It started in an orphanage in Russia. In 2010, two dancers from the Mariinsky Ballet, Russia’s infamous classical ballet company, visited a home for orphans in St. Petersburg. There, a young boy approached them and declared it was his dream to dance at the Mariinsky Theatre. Growing up in an orphanage, the boy did not have access to the training that would have qualified him for Vaganova Ballet Academy, arguably the world’s most prestigious dance school and, at that time, the sole pathway to the Mariinsky Ballet.
The two dancers, Ekaterina Schelkanova and Anton Boytsov, were touched by this meeting. The boy’s story inspired them to create Open World Dance Foundation, a project to connect dancers from around the world to the training, philosophy, and overall experience of classical Russian ballet.
Flash forward to almost a decade later and over six thousand miles away. After the Mariinsky, Schelkanova and Boytsov danced in well-known companies across the world before finding their way to Melbourne, Florida. There, they encountered a diverse community just waiting to be enriched by classical ballet.
It didn’t take long for Schelkanova and Boystov to realize that the local Space Coast Ballet Company’s nonprofit mission and community-centered approach made it the perfect match for a collaboration with Open World Dance Foundation. The two dancers recently took on the role of artistic directors at SCBC.
Space Coast Ballet Company Vice Chair Loretta Grella emphasizes that, unlike most dance companies, Space Coast Ballet Company is not a studio. That means that rather than growing a following of students, the company’s corps de ballet (all the dancers that don’t perform solos) is entirely comprised of volunteers. Instead of holding classes in a facility, SCBC rents out spaces for training. And, most important to Grella, Space Coast Ballet Company is not a business. “It’s really about the community,” explains Grella. “All the money doesn’t go to the owners, but back into the community.”
Many serious ballerinas dream of training at the esteemed Vaganova Ballet Academy in Russia but attaining a spot at the coveted school is about as likely as making it to the NBA, especially for non-Russians. Each year, the SCBC and Open World Dance Foundation collaboration helps to make the dream come true for eight chosen dancers.
First, Schelkanova and Boytsov audition a wide range of young (15-20 years old) ballerinas. In keeping with the Foundation’s original mission to provide the opportunity of ballet training to everyone regardless of their situation, these dancers come from all backgrounds and all corners of the United States. Some are found at summer ballet intensives, while others reach out themselves after learning of the reputations of both Space Coast Ballet and Open World Dance Foundation. They all share one thing in common: a devotion to dance. After a rigorous audition process, Schelkanova and Boytsov handpick only eight ballerinas to participate in a special exchange program.
Six months out of the year, the dancers live together in a house in Merritt Island. They train for 5 hours every day, completing school online when they’re not dancing. For the remainder of the year, their home is St. Petersburg, Russia and their school is Vaganova Ballet Academy. In addition to studying ballet at the institution where Russian ballet as we know it began, the girls learn Russian language and culture under the tutelage of Schelkanova.
By the end of the year, the dancers are prepared to join the world’s top companies. But first, they take on roles in a show closer to home: Space Coast Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker. After months of rehearsal, it’s hard to believe that these volunteer dancers are not members of a full-time dance company!
SCBC’s The Nutcracker brings together three icons of the Space Coast: the talented Space Coast Ballet, the elegant King Center and the breathtaking Brevard Symphony Orchestra, which will provide Tchaikovsky’s music live on the night of the show. For the SCBC Board of Directors, it seemed only right that world-class dancing should be accompanied by a fully professional live orchestra. The December 7th show is sure to be unforgettable.Giving Back with Ballet
Children in low-income families would not normally have the opportunity to go watch a ballet or take a dance class, but SCBC is committed to bringing ballet to everyone. Money from SCBC fundraisers goes towards buying tickets to The Nutcracker for students of Title I schools. In addition, SCBC teachers and board teach workshops at the schools, where they give students the foundations of ballet, from history to positions to basic moves.
What’s next? “Our goal is to give scholarships,” Grella says. Chosen students would be able to pick any ballet school in the area, and SCBC would pay their full tuition. Of course, Grella concedes, SCBC has to raise enough money first. They’re determined to do so, in honor of that little boy in Russia and so many others who dream to dance.