"My Daddy's a Pirate": Growing Up at ABT

Published in the Dec 2009/Jan 2010 issue.

Parenting plays the biggest role in some dancers’ offstage lives. American Ballet Theatre, with its roster of some 90 dancers, has a herd of precocious offspring roaming the wings and dressing rooms and tagging along on tours.

Principals Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Beloserkovsky’s 4-year-old  Emma Galima, for example, is becoming a legend. “She studies painting, tap and gymnastics along with ballet, and is always baking us cupcakes,” says Dvorovenko.

Emma also displays an assoluta’s temperament. During ABT’s last season, when Dvorovenko was dancing Medora in Le Corsaire, Emma decided the garlands stacked offstage for the Act III “Jardin Animée” were bouquets for the ballerinas. She helped herself to one and delivered “Mommy’s flowers” to Dvorovenko’s dressing room. Absorbed in preparation for the third act, Dvorovenko did not spot the stolen goods until the backstage P.A. system crackled to life with a desperate all-points bulletin about the missing prop.

Although she has yet to dance for ABT, Emma was one of the children in Dances Patrelle’s Nutcracker last year. “We knew she only had to enter and run toward her father,” says Beloserkovsky, “but Irina and I were so nervous we were sweating bullets.” They needn’t have worried. Emma dashed on, opened her mouth and eyes wide and brought both hands up to her cheeks in astonishment at the sight of—Her Father! “It was like something out of a silent movie,” Beloser­kovsky says.

Experiencing ballets from backstage can overwhelm children. Soloist Gennadi Saveliev reports that his 6-year-old son Alexander was so absorbed by Le Corsaire, with its crew of buccaneers at sea in a storm-tossed ship, that when a schoolteacher asked what his father did for a living, he said, “He’s a pirate.” Not to be outdone, a classmate said his father was a pirate, too. “No he isn’t!” snapped Alexander. “Your father’s not Marcelo!” (That’s ABT principal Marcelo Gomes, of course.) 

Touring is a constant joy for William Barbee, the 5-year-old son of principal Julie Kent and Associate Artistic Director Victor Barbee. Since age 3, he has been conducting an informal survey of The World’s Great Hotel Lobbies. When one lobby looked as ornate as an opera set, says Barbee, William pronounced ” ‘This is a place that makes you want to go—’ and he hit a high C.”