Darla Hoover recently went to St. Petersburg, Russia to stage George Balanchine's "Raymonda Variations" for the Vaganova Academy. BAE level 9 student, Sara Jane Clem interviewed Darla Hoover about her amazing experience.
Sara Jane Clem: What were your initial thoughts when you heard about your opportunity of traveling to Russia to stage Balanchine’s Raymonda Variations on the Vaganova School?
Darla Hoover: Well my initial thought was how excited I was, but I think automatically it filled me with some anxiety. It was an honor, but it felt like a gigantic responsibility. It was almost as if I didn’t feel worthy of it. However, Raymonda Variations was a great choice for them, and also for me because I’m so familiar with that ballet.
SJC: Whose idea was it for the Vaganova Academy to do a Balanchine piece?
DH: A woman by the name of KatyaChtchelkanova, founder and director of an organization called the Open World Dance Foundation. She was born and raised at the Vaganova Academy, joined the Kirov Ballet (now known as the Mariinsky), and left to eventually join the American Ballet Theatre. Katya had the idea, and was the one who went to Ellen Sorrin, the head of the Balanchine Trust, to ask permission for the school to perform a Balanchine ballet. Katya is truly a small woman with a very big heart. She felt it was so important for the Vaganova Academy to have this experience and to finally bring Balanchine home.
SJC: Having studied in Moscow for a year, I know when I arrived I was in complete culture shock. Upon your arrival, did you feel this way at all?
DH: No, I really thought it was going to be much more difficult. I think somehow I over prepared myself in every way, so when I finally got there I was pleasantly surprised about how easy it was to get around and function normally.
SJC: Where did you stay?
DH: My first three weeks I stayed at an apartment that the Vaganova Academy has for guest artists. The school itself is enormous. The dormitories, 20 studios, museum, small theatre, and everything you could imagine are all within this one building, so I was staying there. It was nice, very spacious with a big kitchen (bigger than my own *laughs*) and living area. It was cute because my window overlooked the inner courtyard where I could see the students during the day walking around between classes and playing on Sunday afternoons. During my fourth week, I stayed at the Four Seasons Hotel in St. Petersburg.
SJC: Was there a language barrier?
DH: No, I had an interpreter with me at all times, and if they could, people spoke English to me. A few times I’d go into a store and they didn’t speak English, but other than that I got around easily.
SJC: What did you think when you first saw the students of the Vaganova Academy dance?
DH: I couldn’t believe that I was sitting there and seeing one phenomenal body and facility after the next. I mean their adagio was incredible, and every single leg was up to their ears.
SJC: How did the style of ballet they study differ from the way you teach your students at BAE?
DH: They really work on the extension. Their exercises are so strength oriented, and much more complicated. Not mathematically complicated like the frappé combinations I give; it’s almost like they’re doing a whole variation at the barre. Their heads and arms are so precise. There is no individuality whatsoever, consequently they’re always together and look great. I didn’t notice the kind of speed and inner leg work that we do. I also found their pointe work to be different than ours. There wasn’t an emphasis of rolling through the shoe.
SJC: In your time at New York City Ballet, you worked with George Balanchine himself. Being that he trained at the Vaganova Academy, can you see a relation between what he wanted and how they dance?
DH: Absolutely. It really solved the mystery for me of where it all came from. As I was watching their class a lot of what I saw them doing I thought was ‘Balanchine’. But then I realized it’s because Balanchine got it from Vaganova. With that being said, I could also see the things that he wanted to take and move beyond.
SJC: Were the students easy to work with?
DH: They were VERY easy to work with because they were so excited about this project, so excited to dance Balanchine, and they really wanted to get it right. They knew that they didn’t have the same style and they were just hungry to learn it.
SJC: Did you get time off? If so, what did you do and how did you feel about the city of St. Petersburg?
DH: St. Petersburg is a beautiful city, and carries so much history. It really makes you feel American. We go back a little over 200 years, and I’d be looking at the architecture of these buildings that go back centuries. As for my time off, during the day when I would get done with my first afternoon rehearsals, New York had just woken up. That’s when emails and questions from BAE would come in. Then of course after the second evening rehearsal that’s when BAE was really in the full swing of things, so I still had to stay on top of it all. I didn’t do a lot of the tourist sight-seeing until Jonathon got there, but sometimes I would go out and walk the ‘Broadway’ of St. Petersburg the Nevsky Prospect, which was close the school.
SJC: How was the performance?
DH: I was really happy. The kids danced their hearts out and they were beautiful. I had a great conductor and the orchestra was phenomenal. The costumes and lighting were perfect. I was truly delighted. The best part was that the kids would come up to me and say, ‘We want to be better, what can we do to be even better?’ I would tell them that the only thing they could do was just enjoy dancing it, and I think they really enjoyed themselves the night of the performance.
SJC: Would you want to return to the Vaganova Academy to work with them again if you had the opportunity?
DH: I would, absolutely. And it could happen soon actually. Nikolay Tsiskaridze, the artistic director, has asked for permission to have the Vaganova Academy students perform the ballet again in their graduation performance in June 2015.
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