I grew up in the United States, I was born in San Francisco but I attribute my success at becoming a professional dancer to my training at The Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, DC. From the moment I entered the school at the age of 11 I had 1 teacher. Anatoli Kucheruk was my teacher for 6 years, 6 days a week, 6 hours a day. In fact the only time I had a different ballet teacher was on the rare occasion that Mr. Kucheruk was sick.
So imagine my surprise when I arrived in Australia, where teaching dance is based on one of three different syllabi that are heavily weighted by examinations and certificates of completion. Ballet is an art form, not something that can be objectively judged based on the completion of compulsory steps to be graded on ambiguous terms.
We had what we called exams at Kirov, but they were more like a performance. Mr. Kucheruk would choreograph a class that we would perform for the entire school, the director, the other teachers, and all of the student body. It was an exciting time for us to demonstrate our improvement that year, but it didn't mean we would move up to a higher, arbitrary level. Our "level" grew as we did and we learned the steps we needed to learn to become dancers, not to tick a box.
When I started auditioning for companies at the age of 16 I was offered a position with The Royal Danish, American Ballet Theatre, and Boston Ballet. I chose at that time to go back to Kirov for a year, not to complete more exams, but because I wanted to spend more time growing as an artist in an environment protected by the teacher I trusted and had guided me so well for the previous 5 years.
When I received my contract with the Vienna State Opera at 17, no one asked me for my exam grades or what syllabus I studied. They probably saw that I was trained by a former star of The Bolshoi Ballet and that I had good facility and technical ability.
The Ballet profession is one that is still widely shrouded in mystery and so it makes sense that when a family is told that examinations will prepare their child for the dance world that they accept that as truth. The truth is that less that 1% of the dancers that study ballet make it as professional dancers.
When I auditioned for the Kirov summer program in 1999, there were 3500 children who auditioned that year from around the world. 150 children were accepted to the summer program and I was one of less than 10 students accepted to the year round program. By the time I graduated in 2004 less than half of my graduating class of 18 became professional dancers. At the time I retired in 2017 I was one of only 25 principal dancers in all of Australia.
Ballet is an elite art form that requires years of dedication, practice and passion. An exam syllabus can not prepare a child for becoming a dancer because only a dancer can do that. Ballet is passed down from generation to generation and with each generation it is developed, perfected and improved upon.
In a time where so much of our lives are becoming standardised I can only hope, for the sake of the art form that I love, that former dancers continue to pass on the wisdom and experience from their own careers to the next generation...not to help them get a highly commended mark, but to preserve the beauty, ingenuity and creativity of ballet for the next generation of passionate dancers.
George Balanchine once said ""Ballet is important and significant—yes. But first of all, it is a pleasure." For the sake of ballet please stop examining and start creating the artists if the future for the artists of tomorrow are made from the experience of the artists of today.