Patricia Zhou’s dancing exemplifies the benefits of Vaganova training: A 16-year-old junior at the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, DC, Zhou has a gracious épaulement, expressive limbs and precise execution, along with softness, breath and pliancy.
“Patricia has the body that can speak,” says KAB artistic director Marat Daukayev. “She has a natural feeling for movement. It’s a special gift. Some dancers develop it—she was born with it.”
The Kirov Academy says it is the only facility outside of Russia that replicates the training of the famed Vaganova Ballet Academy. It combines intensive ballet studies with academics, dormitory living, and art and dance appreciation. Founded in1990 as the Universal Ballet Academy with funding from Reverend Sun Myung Moon of the Unification Church, it has undergone several name changes. Throughout, the Vaganova syllabus has remained constant, turning out such high profile alumni as Sasha Radetsky, Rasta Thomas and Michele Wiles.
Zhou auditioned for the summer program at 13—and received a scholarship for the year-round program. Her first summer, however, she felt overwhelmed. Her previous training in Canton, Michigan, had been a mixed bag: ballet, acrobatics, jazz, lyrical, Chinese dance. “I didn’t know these combinations and steps,” Zhou remembers. “My background in ballet wasn’t very strong.” However, her teacher, Mme. Jacqueline Achmedova, saw desire and worked with Zhou individually after two-and-a-half or three-hour-long classes. “Patricia is hungry for work, she has a good body and everything blends. That’s why this girl will come out on top,” predicts teacher Mme. Marianna Lobanova.
Zhou wakes up at 7:00 am to join her classmates downstairs for breakfast in the dorm. She has academic classes starting at 8:10. Ballet training begins at 2:30 pm with one and a half hours of technique, followed by two and a half hours or more of repertoire and rehearsals. On Saturdays, she takes a 9:00 am ballet class followed by a folkloric class.
Zhou believes she dances better when on pointe because it gives her an added sense of performing: “I put on my pointe shoes, and I can express more of myself.” With two years left before graduation, she dreams of being in a company with both classical and contemporary repertoire, such as The Royal Ballet.
Still surprised with her success, Zhou says she has more work ahead of her but believes she’s in the right environment to challenge herself: “I feel like I’ve just started learning.”
At A Glance: Kirov Academy of Ballet
Founder: Oleg Vinogradov, former director, Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet
Artistic director: Marat Daukayev, former star, Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet
Classes offered: classical Vaganova technique, repertoire studies, partnering, character dance, classic dance, contemporary ballet, historical court dance, adagio studies, music, ballet history, body conditioning, plus a fully accredited middle school and high school
Number of students: 75
Alumni: American Ballet Theatre, Boston Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet, Orlando Ballet, Dutch National Ballet and many more.
Focus: A traditional ballet syllabus taught by Russian-trained master teachers in the tradition of the original Vaganova Ballet Academy. Dancers live, study and relax in the Kirov Academy’s building, a mansion in northeast Washington, DC. And while the lounge contains computers, a large-screen TV and video games, the students still curtsy or bow to show respect when a teacher passes them in the hallway or enters a room.