Career

Dancer Spotlight: Angelina Vorontsova

Vorontsova in Don Quixote (photo by Nikolai Krusser, courtesy Mikhailovsky Ballet)

It may be a dancer’s dream to hit the headlines, but Angelina Vorontsova would rather forget the moment she did. Soon after the acid attack on Bolshoi Ballet director Sergei Filin, in January 2013, the young dancer, then just 21, found herself caught up in the storm. As suspect Pavel Dmitrichenko’s then girlfriend and a protégée of Nikolai Tsiskaridze, who claimed Filin faked his injuries, she was suddenly a person of interest, with some speculating Dmitrichenko had been angered by her lack of advancement.

“It was a huge tragedy,” is all Vorontsova will say, wearily. The events overshadowed her promising career, but two years on, she is finally hitting her stride away from Moscow. A few months after the attack, she accepted an invitation to join St. Petersburg’s Mikhailovsky Ballet as one of its youngest principals; she has since taken over the company’s repertoire with a new sense of maturity.

Born in Voronezh, Russia, Vorontsova got her start in rhythmic gymnastics. Discouraged by the early retirement age of Russian Olympic gymnasts, she decided to try ballet instead. She caught up quickly and, at age 16, won a gold medal at the Arabesque Ballet Competition in Perm. Marina Leonova, dean of the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, heard about the dancer and suggested she finish her training with one year at BBA. Around the same time, Filin, then director of Moscow’s Stanislavsky Ballet, started showing an interest.

After graduation, however, she chose the Bolshoi, a move that was said to be a factor in her lack of opportunities when Filin took over two years later. “It wasn’t as serious of a decision as it was made out to be,” Vorontsova says. A major draw was Ekaterina Maximova, who had offered to be her coach at the Bolshoi, though she died just before the dancer joined. “The repertoire was also much bigger, with more opportunities.”

Vorontsova joined as a coryphée, and worked mostly on her own with her new coach, Tsiskaridze. She was soon given variations and her first leading roles, but struggled to find her place. “At school your teacher is like your brain,” she says. “In the theater you’re given back your brain and told to go and become an artist. It was difficult, because there are so many people at the Bolshoi.”

In the aftermath of the acid attack, Vorontsova threw all her energies into dance. By the end of the season, however, she felt compelled to leave: Tsiskaridze had been let go, and her future at the Bolshoi seemed bleak. “A lot of dancers also had mixed emotions about my presence,” she says.

A number of companies expressed interest, but the Mikhailovsky made her an offer she couldn’t refuse: The month she joined, in July 2013, she danced two principal roles in director Mikhail Messerer’s new Flames of Paris. When she burst on stage as revolutionary leader Jeanne, it was with a sense of vindication.

In the two seasons since, she has quietly made her debut in many leading roles, from Don Quixote to Swan Lake, and dipped successfully into the Mikhailovsky’s Nacho Duato repertoire. Last fall, she was first cast in every ballet on the company’s newest triple bill. Vorontsova has also found the coaching arrangements a good fit: Instead of having one coach for each soloist, teachers rehearse the roles they know best.

And the smaller Mikhailovsky may be just the right company to nurture her. With her feminine curves and smooth, creamy phrasing, Vorontsova doesn’t fit the tall, thin ballerina mold currently favored in Russia. Onstage, however, she is an effervescent powerhouse with a sense of old-fashioned, innocent charm, and is growing in confidence with every role. “I’m very happy here,” she says. “I’m focused on doing what I love, rehearsing and dancing. It’s what I was longing for.”

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Rigorous program, check. Well-rounded technical training, check. Purposeful liberal arts curriculum, check. Study your craft abroad, check! If you are looking for all the above, the Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College truly has it all.

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Early in Carrie Imler's 22-year career with Pacific Northwest Ballet, she was excited to be cast in Balanchine's The Four Temperaments. But immediately following dress rehearsal, she was removed from her role in "Melancholic." "My artistic director at the time pulled me aside and said, 'We can't put you out there,' " she remembers. "My weight fluctuated my entire career. Just when I felt like I had figured it out, I would gain it back and have to start all over again." Despite becoming one of PNB's most celebrated principal dancers, Imler never shook the fear of what might happen when a leotard ballet was in the repertoire.

Ballet prides itself on high standards, and the classical ballet physique is not the least of those expectations. Fear of the "fat talk" still lurks in studios, but, as Imler points out, weight is a challenge that many dancers face, while others may struggle with the arches of their feet or turnout. If you are confronted about your weight, know that many talented dancers have been there. Having "the talk" doesn't mean you can't become a professional, but if you take a mindful approach to the conversation, it will show your maturity and ultimately your ability to navigate a career.

Has Something Changed?

If your teacher or director has approached you about your weight, you're likely left feeling emotional, vulnerable and overwhelmed. Once you have a chance to think clearly, ask yourself what factors, like puberty, may be contributing to changes in your body. Nadine Kaslow, resident psychologist at Atlanta Ballet, says, "There is this huge focus on weight and body at a time when even non-dancers are struggling with body issues and everything else that is happening as an adolescent."

External factors often play a role as well. PNB's consulting nutritionist, Peggy Swistak, says that she often sees dancers struggle with weight early in the season as they adjust to living on their own and sharing a kitchen with a roommate. "One may have really bad eating habits and doesn't have to watch her weight at all, and the other is gaining weight. There is a conflict in managing their food together," she says. Ballet Memphis ballet master Brian McSween adds that financial stress can create barriers for eating nutritiously. "The one-dollar piece of pizza costs a lot less than eating organic," he says. "You have to make the best choices possible with what you have." Other changes, like a new schedule, layoffs or even emotional setbacks, will present the need to reevaluate your food habits and exercise routines throughout your career.

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Angela Sterling, Courtesy of Pacific Northwest Ballet

Clear your schedule now for Monday, January 29th, 2:45PM (EST)/ 11:45AM (PST). Pacific Northwest Ballet will be live-streaming rehearsal from Kent Stowell's Swan Lake, straight from their Seattle, WA-based studios. To psych us up for their on stage performances February 2nd - 11th, PNB is letting us in on their Act II rehearsal.

From the corps of swans to Odette and Prince Siegfried's pas de deux, and the infamous four swans, this rehearsal is not to be missed. You can sign up now for a live-stream reminder on their site. In the meantime, we'll be brushing up on our Cygnets with this PNB sneak peek.

Summer Study Advice
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Videos are a great alternative when auditioning in person isn't possible. Here are some general guidelines for making a good impression.

1. Follow directions. Before filming, research what each school you're interested in requires. "It demonstrates your ability to follow instructions, and schools pay attention to that," says Kate Lydon, artistic director of American Ballet Theatre's summer intensives and the ABT Studio Company. "If the guidelines haven't been followed, your video might not be watched the whole way through." You may need to make multiple versions to accommodate different schools.

2. Videos should be no longer than 10 minutes. "Keep it short, simple and direct," advises Philip Neal, dance department chair at The Patel Conservatory and artistic director of Next Generation Ballet. "You have to be sensitive to how much time the director has to sit down and look at it." Barre can be abbreviated, showing only one side per exercise, alternating. Directors will be looking at fundamentals—placement, turnout, leg lines, stability—but don't ignore musicality or movement quality. Make sure music choices match combinations and are correctly synced in the footage.

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Career
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I want to be a professional dancer, but my parents won't listen. They either don't think I can do it (contrary to what my teachers have said) or they won't let me take the necessary steps to become a professional. Please help. —Audrey

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Videos

They say that pigeons mate for life—perhaps that's why these birds naturally symbolize the young lovers in Sir Frederick Ashton's The Two Pigeons. In these two clips from a 1987 performance in Pisa, Alessandra Ferri and Robert LaFosse—then stars with American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet, respectively—dance a rapturous pas de deux at the end of Act II. With tiny pricks of her feet and bird-like flaps of her elbows in Part 1, Ferri marks her anguish, thinking she's been abandoned for another woman. Later, both she and LaFosse grow more and more entangled as they reconcile, Ferri dancing with the passionate abandon she's famous for. I love how in Part 2 (0:20), they can't seem to get enough of each other as their necks arch and intertwine. At the end of the ballet, two pigeons fly in to perch symbolically on the chair—er, there's supposed to be two. It looks like one missed its cue at this performance! No matter—Ferri and LaFosse's dancing make it clear that these young lovers are meant to be together for life. Happy #TBT!

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