Ballet Stars
Photo Courtesy Cloud & Victory.

Dancewear brand Cloud & Victory is so much more than just clever t-shirts; founder Min is set on finding all kinds of ways to connect to the greater community. Earlier this fall she organized a master class led by American Ballet Theatre stars Gillian Murphy and Isabella Boylston, and now she's organizing a fundraiser to fight against child slavery called Pointes Against Child Slavery.

Signed pointe shoes donated by ballet dancers from some of the world's best companies will be sold online from November 8-19. The proceeds will be donated to two non-governmental organizations committed to fighting against child slavery, sexual abuse and exploitation for the empowerment and welfare of underprivileged children. The first is Destiny Rescue, a U.S.-based organization that since 2011 has rescued 2,000 children enslaved in Thailand, Cambodia, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines and India. The second organization is The Promiseland Project in Nepal. The Singapore-based Promiseland Project is working to build a school and orphanage in Dhamphus, Nepal to "shelter, raise and nurture the poor, needy and orphaned children of Nepal and equip them with an education and skill sets to make a better life for themselves." The earthquakes that devastated Nepal two years ago have set the project back, and they're looking for funds to finish construction.

Pointe shoes worn by Marianela Núñez during the Royal Ballet's Fall/Winter season. Photo via Cloud & Victory.

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Ballet Stars
Zhou with Arman Grigoryan in Nacho Duato's Herrumbe, Photo by Fernando Marcos, Courtesy Staatsballett Berlin

Patricia Zhou's haunting interpretation of Nacho Duato's Herrumbre is profound—her liquid movement and supernatural musicality reveal a maturity well beyond her 23 years. "It's emotionally draining to give so much onstage," she admits, "but every time I perform Herrumbre, I experience something new." Delicate yet daring, Zhou's dancing reshapes the classical mold at Staatsballett Berlin.

Zhou with Dominc Hodal and Alexander Akulov in Duato's Herrumbre Photo by Fernando Marcos, Courtesy Staatsballett Berlin

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Patricia Zhou’s dancing exemplifies the benefits of Vaganova training: A 16-year-old junior at the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, DC, Zhou has a gracious épaulement, expressive limbs and precise execution, along with softness, breath and pliancy.

“Patricia has the body that can speak,” says KAB artistic director Marat Daukayev. “She has a natural feeling for movement. It’s a special gift. Some dancers develop it—she was born with it.”

The Kirov Academy says it is the only facility outside of Russia that replicates the training of the famed Vaganova Ballet Academy. It combines intensive ballet studies with academics, dormitory living, and art and dance appreciation. Founded in1990 as the Universal Ballet Academy with funding from Reverend Sun Myung Moon of the Unification Church, it has undergone several name changes. Throughout, the Vaganova syllabus has remained constant, turning out such high profile alumni as Sasha Radetsky, Rasta Thomas and Michele Wiles.

Zhou auditioned for the summer program at 13—and received a scholarship for the year-round program. Her first summer, however, she felt overwhelmed. Her previous training in Canton, Michigan, had been a mixed bag: ballet, acrobatics, jazz, lyrical, Chinese dance. “I didn’t know these combinations and steps,” Zhou remembers. “My background in ballet wasn’t very strong.” However, her teacher, Mme. Jacqueline Achmedova, saw desire and worked with Zhou individually after two-and-a-half or three-hour-long classes. “Patricia is hungry for work, she has a good body and everything blends. That’s why this girl will come out on top,” predicts teacher Mme. Marianna Lobanova.

Zhou wakes up at 7:00 am to join her classmates downstairs for breakfast in the dorm. She has academic classes starting at 8:10. Ballet training begins at 2:30 pm with one and a half hours of technique, followed by two and a half hours or more of repertoire and rehearsals. On Saturdays, she takes a 9:00 am ballet class followed by a folkloric class.

Zhou believes she dances better when on pointe because it gives her an added sense of performing: “I put on my pointe shoes, and I can express more of myself.” With two years left before graduation, she dreams of being in a com­pany with both classical and contemporary repertoire, such as The Royal Ballet.

Still surprised with her success, Zhou says she has more work ahead of her but believes she’s in the right environment to challenge herself: “I feel like I’ve just started learning.”


At A Glance: Kirov Academy of Ballet

Founder: Oleg Vinogradov, former director, Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet
Founded: 1990
Artistic director: Marat Daukayev, former star, Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet
Technique: Vaganova 
Classes offered: classical Vaganova technique, repertoire studies, partnering, character dance, classic dance, contemporary ballet, historical court dance, adagio studies, music, ballet history, body conditioning, plus a fully accredited middle school and high school
Number of students: 75
Alumni: American Ballet Theatre, Boston Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet, Orlando Ballet, Dutch National Ballet and many more.
Focus: A traditional ballet syllabus taught by Russian-trained master teachers in the tradition of the original Vaganova Ballet Academy. Dancers live, study and relax in the Kirov Academy’s building, a mansion in northeast Washington, DC. And while the lounge contains computers, a large-screen TV and video games, the students still curtsy or bow to show respect when a teacher passes them in the hallway or enters a room.




Click here to watch video footage from the 2011 Tremplin Jeunes Ballets. Look for more on the event in an upcoming issue of Pointe.

The dreaded audition tour: It's a time-consuming, expensive, nerve-wracking part of a young dancer's career. And yet, until a few years ago, it was pretty much the only way to get a job, particularly if you had your sights set on a company on the other side of the country--or the world.

Enter Tremplin Jeunes Ballets ("youth ballet springboard"), an international and, as of this year, annual event that streamlines the cumbersome audition process. Last week, 50 dancers from schools and youth ballets all over the world gathered in beautiful Monaco to audition for 35--count 'em--35 company directors, a truly mind-boggling meeting of the minds. The goal? To broker as many dancer-company marriages as possible. Last year, 30 dancers signed contracts by the end of the week-long event; this year, to date, 31 contracts have been offered.

And forget about scraping together enough money for the plane fare: All participating dancers' expenses are covered each year by the Princess Grace Foundation. Jean-Christophe Maillot, artistic director of the Monaco Dance Forum (which hosts the event), told me that he has not-so-fond memories of begging his grandmother for money to buy train tickets for his own audition tour. "Sometimes--most of the time--talent isn't accompanied by money," he said. "I thought, 'Let's fix that problem.'"

The directors who attended this year, invited by Maillot, were a carefully curated group. Though most were from European troupes--Het National Ballet, Finnish National Ballet, and Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève among them--companies from Russia (Eifman Ballet), Australia (Australian National Ballet) and Canada (National Ballet of Canada, BJM Danse) were also represented. Big classical groups, small contemporary groups, groups from all corners of the globe--everyone, it seemed, came out to play.

You might think that would translate to a lot of pressure on the young auditionees. But the atmosphere last week inside Monaco's sleek new Grimaldi Forum, where the audition was held, was relaxed, even convivial. TJB is structured so as to encourage friendly interaction between the participating students, who room together and spend a few days preparing audition material together before the directors even arrive. The multi-part audition itself allows dancers to show off their personalities as well as their technical prowess.

In other words: Tremplin Jeunes Ballets offers the opportunities of a big ballet competition--minus the competition part.

TJB has been around since 2000 (it was held biannually until last year), but so few American dancers know about it, and that's a darn shame. In Monaco, I spoke with the Kirov Academy's Patricia Zhou, and she said she'd never even heard of TJB until about a month ago. She arrived not knowing what to expect--and walked away with a bunch of new friends and a contract offer. What better way to spend a week in February?

About a dozen schools and youth ballets, which send anywhere from one to ten dancers apiece, participate in each TJB. Though up to this point Maillot has invited most of these organizations himself, he says he's not adverse to lobbying. "If anybody writes me to say, 'What about us? What about my school?'--I'm totally open," he said. "I want to mix things up every year." American ballet students: Start writing.


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