Friday, February 16, 2007

Day 38: Valentine's Day and Goodbyes

What can we say about the last class on an educational tour that lasted more than a month? Thank you to Karen Milligan at the Milligan School of Ballet in Dearborn Heights for inviting us and filling one of our last minute slots.

Karen traveled to Russia in 1990 and saw a rehearsal of the Stanislavsky Nemirovich-Danchenko Theater's ballet company, known here as the Moscow Stanislavski Ballet. Although we never figured it out for sure, there's a good chance she would have seen Valery Lantratov rehearsing for a production at that time.

We had a very warm welcome at the Milligan School, and we'd like to thank the student who shared homemade heart-shaped brownies with us. It was a great way to wrap up a successful tour.

By now, Valery is back in Moscow. Without any time to shake off the jet lag, he is back to work rehearsing with Moscow theaters. Fortunately for us in America, he will be back, and I am already at work putting the final touches on a schedule for his return in summer. We hope to see many old friends and to make some new ones. We'll be visiting a few new states and coming back to as many of the old favorites as time and scheduling will allow.

If we came to your studio, and you'd like to see Valery again, e-mail me at so we can get you on the summer schedule.

Also, stay tuned for news about a ballet performance which Double V Promotions is producing next month in Supply, North Carolina. Even though Valery is at home in Russia, we'll keep posting news and messages as we have them.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Day 37: Allard Academy of Dance

We had our doubts as to whether or not we'd ever make it to the Allard Academy of Dance. We are very grateful to Bonnie Allard for scheduling a class with Valery on very short notice. As it happens, just before the class began the first big snowstorm of the winter hit Michigan and the trip that should have taken 30 minutes took us two full hours.

In spite of the late start, the class was wonderful. The students followed easily and seemed to enjoy their time with the ballet master. The end of each class is a bit wistful as we're counting down to the end of our tour. Tonight's class at the Milligan School of Ballet in Dearborn Heights will be the last we'll see of Valery until summer.

We do have some exciting news, though. We've just been sent our first advance copy of A Child's Introduction to Ballet. It is en route from the printers overseas and the publisher is sending out copies to reviewers in the press as we speak. It looks beautiful thanks to the colorful illustrations by Meredith Hamilton.

Before he returns to Russia, Valery Lantratov will sign some bookplates. Order an advanced copy and you'll get one with Valery's autograph! Copies should be available for shipment by April, possibly as early as mid-March.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Days 32-35: Cancellations and Miscommunications

People who work in the arts often prefer to do business on a handshake than with lawyers and rigid contracts. We have had mostly good luck with this system and have had the pleasure of working with many wonderful people.

We discovered the downside as we headed into the last legs of our tour only to have six different studios cancel on less than two week's notice. The result was that our carefully crafted schedule fell to pieces a bit at this point. We're very pleased that three studios were able to add classes on extremely short notice-- in a couple of cases in a matter of days. Thank you so much to the Lincoln Park Dance Academy, Allard Academy of Dance and Milligan School of Ballet, which we'll be talking about soon.

Last summer we traveled to northern Michigan and had a wonderful, small class with students in Saint Ignace, located in Michigan's upper peninsula just across the Mackinac Bridge. There are very few places more beautiful in August. Although we knew it would be a different experience heading so far north in the winter chill, we were looking forward to coming back. We regret that a cancelation from another Northern Michigan studio forced us to cancel the Saint Igance engagement. We hope to come back in summer and enjoy the lake views again.

The result was that we had an entire weekend free. We spent our time in Detroit where we visited the Henry Ford complex. (Originally it was the "Henry Ford Museum," but some marketing genius decided to change the name to simply "The Henry Ford." I stand in protest to this name for it's annoying lack of a noun. I think you should join me. While we're at it, maybe we can get Starbucks to stop using the word "Venti" as a size for coffee and force them to use real words.) During our free time, we had the chance to see an IMAX film at the Detroit Science Center and to do a bit more shopping.

On Sunday, February 11, we got in the car for the long drive to the Living Arts Dance Studio near Lansing. We deeply regret a miscommunication that kept students waiting and caused us to miss the class. Living Arts has two studios, and while we sat for the entire duration of the class outside one closed studio, the students waited for the Russian master teacher at the other studio. With the new classes we were able to schedule for Valery's last days in America, we weren't able to reschedule. Hopefully we can make it up to you next time.

Days 30-31: Clinton Township, MI

Clinton Township is apparently the place to go for ballet. On Monday we visited the Mary Skiba School of Dance and today it's off to the Ann Parsley School of Dance home of the Macomb Ballet. We will have one more class in Clinton Township before we finish.

With school cancelations due to extreme cold in Michigan, a special single pot coffee maker on the desk at the Ann Parsley School was quite welcome. The building was not as busy as it had been when we first visited this school in summer. Then there were tap classes and students of all ages in the halls. This time the students filtered in for the master class alone, shedding heavy coats and boots.

Valery's memory for students did not fail him. Before class he described certain students and where they had stood at the barre and sure enough they reappeared for this class. The school had also not forgotten Valery. They remembered one of his favorite meals-- a feast at the Chinese Buffet, and they presented us with mapquest directions to the nearest buffet as soon as we walked in the door.

Thank you to Ann Parsley for hosting us. We hope to come again.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Day 29: Mary Skiba School of Dance

The most notable thing about the Mary Skiba School of Dance in Clinton Township, Michigan is Mary's personality. Mary is energetic, full voiced and expressive. She is clearly the engine that drives this thiving school.

Last summer we had three classes with Mary Skiba and Valery also taught some of his own choreography to an individual student preparing for a competition. We spent a full day at the studio and were impressed by how many students there were, and how the classes went in and out like clockwork.

It was as busy as ever at the studio when we arrived on February 5 for a late class beginning at 8PM. There were so many students preparing for competitions that we nearly got lost in the frey. It was a smaller class than the three he had previously taught, and we were disappointed that the student who had learned Valery's choreography was not able to come. I believe she is performing her dance this week. We wish all the students good luck.

Day 28: Unexpected Visitors

On February 4, temperatures in the Toledo area were -4 F (-20 C) with windchills of -20 F (-29 C). We got up, dressed in layers and warmed up the car, which started with a little wheeze. Check out time at the hotel was 12 PM.

Because the continental left a little to be desired, we stopped at the local truck stop which offered a generous breakfast buffet until noon. As we sat, Valery went over the two classes he would be teaching. Last summer we had visited the same studio. They had put out a spread of snacks and fruit after class and asked him some questions. He remembered one student in particular as being quite good. She had done a lot of extra study with professional ballet masters. I made a quick call on my cell phone to make sure the Mapquest directions were correct, and left a message on the voice mail.

We had a few hours before the first class, so we went to the local mall. It was a ghost town, anchored with a Sears on one end and an Elder Beerman on the other. In between was one empty storefront after another. As we browsed the Elder Beerman clearance rack, my cell phone started to vibrate.

It was the director of the ballet school. She had completely forgotten she had scheduled classes with us, and didn't have any students lined up. We got back in the car and drove to Detroit.

In the upcoming week, six classes had been canceled on less than a week's notice, none of them because of weather conditions or other such emergencies. We were looking at a week and a half before Valery returned to Russia, and instead of our regular full schedule, we might have only two classes the whole time. I had to get back to work and try to find studios prepared to bring in a teacher from Russia on very short notice.

Day 27: Country Roads, Take Me Home

When we approach the River City Ballet School in Charleston, Valery always starts singing "Michelle" by The Beatles in honor of the school's director, Michelle Raider. In fact, as I write this a week later, we have yet to stop humming the tune.

Because of our compacted schedule, we weren't able to stay as long in Charleston the second time around. (This photo, incidentally, was actually from our first visit and a class for younger students)

But it is always a great pleasure to come to this school and to see our new friends. We hope we'll see you all again.

After class we made the longest drive of our entire journey-- about five hours from Charleston to Perrysburg, Ohio where we'd be staying overnight and teaching two classes at a studio near Toledo in the morning.

I can tell you that it was more fun driving further and further south out of the cold temperatures than it was driving further and furhter north into the cold. By this time, the northern mid-west was in the grips of a serious cold snap with windchills around -20 F.

Carolina on my mind.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Day 26: Roanoke Ballet Theater

It's always a small world when you travel with Valery Lantratov. The ballet world is small enough as it is, add to that Valery's outgoing nature and you seem to bump into old friends wherever you turn.

Unurbat Gunaajav, originally from Mongolia studied and danced in both Russia and Mongolia before coming to the United States where he is now head of the Roanoke Ballet School. He's the one on the right.

When I mentioned the name to Valery he said, "I know him!"

So we had another fine evening with old friends talking about people and experiences in Russian ballet.

The Roanoke Ballet School is located in a store front with a huge display window. Students have an audience of passersby and a good view of the natural food store across the street. Before coming to the school, I hadn't given a great deal of thought to ballet school lighting. Most schools seem to have overhead flourescent lights. This studio has small theatrical style track lights. Combined with the big window, it was the first time I remember having a real sense that it was night during a class.

Valery enjoyed working with the students and he complimented their teachers before the class dispersed to make way for a ballroom dancing class that followed.

After class we went with Unur and his wife Nara (she's the one on the left) and had a wonderful meal and great conversation (in Russian). You know how sometimes you're enjoying the company and you stay up a bit later than you should, even though you have to work early the next day? We didn't give a lot of thought to the fact that we needed to drive three hours to get to an 11AM class in Charleston, WV until we found ourselves pulling into our hotel at 1AM.

Incidentally, here's a travel tip. When booking a hotel on line, after you look at the photographs of the room and the list of the amenities, you might want to call the hotel and ask if it is right across from a huge factory spewing smoke. For some reason they tend to omit that kind of thing in the listings.

Day 25: The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

Since our last day off on January 15th, we had been looking forward to our free day which would come on Friday, February 2 after our class with the Roanoke Ballet. I tried to plan our itinerary in such a way that we could teach classes in seven states, but would not have to drive any more than four hours in a stretch.

The plan for this part of our trip was to leave Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where we were staying, drive to Roanoke and then halfway to our next class-- a return engagement with the River City Youth Ballet in Charleston. In between we would have a full day to relax in a nice hotel.

But the threat of snow forced us to make some changes and kicks off the portion of our trip which I will call--Driving, Delays and Cancelations.

As it happened, being able to stay and extra day in Chapel Hill instead of on the road was a true pleasure, and it would only be later that we would feel the effects. My brother teaches at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and the Lee family generously opened their doors to us. Instead of staying in an impersonal hotel, we got to spend another day with brother Cal, wife Jen and children Sophia and Emerson.

There was snow in Chapel Hill, just enough to land and stick for an hour or two before it changed to rain and melted away in more spring-like temperatures. The children of Chapel Hill were ready to take full advantage of the snow while they had it. We loved seeing the kids bundled up and running out to play with their rarely used sleds. We even made our own snowman.

As it happens, it never snowed in Roanoke, but the schools did close and therefore so did the studio. Fortunately this happened on one of our rare days off, so we were able to reschedule for the following day.

The time off also gave us time to have the brake pads replaced and to change the oil in the car and to see a bit more of Chapel Hill.

If you're looking for seriously swanky coffee, I recommend Three Cups where the guys at the counter describe the beans-- bought in a special auction-- with words that are usually used for fine wines. You can enjoy a push pot of a particular strain of coffee that is not available in any other coffee shop in the world.

While in Chapel Hill we also experienced the joys of shopping at Kohl's-- a favorite activity of Valery's, tasting authentic southern barbeque and local beer from the North Carolina Brewery.

Days off will be less rare in the future, as several studios contacted us with cancelations in the 11th hour. We'll have lots of time to sight see and relax in Michigan. (Want a ballet class with Valery Lantratov? Ten days left-- going fast!)

Day 24: Durham, NC

Barriskill Dance Theater is one of the newest studios in Durham. Since opening its doors last September, it has been operating side by side with a gymnastics studio on Shannon Road.

Thank you to Michael Barriskill and Elliot Pack for inviting us. It was also a rare opportunity for Valery to work with an accompanist. Barbara once worked with Maya Plitsetskaya, which gave her and Valery something to talk about.

The other subject of the day was the weather. We certainly never expected to have a class snowed out during this part of our journey, but snow is rare enough down here that the idea that the white stuff might fall was causing quite a stir. Even before we'd wrapped up our evening class, word was out that schools were going to be closed the next day in most of the region. This was a new experience for Valery who noted that if the schools in Moscow were closed every time there was snow that Russia would be full of uneducated children.

After driving through Chicago ice, and scraping the inside of our windshield when the defroster failed near Lansing, we were about to face our first cancelation due to winter weather-- in Roanoke, Virginia.

Day 23: Henderson, NC

You rarely receive a warmer welcome than we did in Henderson, North Carolina.

Located 40 minutes north of Raleigh, Henderson is a rural town built by the tobacco, cotton and textile industries. It has a main street that does not appear to have changed since the 1950s. The building that houses the Ballet Arts studio was built in the 1800s. It has three stories of studios and locker space.

There was excitement even before the class. As Valery went to change, one student rushed in with her cell phone hoping to get a photo.

Valery taught a one-hour class for small children age 7 and up followed by a very large class of older students. You can see everybody in the picture. There was lot's of picture taking and parents watching through the window.

After the class, he posed for more pictures and the students performed one of their jazz dances. The LaKernick family was warm and generous. They offered us gift bags-- Horay, a present for me, too! In Valery's gift bag was a collection of gold-plated Christmas tree ornaments with scenes of Henderson landmarks, mostly old churches.

They also treated us to a wonderful dinner at the local Japanese restaurant. Valery has toured Japan many times, and he tried out some of his tourist Japanese on one of the waiters. He looked at the dancer with a blank expression because he doesn't speak the languge.

"Do the other studios take you out to dinner?" asked Philip LaKernick.

"Not usually, but sometimes," I said.

"Well, that's just a shame," he said.

We had a very nice meal with the Lakernicks. At one point our waitress, who exemplified Southern friendliness, tried to take Valery's plate before he'd completely finished.

"I'm not rushin' you, baby," she said.

To which Valery replied, "I'm Russian."

Eating sushi in Henderson remains one of our warmest memories of the trip.

Day 22: To Infinity and Beyond

The Infinity Ballet Conservatory and Dance Theater is located in Apex, North Carolina near Raleigh. Apex was in the news last October when an industrial plant caught fire blanketing parts of the city in a yellow-green haze. Fortunately, there was no evidence of such a thing on the beautiful spring-like day we visited.

The word "Apex" means the highest point, and the town got its name because it was the apex of a Raleigh rail line. Located in North Carolina's research triangle area, it is a region of PhDs and high culture.

Valery taught two classes here. What was most notable was how well trained the younger dancers were. The philosophy at Infinity is to take it slow and to be sure the young students have the foundations before moving on to more compicated combinations. Kids can be understandably impatient to do pirouettes and jetes, and sometimes studios give into this desire and spend less time than they should on the basics like standing and walking like a dancer.

Often on our travels, Valery's class fades in with no clear beginning except my introduction of Valery and the standard recitation of his bio. At Infinity Ballet, the young students practiced a bow to the teacher. Many of the students demonstrated great poise and coordination.

Both of the classes went very well, and we hope to have another opportunity to visit this studio.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Day 21: Greensboro, NC

We would like to thank Artistic Motions Dance in Greensboro, North Carolina for booking a class with Valery Lantratov on very short notice. We were originally slated to teach two classes for Greensboro Ballet on this date, but for one reason or another they were not able to pull together enough students.

Instead we had the opportunity to work with Natalya Igitkhanyan Davison, an Armenian-born dancer who also trained at GITIS. She and Valery were able to speak (in Russian) about mutual acquaintences and experiences. They talked quite a bit about the Russian training method vs. Checcetti and the benefits of turnout. Valery is an absolute believer in the value of proper turn out and Russian foot positions. Natalya took some photos, which I will post when we receive them.

The atmosphere was relaxed and positive part of this, from our point of view, was the stunning weather. Valery is, of course, from Moscow and I am from Detroit. We'd been driving through snow and sleet and bundling up against shiver-inducing conditions and now we'd arrived in spring.

Out the window of the studio were children riding on bicycles, something you're very unlikely to see in either Moscow or Detroit in January. North Carolina is definetly the place to be at this time of year.