Internationally acclaimed Russian principal ballet dancer Andrei Vassiliev directs the Vassiliev Academy of Classical Ballet (VACB). This Academy has been in its New York home since December 2014, after being founded in Denver, Colorado, during 2005. Vassiliev is a classical artist, teacher and choreographer famous for his work with prestigious ballet companies in Europe and the United States. Dance Informa spoke with Vassiliev to discuss the thriving VACB and his passion for teaching classical ballet.
The Vassiliev Academy of Classical Ballet is a relative newcomer to the New York training scene. What is unique about the school?
“We worry about the quality of the training technique, but the most important thing for me and for the Academy is the artistic side. Guiding the students from a very early age is very important, to know the history and why we are doing some moves. It is not enough to have just the technique. There is a lot more to be discovered. Ballet is an art, and every technical movement produced must stem from the way you feel it.
The Vassiliev Academy of Classical Ballet is committed to excellence, while fostering an atmosphere of creativity, precision and culture within the discipline of classical ballet. The Academy strives for evolution, through respected relationships with students, professionals and the community, both locally and abroad. VACB is a professional classical ballet academy operating in the higher echelon of classical ballet training. VACB strives to develop young dancers with strong classical technique, artistry, musicality, purity of line and a high level of performance quality. The Academy offers a rich and stimulating program taught by highly experienced teachers and guest artists of international prestige.”
Your performance and training backgrounds are diverse. That breadth of knowledge is evidenced in you teaching Vaganova, Balanchine and English methods of classical ballet to your students. How did you accomplish mastery in these techniques, and how does teaching these methods alongside one another benefit your students?
“To know all these methods, I think the answer is because I have worked hard not only to know them but also to understand them and especially to apply them in my body. I have had the opportunity to dance in different companies around the world where I have practiced all these methods, and, let me tell you, they are very different from each other, at least at the time of practice.
For me, to have traveled so much and seen different styles of dancers, and more even now as a teacher, it has taught me that all the methods are necessary to achieve a versatility, to have also witnessed that some movements are better done under the Vaganova method and others with the technique of Balanchine. It depends on what company you are in or are planning to be.
For me, each training has its positive side and negative as well; not one is perfect. I think that when you agree to all these methods, the students have the opportunity to dance anywhere in the world.”
VACB states it is imperative that students of the school receive training and guidance to empower them to pursue ballet company employment. What are some student success stories from the Academy?
“Yes, I think that even now in this short period that I reopened my school here in New York, less than three years ago, we have already traveled to Russia to an international competition where Bianca Stella won the third place and will compete in the finals in June here in New York.
Megan Van Deren, another of my students, has received proposals for work in different companies from Germany, Canada and the United States. They have been interested in her. Today, she is dancing at age 17 in California. Ines Riveros, a professional ballet dancer from Argentina, who came searching her dreams, has received a special invitation to audition for the Eifman Ballet in St Petersburg. Manuel Ruiz has received three proposals of work in different and well-known companies in the United States.
Sometimes I even receive students who need a more dedicated training, or maybe with the naked eye some started late, but because of their passion and delivery, the training and the possibilities become closer than you can imagine.”
Tell us about VACB’s summer intensive.
“In the first summer intensive in 2015, with just two months of organization, I received a big group of 25 students from China and the United States. Last year, I dedicated myself to students who have come from Mexico and Australia with a very productive end.
This year is the first year that the Academy will receive students from Latin America under the Latin American Dance Program founded by Argentinean dancer Manuel Ruiz. We will receive a big group of 70 dancers from Argentina and Brazil, also from Mexico and, of course because of other tours and auditions I have done, from Taiwan and Japan.”
2017 continues to be a huge year for your program, as you will be accepting the inaugural class for year-round training. What type of student is appropriate for your program, and what is the application process?
“I will travel again to South America to audition/tour under the program that is within VACB called Latin America Baila, to countries like Chile, Brazil and Argentina, to select dancers who have the conditions to be part of the year-round program beginning September 9, 2017, and ending on December 15, 2017, and starting again on January 21 until April 21. I’m going to select students for the 2018 Summer Intensive as well. However, students who can’t audition by taking these classes or workshops can send their video and photos to the Academy mail.
The interesting thing about the Academy, and I tell you with a hand to my heart, I do not want a big academy. My objective was always to have 15 to 20 students per group, one intermedium and one advanced, where the training is intensive and dedicated. This is a school where you are selected for physical talent and for passion. The second thing under my eyes is the most important thing. The school also provides, at the time of auditioning, videos and photos, conventions and a list of companies where they can audition.”
What do a typical day, week and year look like for a year-round student at VACB?
“Every day of the week from Monday to Friday, students have ballet and pas de deux classes, followed by repertory and, once a week, character, contemporary and physical conditioning.
The interesting thing is that through the friendly contacts I have, principal cancers who dance in the big companies of the world many times ask me to take the ballet class in the morning, so that’s amazing and unique for the students, to share class with professional people they admire. That is unique.
At the end of each session, there is an open and free showcase for anyone who wants to witness the work done, both in the spring and winter. During the summer intensive, we have our show organized by the Vassiliev Art Ballet Productions under my direction, as well as those who are also making my show, Falling Angel, an evening of stars with luxury guests from the best companies in the world, such as Bolshoi Ballet, Boston Ballet, ABT and New York City Ballet.”
Please tell us about your open classes.
“Open classes are for all of those who want to take classes under my teaching. Usually it is held once a week and includes all kinds of people – professionals and beginners. They must only register in advance and consult the schedules. This came about through a successful master class that I have given at City Center, and many people wanted to follow the training provided by the Academy.”
Where are your training facilities?
“VACB has two locations, both equipped with bars, Marley floors suitable for ballet with air chambers, bathrooms, showers, cafeteria or snack machines. City Center is the most important location, located at 130 W. 56th Street in New York, with more hours and more length. Broadway Dance Center is the smaller location but with all the right conditions to develop the activities. It’s usually classes two times per week and private classes that I offer to some students who want it.”
For more information on the Vassiliev Academy of Classical Ballet, visit www.vassilievballet.com.
By Emily Yewell Volin of Dance Informa.