Open World Dance Foundation is about sharing. From the very beginning we wanted to share love for our art form, the history and tradition of it, so it inspires others and leads them into a better yet unknown future. Growing up in St Petersburg, Russia and being students of truly the best ballet school in the world, Vaganova Academy, gave us an opportunity to spend the years of our childhood and youth on stage and backstage of the Mariinsky Theatre, then known as the Kirov Ballet.
Read Pointe Magazine article on Cinderella.
Since the age of ten, Mr. Anton and I were exposed to the very best academic opera and ballet theater has to offer with dressing rooms and hallways that its performers have shared for almost three centuries. Among those were Anna Pavlova, Mikhail Fokine, Vazlav Nijinsky, the love of the last tsar - Matilda Kshesinskaya, Agrippina Vaganova, George Balanchine whose real name is Georgi Balanchivadze, Konstantin Sergeev, Galina Ulanova, Rudolf Nureyev, Natalia Makarova, Mikhail Baryshnikov and many, many more. We were blessed to meet stage hands, prop people, and wander through endless rooms of wardrobe being loved and spoiled by seamstresses and makeup masters. This world made our childhoods feel like we lived in a fairytale.
Being a part of new operas and ballets was a true privilege. Only the best students were chosen. In another building of the Mariinsky Theatre where new costumes and shoes were made for each and every dancer and opera singer, we as little students of Vaganova Academy were called for fittings. Some of those costumes of Mariinsky Theatre still bare our names.
Our love for our art form grew stronger day by day as we were trusted with many roles in the wide repertoire of the theater. Sleeping Beauty, Don Quixote, Nutcracker, Dame De Pique, Notre Dame de Paris, Shurale, Paquita, La Sylphide, and many more were highlights of our childhood. This made our dreams more vivid and us more passionate in pursuing our future.
Among those performances was Cinderella. This ballet was choreographed by Konstantin Sergeev who we respected greatly. We feared him as any student would an artistic director of their academy. He always was calm, well-dressed, and a little bit sarcastic, but we felt his fatherly love as we still do to this day. In Cinderella, we grew from part to part following masterful direction of our teachers. This ballet, its music and sets, made an imprint on my life in particular. That's why in the year of Sergei Prokofiev's 125th anniversary, we felt a need to celebrate by giving our love and knowledge, nurtured by our mentors, to all of you.
We first began dreaming of a new production of Cinderella a couple of years ago. The story of Cinderella captures our hopes for the orphan children and youth we work with - that through grace, hard work, and inspiration beautiful things can happen. Throughout orphanages of St. Petersburg we held a contest for the best illustration of the original fairytale by Charles Perrault. We asked children to read the book and share with us their visions. After looking through hundreds of works, two particular ones captured our attention.
The drawings of the castle, ballroom and home living room by Vasilisa Marova inspired our vision for the ballet and were used to create backdrops and scenery. The house dress drawn by Anna Osipenkova touched me and changed my entire perspective of Cinderella's character to one who was happy and radiant no matter the circumstances. The day after I first saw Anna's drawing I went shopping for colorful fabrics that would become Cinderella's house dress. Windy and cold St. Petersburg in early spring became sunny and warm to me all of the sudden with birth of this project.
Cinderella, the ballet, had been born in our minds but waited for the right time and place. For the 2015-2016 season, we served as Artistic Directors for Ballet Theatre Houston and produced its 9th and final Nutcracker. The company had lost its founding director Robert Underwood Jr. who was our dear friend and colleague. With creation of Cinderella, we took Ballet Theatre Houston into its 10th year and were delighted to honor Robert by premiering Cinderella here in Houston.
With support of Misty Copeland, a friend and colleague from my time at American Ballet Theatre we were able to promote Open World Dance Foundation's efforts to educate local children and youth while celebrating the traditions of classical ballet.
Over the summer, we worked with Misty Copeland and Calvin Royal as we finalized choreography and began rehearsals. Students at our summer intensive 2016 rehearsed and danced alongside them. From this group of summer intensive students, came our advanced dancers who travelled with us to Houston for the fall. These beautiful young people trained with us and danced the soloist roles in the premier.
Once in Houston, we held auditions and our cast of nearly two hundred dancers including 123 children was set. With a cast and crew of more than 200, we were able to accomplish what many thought was impossible.
We know this is only the beginning of more productions to come and look forward to staging another Cinderella project in Florida with its youth and families in the future. Thank you again to all who made this possible, especially our teachers and mentors who inspired us to dream and to work hard to achieve our dreams.