The Bolshoi Ballet Academy: In pursuit of a dream

The stressful life of a ballet dancer starts with getting into ballet school. Children have to go through rigorous entrance examinations, where their health, build, flexibility, coordination and posture are checked, alongside their musicality and the ability to twist their feet.

The stressful life of a ballet dancer starts with getting into ballet school. Children have to go through rigorous entrance examinations, where their health, build, flexibility, coordination and posture are checked, alongside their musicality and the ability to twist their feet.

YURI KOCHETKOV / EPA
The Bolshoi Theater marks its 240th anniversary on March 28, 2016. RBTH presents select photos from rehearsals at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow, Russia.
In other countries, Russian classical ballet is often associated with the leading Russian theaters, the Bolshoi and the Mariinsky, where the dancers are mostly graduates of the Moscow State Academy of Choreography (commonly known as The Bolshoi Ballet Academy) and the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet.
Harper Ortlieb (third left) left her small town in Oregon to move to Moscow to follow her dream of becoming a prima ballerina.
There used to be dozens and even hundreds of applicants for a single place in ballet schools, especially in the Moscow and St. Petersburg ballet academies.
The Bolshoi Ballet Academy has 84 foreigners among its 721 students. A total of 17 Americans study at the Bolshoi academy, outnumbered among the foreign students only by the 28 from Japan, with the rest coming from 22 other countries.
In addition, those who come from other cities find it hard to adapt to their new lives without their parents.
The harsh curriculum (which consists of a full school load, plus daily ballet practice, as well as special subjects such as the history of ballet and piano lessons) leaves no time for the kids to be kids.
Screening committees used to travel around the Soviet Union in search of gifted children, whom they duly found in all corners of the country — even in the most far-off villages.
Despite the fact that most ballerinas stop performing by their late 30s and dancers have less than a five percent chance of becoming a soloist, parents still enroll their children in ballet schools hoping that their child will be the one to shine on the stage of the Bolshoi or the Mariinsky.
Yet, for some of the really lucky ones, the ugly duckling will one day turn into a magnificent swan — the symbol of Russian ballet.
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