Just for fun
Just casually développé-ing on a balance ball. As one does. (via @yana_nka8 Instagram)

Yana Cherepanova is a gifted 13-year-old student at St. Petersburg's elite Vaganova Ballet Academy. Which is cool enough in its own right.

But Yana is also the latest person to break the internet, thanks to the absolutely mind-boggling balance videos she's been posting to Instagram.

You guys: Just watch them.

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Ballet Stars
Aviva Gelfer-Mundl competing at the 2018 Prix de Lausanne. Photo by Gregory Bartadon, Courtesy Prix de Lausanne.

At the beginning of the month, 74 young dancers from around the world gathered in Lausanne, Switzerland to compete in the 46th Prix de Lausanne. At the end of a packed week, eight candidates were named prizewinners, including 16-year-old California-native Aviva Gelfer-Mundl. One of seven Americans to enter the competition, Gelfer-Mundl—who trains both at V&T Classical Ballet Academy in Laguna Hills, CA and privately with Alla Khaniashvilli and Nazgul Ryskulova Shinn—was the only one to leave as a prizewinner. Pointe caught up with this nascent star to hear about her former career as a rhythmic gymnast, her time at the Prix and her plans to study at the Vaganova Ballet Academy in Russia next year.

Before ballet, you were a rhythmic gymnast. Why did you make the switch to ballet?

I started rhythmic gymnastics when I was around six or seven and I competed for several years. I was actually state champion and winner of the Junior Olympics in level 5. However at age 10 I got a really bad hamstring injury, and that caused me to reconsider if I really wanted to continue the sport. I wanted something easier on the body, so I started ballet and immediately fell in love with it.

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Features
Photo by Andrew Fassbender, Courtesy Tulsa Ballet

Plucked from its second company to star as Olga in Tulsa Ballet's 2016 production of Onegin, Tomoka Kawazoe offered the kind of classic story-ballet sweetness that audiences love. Yet the 19-year-old Tokyo native is equally adept in contemporary works. She wowed audiences in Jennifer Archibald's OMENS, displaying a rapid-fire technical fierceness illuminated by her dazzling flexibility.

Photo by Andrew Fassbender, Courtesy Tulsa Ballet

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Ballet Training
Tzizkaridze teaching class. Photo by M. Logvinov, Courtesy Vaganova Academy.

Translated by Helena Terteryan

What does it take to train at Russia's prestigious Vaganova Ballet Academy? Established in 1738, the venerable institution began an international trainee program in the early 1990s, accepting up to 40 foreign students each year. Pointe caught up with former Bolshoi Ballet star Nikolai

Tsiskaridze, who took over as rector at the Vaganova Ballet Academy three years ago, to ask him what he looks for in potential international trainees—and what he thinks of American training.

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Ballet Training
Vaganova Academy rehearsal with rector Nikolai Tsiskaridze. Photo by M. Logvinov, Courtesy Vaganova Academy.

As told to Nicole Loeffler-Gladstone and Madeline Schrock


What was life like at the Vaganova Ballet Academy?

Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.

Gabrielle Perkins, ABT Studio Company member: I lived with about 30 other international students in the dorm, but all of our classes—except two hours of Russian language Monday through Thursday mornings—were with the Russian students. At first, it was stressful because I didn't really know what any of the other girls were saying—or even the teacher. But it was cool just to associate ourselves with them, and it helped us get more into the culture and language.

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News
Nikita Boris and Justin Valentine received invitations to attend the Vaganova Ballet Academy. Photo by VAM, Courtesy VKIBC.

It was a tale of two competitions here in New York City last week: While Youth America Grand Prix was taking over Greenwich Village and Brooklyn, the Valentina Kozlova International Ballet Competition was underway uptown. (Which meant a lot of running around for this editor in chief!) And while VKIBC was much smaller (134 competitors), the stakes were just as high, with ballet and contemporary dancers from 29 countries vying for medals, scholarships and company contracts.

Two training opportunities, in particular, stood out: an invitation to study at Russia's venerable Vaganova Ballet Academy and a traineeship with the State Ballet of Georgia, led by international superstar Nina Ananiashvili. (Both Ananiashivili and Vaganova rector Nikolai Tsiskaridze were among the judges.) And six standout dancers representing the U.S. won the honors. Tsiskaridze invited Nikita Boris and Justin Valentine, both students at the Valentina Kozlova Dance Conservatory of New York, to attend the Vaganova Academy for one year. Meanwhile, Daniela Maarraoui (City Ballet of Houston), Brecke Swan (VKDCNY), Dante Alabastro and Thomas Giugovaz (both from The Washington Ballet) received traineeships with the State Ballet of Georgia.

The Grand Prix was awarded to young Russian choreographer Ildar Tagirov. Maria Iliushkina of Russia and Dong Hyeon Kwak of South Korea received company contracts with the Ballet de l'Opera de Bordeaux in France. Maarraoui was also offered a company contract with South Carolina's Columbia Classical Ballet and Ballet Centro del Conocimiento in Argentina. Miho Morita (Japan) and Maria Clara Ambrosini (Ecuador) received trainee program contracts with Columbia Classical Ballet. Congratulations to all!

For a full list of scholarship recipients and Contemporary and Choreography Competition prize winners, click here. Below is a rundown of medalists in the Classical Competition.


Women's Senior Division Medalists

Gold: Maria Iliushkina (Russia)

Silver: Da Woon Lee (South Korea) and Hee Won Cho (South Korea)

Bronze: Anna Guerrero (Philippines) and Brecke Swan (USA)


Men's Senior Division Medalists

Gold: Seung Hyun Lee (South Korea)

Silver: Dong Hyeon Kwak (South Korea) and Gwan Woo Park (South Korea)

Bronze: Thomas Giugovaz (USA)


Women's Junior Division Medalists

Gold: Nikita Boris (USA)

Silver: Seon Mee Park (South Korea)

Bronze: Maria Clara Ambrosini (Ecuador)


Men's Junior Division Medalists

Gold: not awarded

Silver: Justin Valentine (USA) and Gilles Delellio (Belgium)

Bronze: Miguel David Aranda (Paraguay)


Women's Student Division Medalists

Gold: Caroline Grossman (USA)

Silver: Seon Hyang An (South Korea) and Ye Jin Joo (South Korea)

Bronze: Katya Saburova (Russia) and Yun Ju Lee (South Korea)


Men's Student Division Medalists

Gold: Eun Soo Lee (South Korea)

Silver: Keita Fujishima (Japan)

Bronze: not awarded


Best Interpretation of Classical Compulsory: Daniela Maarraoui (USA) and Seung Hyun Lee (South Korea)

Best Interpretation of Contemporary Compulsory: Anna Guerrero (Phillippines) and Dante Alabastro (USA)


It's only every so often that we get to peek behind the curtains of the world’s most acclaimed ballet companies. So when this video of the Mariinsky Theatre and Vaganova Ballet Academy came across our desks, we couldn't wait to watch it. The 25-minute documentary, titled Ballet, Sweat and Tears, features interviews and footage of young students at the academy as well as first soloist Oxana Skorik and prima Diana Vishneva at the Mariinsky, plus insight from Vishneva's coach. It goes in the studios, through the theater and to their apartments. Although we could do without the wacky British voice-overs that are used to translate the dancers' Russian, the film offers an fascinating look inside the daily grind of Russia’s ballerinas—both those who are just budding as well as those who have risen to the top.

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