’s a new ballet. Whereas classical performances are always compared to the past ones.

*SIDE-NOTE: A similar thing was said about Diana Vishneva. Before she was famous, some people thought it was a stage name and went to see her performances because of how beautiful her name sounded. I don’t know about English, but in Russian Elya’s and Diana’s names sound incredible.

**VBA has a grade scale of 5 (A) to 2 (F), but there are more “layers” to the grades. For the first couple of years, a students at VBA can’t get a grade above 3 (Diana Vishneva is the only exception to this rule and she’s unique). The grades go: 2, 3-, conditional 3, 3+ (3+ being the highest grade you can get). 2 results in an immediate expulsion.

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Igor Kolb is doing a livestream with Professor Kovaleva on his Instagram today. 18:30 Moscow time. They’ll be talking VBA, exams, COVID situation, etc. Basically, all the burning questions I get on here. I’ll be asleep at the time of the stream (I’m in AUS and I have work tomorrow) and I have no idea if Kolb will record the stream and make it available. If someone records the stream and sends it to me, I will translate it for you!

I did always get the impression that the VBA only admitted Morgulets because she was featured in that documentary… they seemed very concerned about her height at the time and that did turn out to be one of the primary issues. But admitting her was good publicity. If so, it was cruel to play with her that way.

Though it’s possible, I personally don’t think that was the case. I doubt that VBA care much about good publicity, as far as documentaries are concerned. I mean, every documentary or program about VBA featuring Tsiskaridze is a potential PR disaster, given that he doesn’t mince words and doesn’t care that the cameras are there, so…

Morgulets wasn’t accepted straight away. There were a lot of concerns about her height, as you pointed out, and VBA were upfront about her prospects. But they still gave her a chance. Admittance into the Academy doesn’t guarantee success, and a large percentage of students gets culled around Olya’s age / year level. Olya’s situation is hardly unique, we’re just more aware of it because of the documentary.

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I continue to be perplexed by Morgulets’s dismissal from VBA. Her performance videos are quite good and her port de bras is lovely. She’s certainly at *least* as good as ½ the girls her age still at VBA. Plus, she has real charisma and will make a wonderful soubrette or ingénue ballerina. I hope she can Bulanova it. By contrast (I don’t mean to be ugly) I can see why Cherepanova was dismissed. While she is great at stationary exercises/displaying nice lines, she seems unable to actually dance.

Only VBA exam committee could say why she was dismissed, and they obviously never share this information… I know it seems unfair. To us, all these girls are so hardworking and perfect that it’s hard to believe they could get expelled – but that’s VBA for you; they have ridiculously high standards. From what I’ve heard, Olya may have failed a classical dance exam (a surefire way to get dismissed), but whatever the reason, I’m glad to see that she’s still training elsewhere, and I hope she will have a professional ballet career.

I’m sure you’ve been asked this a million times now but, are state exams and graduation concerts all canceled due to the virus? And do you know if Russian theaters have put a moratorium on offering contracts to new dancers? I wonder if they might assure any of the top grads that they will have a place once things reopen. This must be an incredibly difficult time for the class of 2020 – not only the uncertainty, but also being deprived of their final weeks in the Academy, which many hold sacred

I don’t think anyone knows what’s going to happen yet. I’m not sure how accurate this is, but I think there will be no exams at VBA this year (with the exception of the graduating class), and everyone will just get transferred a year up. I hope this is true, because it’s the only fair way to deal with the current situation. I don’t know what’s going to happen to class of 2020. One theory (I can’t stress enough that this is a theory only) is that they will have have their exams in August – August is usually when students who fail the May exams get a second chance – or later in the year.  I don’t know what the situation with theatres is either. They are currently fighting for survival, and I don’t know if they’re in the position to offer new contracts,

I don’t understand what happened to Ksenia Sevenard. She was one of the best of her year, why no theatre took her ? I wonder if she decided to move on from ballet since graduating ?

I believe she was seriously injured in her final year. Which is a shame. I’m sure she would’ve been snapped up by a company straight after graduating. Unfortunately, this happens often. Someone once wrote to me that Ksenia is teaching classical ballet at the studio in St Petersburg these days.

Do you know if Sofya Khoreva is the “star” of her class at vba? Or do you know something at all about her class? When her sister was at school, there was a lot of material to follow her, but now I find less stuff on YouTube.

I think she’s doing well, but I don’t know what her “status” is. If she’s anything like her big sister, we’ll hear more about her soon enough.

Do you know what selections of the repertoire were being looked at/worked on for the Vaganova Graduation performances in June? Of recent past years performances, I’ve always enjoyed Paquita. And Suite en Blanc was divine.

Unfortunately, no. I’m sure the information is out there, but I never came across it. I’m pretty sure Suite en Blanc was a one-off thing though.

Thank you @austerlitzborodinoleipzig: From what I gathered from VBA students IG posts, the graduation performance was supposed to include The Dance of the Hours from La Gioconda, Laurencia and Classical Symphony. Interestingly enough no new ballets were envisioned this year.

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Part I can be found here.



Fifteen-year-old Katya is devastated. This week is the big international conference, in which dance professionals from around the world visit the renowned Vaganova Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia. They will be allowed to get a glimpse of the young students during several of their daily ballet lessons. The demonstration for her class was about to start, when Katya was ordered by the teacher to leave the room. Why did she have to get injured the day before the conference? This was her chance to be seen by an international crowd, and she has worked so hard to reach this point. Her shoulder hurts, but she doesn’t care. She is used to this pain. If it didn’t hurt how would she get better?

In times of reality TV and instant stardom, in a country that is constantly evolving towards western culture, there exists an institution in which the old ways are still practiced. From the age of ten until eighteen; twelve hours a day; six days a week; on the barre or in a classroom—for the students of this school there are no shortcuts.

This project is a look into the lives of a group of adolescents who, in their hope for a better, wider life, spend the majority of their youth in fierce competition. Based on my own memories of being a ballet student for nine years of my childhood, never being the best in class, these images emphasize the emotional side of these children’s uncompromising reality. They stretch their bodies further every day, desperate to stand out, while constantly being encouraged by their instructors to be uniform—identical to one another. Engaged in endless repetition of physical phrases, these students obsessively strive for a level of perfection that is always out of reach.


An Easter message from Nikolai Tsiskaridze: 

“Dear friends, these are challenging times. Obviously, we can’t leave the house or go to church right now. I wish you a happy Easter. Well, it looks like we will have to spend this holiday indoors. Everyone has a space where they can pray. In any case, you can pray to God anywhere you want, and He will hear you. These are difficult times, but we will overcome them with genuine faith. Happy Easter. Christ has risen!”

This is my second ask today, sorry. I’ve been using ballet as a therapy to keep same during this quarantine times. I’m curious about character and acting roles. Dancers as Ponomarev and Bazhenova (they’re brillant) . Is this a path that is decided for early on in their careers or something like they spot their talent for acting in later years? Are these dancers usually not as good in classical roles? Or just better actors than the others? Thanks!

Bazhenova and Ponomarev are character dancers. This type of dancer is identified fairly early on (at Vaganova, at least), and the students are trained accordingly. There are sometimes entire classes of character dance-focused students. It doesn’t mean that these dancers can’t perform classical roles; it simply means that their real strength is in character dance. Olga Makarova was a great example of a gifted character dancer:

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