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Local Ballerinas Experience Worldly Instruction

Jim Levulis

Young ballet dancers from the region had a chance to learn from world-renowned performers in western Massachusetts this week.

Before starting their tour of Canada and the U.S., four instructors and a choreographer from Moscow Ballet North America stopped by the Berkshires to work with 15 young dancers. The entire Moscow Ballet will perform in 77 cities from November to December, but the instructors will work from now through October to train the local dance companies that will host each performance. Mary Elizabeth Mooney, 15, has been dancing since she was just three years old.

“Just being able to be in the same room as these professional dancers was really amazing,” Mooney said. “Watching the way they move their arms and turn their head, you can pick anything just from that to help improve your performance.”

This week, New York and Massachusetts dancers ranging in age from six to 16 years old have been coming to Berkshire Community College to learn the Great Russian Nutcracker ballet that the Moscow group will take on tour. After leaving Pittsfield, the four instructors will split up as two of them head for cities on the West Coast and two remain on the East Coast. They will hold auditions at each host dance company to determine which area dancers will make up the 60-some ballerinas who will join 40 professional dancers on stage during the holiday season. Anna Nekhludova is the ballet’s choreographer. She says the young dancers work hard for a spot on stage. She is speaking through instructor and interpreter Svetlana Todinova.

“They really, really want to be part of the show,” she said. “They take any part we give them and they’re really happy and they’re so excited. They’re smiling, screaming ‘Yes!’ 

After the auditions, each local dance company will rehearse for ten weeks until the Moscow Ballet group returns for that city’s performance. Mary Talmi is the co-producer of Moscow Ballet North America. This year marks her 21st tour.

“When the American children are exposed to this, they see a totally different way of teaching and approach to ballet that is a total commitment to ballet in a life,” Talmi said. “I think they really value the professionalism they see from the Russians, that total dedication and commitment.”

Talmi says that professionalism stems from ballet being a major form of entertainment in Russia compared to America.

“In America, many, many, many people have never seen a ballet, regardless of economic status," she said. "But in Russia, everyone sees it and everyone knows the names of the ballerinas, they’re like their movie stars.”

Sally Michael Keyes is the Public Relations Director for Moscow Ballet North America. She says the Berkshires are a cultural hotspot for dance, which is a reason why the Moscow Ballet’s office for touring is located in Pittsfield.

“We have the very famous Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, it’s been here for 70 some years,” she said. “So right there you’ve got a built in base of dance enthusiasts. From that, there are several dance schools and performance outlets. There are a lot of dance outlets in this area.”  

Moscow Ballet will be holding auditions at the Palace Theatre in Albany on September 6, for its show on December 5.

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