Creating art, step by step

Students at Columbia ballet school to perform with professionals tomorrow


Tomorrow night, the audience at Jim Rouse Theatre in Columbia will watch international ballet stars from the American Ballet Theatre perform selections from famous classical ballets.

But to see the hardest job in ballet, say instructors from Columbia's Ballet Royale Institute - which is sponsoring the event - look behind the soloists and watch the corps de ballet move in unison, matching everything from the tilt of their heads to the angle of their feet.

"It is difficult to dance in an ensemble," said Svetlana Cravtova, a Ballet Royale instructor who was a professional dancer in Russia before moving to the United States. "You try to dance absolutely together. The arms the same, the faces the same, the feet the same. Because of this, they are working so hard."

For months, the young dancers have been learning their roles, mastering two steps, then adding two more, Cravtova said.

At a rehearsal last week, 16 of the institute's most-experienced dancers, wearing full white tulle skirts and white flowers in their hair, turned, dipped and spun in formation while two institute soloists performed their parts from the ballet Giselle.

As the story of a supernatural world full of broken-hearted ghost brides played out, the corps held some poses for a minute or more, arms aloft, heads tilted, one leg bent.

At the end, Cravtova told them to be aware of how they position their backs.

"We can't show the audience with our backs how it is difficult," she said. "We know it is difficult. The audience wants to enjoy [the show]."

Those dancers, and some younger ones, will also perform in selections from Le Corsaire, Paquita, and Jota Arogoneza. The guest artists will also dance La Spectre de la Rose and parts of Swan Lake and Carmen.

In the last few weeks of rehearsal, the focus has been on the artistry, the acting and moving with the music, Cravtova said.

Those are things she knows the students will see first-hand when they share the stage with the professional dancers: American Ballet Theater principals Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Beloserkovsky and soloists Stella Abrera and Sascha Radetsky. Alexander Kozadayev, of the Salt Creek Ballet in Illinois, also will take part in the program.

The students "will understand what is real ballet," Cravtova said. "They can see a wonderful example. ... How to play a role, how to be a real artist."

The goal is "to expose our children to the best," said Vyacheslav Mesropov, Ballet Royale's artistic director.

He said that while he was learning to dance in Russia, children were included in professional productions.

"We always were exposed to professional dancers," he said. "That gives an impression for the rest of your life. You wanted to become a dancer like that."

The young women of Ballet Royale, many of whom practice up to six hours a day, six days a week, were excited about sharing the stage with their idols.

"It is such an honor," said Laura Gilbert, 15, of Ellicott City. "It is such a rare opportunity."

She said she is glad that the guest artists will attend one rehearsal before the show. Otherwise, she said, "We'd probably be gazing [at them] wide-eyed," she said.

Siobhan Lawless, 20, of Highland, said when the students share the stage with the professionals, "you know you want to step it up a notch."

Lilly Rudden of Elkridge said she is thrilled to see her daughter, Casey Merriman, dancing with grace and strength despite having scoliosis.

"They have just done wonders for her in such a short time," said Rudden, who is one of many parents pitching in with fundraising, tickets, costumes and other tasks to help make the concert successful.

She said she believes the dancers are building life skills.

"The commitment and dedication they have can apply to anything they do," she said. "They are trained to commit themselves, to give of themselves 200 percent."

The dancers say that applies to every role. "It is up to the corps de ballet to frame the stage," said Gilbert, who also has a solo part. "It draws so much attention if someone is a hair out of line."

"This is a very, very hard task to do a corps de ballet," Mesropov said, "to assist the leading dancers, to bring the feeling of the performance together."

He added: "Every day we are trying to explain and teach our children the importance of every part, teaching the children the ethics and aesthetics of ballet. I think they learn all of that."

Bravo! will begin at 7 p.m. tomorrow at the Jim Rouse Theatre, 5460 Trumpeter Road, Columbia. Tickets cost $45 and $55 and are available at the door. They also can be reserved by phone at 410-997-8443.

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