Last updated June 2016. I’m now on Instagram if you’d like to follow my career as a professional classical dancer.
Upon being offered my place at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, I thought very carefully through my options before making my final decision. Acceptance would take me a long way from my home, familiarity and family; although ecstatic at the offer, I was, quite naturally, hesitant. Augmenting my indecision was the fact that there wasn’t much information to go on either, leaving me to trust in the Bolshoi’s reputation and the advice of my teachers at Bristol Russian Ballet School who convinced me that Russian training would be a great benefit to a career as a classical dancer.
In light of my own experiences, I thought it would be helpful to provide a whistle-stop guide for anyone out there interested in training here at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy.
1. One year Traineeship or three year Diploma?
A Traineeship is a one year course which consists of ballet, character, acting, make up, gymnastics and modern classes plus lessons in the Russian language. The Diploma is a three year course which consists of all of the vocational classes plus duet class and academic subjects. You are required to successfully complete the Traineeship in order to be invited on to the Diploma. All classes and lessons are taught in Russian.
The Academy prefer international students to do the Traineeship first to evaluate your potential and also so that you can learn Russian before starting on your academic studies on the Diploma course. Some international students are, however, offered a place directly on the Diploma. At the end of the Diploma you will have reached the standard of: speciality – choreographic art, qualification – ballet dancer.
2. What does it cost?
The cost of training at the Academy is 17,000 euros per year although the exchange rate of course impacts heavily on how much you pay in your own currency. The fee covers the costs of vocational training, academic studies, food and accommodation at the Academy. It is less if you do not opt for the academics to be included.
3. How to apply.
Entry is via application form and video. There is no official deadline date for the August start. There is link to the Academy’s website which tells you how to apply here or you might find it easier to access the information from the Academy’s blog for international students here.
4. What is the training like?
I have some great teachers here at the Academy. All the teachers have fabulous CVs and most of them previously performed in top companies. Marina Leonova, our Rector, was a renowned Russian dancer with the Bolshoi Ballet Theatre.
From start to finish on the Diploma, you are taught by mostly the same teachers for three years. Student ages range from nine to twenty and we train in the Vaganova method. Classes take place in one of the 20 studios; all with high ceilings and windows so they are light and airy. The floors are all raked.
Classes take place Monday to Saturday with Sunday free. The week consists of: daily 1.5 hr ballet classes, 2 x 1.5 character classes, 2 x 1.5 hr rep classes, 1 x 1.5 hr duet class. 1 x 1.5 modern class, 2 x 1.5 hr acting class and 2 x 45 min gym class. On the Traineeship we also took a make up class each week. At the end of each year you are examined in your respective subjects, culminating in a mark given from one to five.
Russian training, at its most fundamental level, focuses on flexibility and turn out. It really is the best training I have had; my technique and flexibility have improved since I came here and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone considering a career as a ballet dancer.
The other, most important point, is that the teachers here really help you to believe in yourself. They are very direct but everyone is given the best opportunity and is nurtured; if you work hard, you can really develop yourself and your confidence here.
5. Are international students treated differently?
As an international student you have to be prepared to prove your worth; there are Russian students here that have been training within these walls since they were 10 or 11 and whose progress the teachers have followed through the years. It goes without saying that they, therefore, attract the majority of attention. In spite of this, it’s perfectly achievable for the international students to demonstrate their abilities if they possess the required amount of determination and good work ethic.
Female international students are generally taught in a separate international class although some are placed in the Russian classes. There are no international classes for male students, so all male international students are trained in the Russian classes.
The international students come from all over the world; there are students here from America, Japan, Portugal, Italy, Spain, South America, China to name a few so it’s a very international experience. A significant plus of training here presents itself in the fact that, as well as absorbing the Russian culture, you are able to learn about lots of other cultures too.
6. Is there a guide on weight?
There is a height and weight chart in the contract that you will be asked to sign. It’s true that here in Russia they like you to be slim – and they will tell you if you are too big – often in front of everyone in the class! It’s part of the directness that you just need to be aware of and become used to.
They do not, however, expel students on account of their weight unless they are also not working hard or not making progress. They will also tell you if you are too thin and they view this as harshly as they do if you are too big; you can lose marks in your exams if you are too much one way or the other!
7. Do you study academic subjects?
Academic classes start in the first of the three Diploma years. All academic classes are taught in Russian which is actually a big help as it really does improve your language abilities. The academics are largely made up of arts subjects such as history, history of culture, history of ballet, history of theatre. We also focus more briefly maths/ IT, sciences, geography and citizenship.
You will be expected to pass the State Russian language exam in the second year of your Diploma and the Diploma is awarded at the end of your third year, alongside the dance Diploma for vocational studies. Each of the academic subjects are examined and, again, you are awarded a grade, one to five, at the end of each year.
8. Do you have the opportunity to train with other teachers from outside of the Academy?
To top up the excellent training from our regular teachers, the Academy often brings in external teachers and schools to choreograph work with us or give us an insight into different training methods. So, for example, Nacho Duato and the Wayne McGregor Dance Company, Random Dance, have carried out sessions with us.
9. Are there opportunities to take part in performances?
The Academy holds performances at least twice a year, in Winter and Spring which our teachers encourage us to take part in. You may be selected to rehearse a solo variation or group piece, or have something specially choreographed for you by one other teachers or even Bolshoi Ballet Theatre company members.
All those that perform are selected via an audition that takes place a couple of days prior to the actual concert on the Academy’s theatre (where the concert itself is also presented). This, we are very lucky to have as a resource, as it is huge with seating for over 400 people.
The Academy also puts on a ballet each year – normally in November. This is usually performed at the Bolshoi Theatre on the New Stage. Again you are selected to take part on the basis of auditions. Rehearsals are quite intensive in the run up to the performance and you will need to be prepared to attend even if you aren’t selected for the first cast. It’s hard work but worth it if you are selected and are given the opportunity to perform on the Bolshoi Theatre Stages!
The Academy is also often invited to perform with other schools in galas and other similar events – so we often partner up with American Ballet Theatre Studio Company, La Scala, Theatre Opera Rome, Hamburg Ballet School and the Vaganova Academy, for example. The Academy hosts such events, but some of the students also fly out to similar gala performances in other countries.
10. What’s the Academy’s approach to summer schools?
The Academy hold their own summer school in New York. It is a six week summer intensive and you can find out about it here.
You are encouraged to continue your training over the holidays in order to keep in shape. I’ve attended a range of summer schools and intensives including Prague International Ballet Masterclasses (see my review here), Vaganova Master Classes in Finland and the Royal Ballet Summer School (see my previous post here) in London.
11. Do you have the opportunity to go to the theatre?
One of the great benefits of being a student at the Academy is that you can use your student card to acquire very cheap tickets for Bolshoi Theatre performances. You often have to make do with seats high up in the theatre, sometimes with restricted views, but this is arguably beside the point when considering the quality of productions you are being given access to.
Whilst I’ve been here, I’ve been fortunate enough to see many performances including: La Bayadere, Coppelia, Paquita, Spartacus, Swan Lake, Giselle, Jewels and the Pharaoh’s Daughter. I’ve seen many great Bolshoi dancers such as Svetlana Zakharova, Evgenia Obratsova, Anna Tikhomerova, Artem Ovcharenko, David Hallberg and Olga Smirnova.
We also have another great company here in Moscow, the Stanislavsky Ballet Company, who are also of very high standard. I even got to see Sergei Polunin perform in Coppelia which I wrote about here.
12. What is the accommodation like?
The accommodation for international students is on the third floor of the Academy. It is above the studios on the second floor and the administrative offices on the first floor. All of the Academy has been refurbished over the last two to three years and is modern and clean.
The building is set around a quadrangle; there are some large areas in each corner and along some of the corridors for socialising and also stretching and practising. It’s very rare to walk along the corridors without passing students in strange positions stretching out their muscles!
Each room has facilities for three students. There is a large window at one end so the rooms are considerably light and there is plenty of wardrobe space, a desk and a side table. There is a washing room where you can do your laundry and also shared shower and toilet facilities.
13. What’s the food like?
I was told a vegetarian diet would be difficult to maintain in Moscow, however, I have managed to eat very well here. There is a canteen at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, though I, personally, prefer to make most of my meals. Invariably, I do have to be fairly creative, as there is only a microwave in the kitchen area of the boarding floor. I have my own fridge and freezer which I keep in my own room – I purchased it at a good rate from one of the graduates when they left.
I source most of my ingredients from the three main supermarkets in Frunzenskaya – all within walking distance – and one or two other shops that are a short metro journey away. I have also found some wonderful vegetarian restaurants – Cafe Jaggernath and Fresh are my favourites. You will also find a range of international restaurant chains and coffee shops such as Le Pain Quotidien and Starbucks – plus Russian ones such as Му-му (Mu Mu), Шоколадница (Shokoladnitsa) and Кофе-хауз (Coffee House).
14. How do you set up internet and wifi connections?
There is limited wifi in the boarding area, so you have to source the best deal for what you need in the many mobile phone shops in Frunzenskaya. The staff in the shops are mostly very helpful, however, you do need to take a fairly fluent Russian speaker with you and an 18+ year old to sign the contract.
Wifi and internet are really cheap here in Russia. It’s super fast so I can Face Time and Skype back home regularly each week. Topping up your phone and wifi connections can be done at little booths dotted along the high streets. Wifi is also freely available in every coffee shop and many other places in Moscow.
15. What are Moscow and Frunzenskaya like?
The Academy is based in Frunzenskaya, just four stops on the Metro from the heart of Moscow. It’s a residential area and the Academy is located just two minutes walk from the main high street where you will find a good range of supermarkets, restaurants, coffee shops, mobile phone shops and other facilities. It’s safe although we are encouraged not to go out on our own.
I love every part of Moscow that I have seen so far. There are some extremely iconic, must-see sites and I love discovering new places. I wrote about my favourite places to visit here.
16. What’s the weather like?
To be honest, it does get incredibly cold in the winter; the coldest I have experienced so far is -26 degrees! It’s absolutely necessary to cover up every part of your face and body with lots of layers and walk very quickly to where you are going.
It also snows a lot any time from November through to February. The Russian authorities, however, have a great system for clearing the snow, so nothing stops; we all just carry on doing what we need to do regardless of the snow which can get very deep, very quickly.
In the spring it becomes very mild – from about April onwards it will be 10 degrees plus and in the summer you can walk about in shorts. It gets very hot. In August, when I start each new academic year, the temperatures are also very mild but they soon drop in November.
17. What currency do you use?
The currency is roubles. There are cash machines within very close proximity to the Academy. I have a pre-paid currency card (Caxton) that my Mum tops up for me in the UK so I work to a budget and draw out what I need each week but don’t get charged for each time I use it.
18. Brits at the Bolshoi
In June 2016, I became the 3rd Brit female student to graduate from the Bolshoi. I have written a separate post detailing the history of British students at the Academy – you can find this post here.
One of the things you will have to grow used to is the press and media fascination with British students at the Bolshoi. I, along with most of the other British students, have had documentaries and news stories produced and written about our choice to train here. I was featured on the One Show but turned down several requests to be part of bigger documentaries. It can be very exciting though any involvement with documentary type features does require time and effort. The five minute feature that the One Show did about me took days of filming to produce!
Well I think that’s quite a bit of information for now; I hope you find it useful! If there are any areas that I haven’t covered then please contact me and let me know; I’d be happy to up date this post or answer your questions directly. Thank you for reading! Go over to my Instagram if you’d like to find out about my career as a professional dancer.