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Lawsuit against Vaganova Academy

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This may shed light on some of the recent tensions surrounding Gergiev & the Vaganova Academy (other topic on this forum). Today's issue of Fontanka Daily newspaper includes a longish article about the Academy & touches on a much-talked-about lawsuit brought on the Academy by the parents of a 14-yr-old girl who was dismissed as part of the regular annual process of weaning-out students. She was officially dismissed for "lack of fitness". The first name of the girl is Anastasia but her surname (family name) has been changed to "Kowalevsky," according to the article.

I've been hearing unofficially about this case from friends & family in Petersburg, for a while, but could not post anything, due to our no-gossip policy. At least the story of this case is finally in print so...voila! I'll just present this & keep further details to myself.

Interesting that this is happening, no? Perhaps this is a sign that Rule of Law & 'democracy' live in Russia? Your thoughts & comments, please.


[linked article in Russian]

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Sorry, no. I wish that I had the time to translate the whole thing but I am on 'hookie time' from my full-time job when I briefly check stuff for Ballet Talk! :thumbsup: I already gave you the 'gist' of those opening sentences. Perhaps someone can translate it word for word? I know that there are some translation software around (babblefish?) but I've never used them. Maybe a more savvy user of translation software can help Joseph...or translate the entire thing? Sorry about that.

p.s. - I know that our copyright-quotation rules are such that we can show (copy) only a small percentage of each article, regardless of language. Hence, I'm afraid that, even with a complete English translation, we can give you only a small 'sampler' of each article.

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Since I have nothing better to do with my life, I fed Natalia's little excerpt to the translation software at babelfish.altavista.com. However, since it's done automatically, not by an actual human being, it came out sort of funny:

Why important girls do not take in ballerina? 28/02/2005 13:18 The academy of the Russian ballet im. Agripina vaganovoy to represent there is no need whatever. In the building on architect Rossi's street almost one-and-a-half century hearth with one roof were located the school and the rehearsal base of emperor ballet company (ballet Of mariinskogo theater). Human passions, talent and inspiration feed the newest history Of vaganovki, in each release of which ignites new ballet asterisk. Therefore so strangely and absurdly appears that judicial dispute, into which proved to be pulled the academy of ballet, which today attack claims some parents of pupils, deducted for "profneprigodnost'". Initiative to this judicial lawsuit placed the mother of 14- summer To nasti by Kowalevski (name of girl for the ethical considerations changed), who after two years of instruction in the academy was deducted by the transfer into the general education school with the formulation "absence of professional abilities and prospect for their development".

See what I mean? :wacko: (You should see what happens when I feed it Shakespeare...)

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The article is basically saying that when children are accepted into the Vaganova Academy, no one really knows if they will end up being dancers. Parents who dream about a ballet career for their children must remember that acceptance guarantees nothing.

As students grow and hormonal changes occur, physiques can become unacceptable for a life in ballet. Even specialists cannot predict how a child will change in 2, 3, and 5 years. The parents are told that there will be a trial period when their child is accepted. Only around 50% will finish the full course. The regulations of the Academy define these criteria, and the children are assessed accordingly as they go through their training. Weeding-out of students is based on physical, psychological, and creative abilities.

This child's mother presented the counter argument that her daughter's transfer is against the laws of all educational establishments governed by the state. She said that the Vaganova Academy states that their job is to prepare artists for the Maryinsky Theatre. However, this mother says her child does not want to dance at the Maryinsky. Maybe she wants to choose another company, or maybe she will teach.

It was also said that this child's foot was found to be wanting in the "arch" department, and that it would be overtaxed as the work got technically harder. The Academy says that teachers and physicians should not continue with the professional training of this child in order to prevent future foot problems.

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Aha! So, is this a "discrimination" lawsuit, like the one at SFB several years ago? At that time, a woman (Krissy Keefer) tried to sue the SF Ballet School after it rejected her daughter for being too short and too "round", on the grounds that it was violating San Francisco's newly passed size-discrimination laws banning discrimination based on height and weight at city-funded jobs, SFB supposedly falling into this category because of its public arts funding. Much debate ensued among ballet people, modern dance people, and fat-acceptance activists, among others. It wasn't pretty. The lawsuit was thrown out, or at least hasn't gone anywhere.

Of course, I am well aware that this lawsuit is different for obvious reasons--i.e., it's not San Francisco, it's not even the USA! Was the author of the article merely reporting the facts or editorializing on the matter? What are the particulars of the local legal and judicial system as they apply to this lawsuit?

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Thanks to Marga for the translation! BalletNut, this was a mostly-factual account, as per Marga's translation.

This is different than the San Fco case, as weight is not cited as a specific issue. It has to do more with the girl's feet, although other factors may have come into play.

I'm not knowledgeable about the local education law, sorry.

The other talk regarding this case -- and I'll try to stay on the correct side of our 'no gossip' rule & be really general -- has to do with a two-tiered "Paying Foreigners - versus - Ordinary Non-Paying Russians" system in play at this school. Were any foreign students with no-arch feet (or similar physical imperfections) allowed to continue on to the next class?

Should Vaganova Academy students of wealthy, tuition-paying non-Russian parents be subject to the same strict weening-out rules that apply to the non-paying locals? Some argue that because those foreigners KNOW that they have no chance of attaining a contract with the Mariinsky upon graduation, they should be allowed to pay their money 'til the end, perform in the nice graduation concert, get their nice high-school diploma, then say "Da Svidanya" & return to their country of origin. Others argue that the imperfect foreigners are taking up 'spots' in the classroom that could be taken by Russians with no fewer imperfections than those foreigners.

This has been the subject of heated discussions among St. Petersburg balletomanes even before the 'Kowalevsky Case' appeared.

[p.s. - Just because a graduate is a foreigner doesn't mean that s/he is a 'slacker'. For ex., the very latest graduation class (June 2004) included a foreigner who, by many accounts, was the most talented girl in the bunch -- Nanami Terai of Japan, a student of Tayana Terekhova. Terai was the star of the Vaganova Academy's production of 'Sylvia' one year earlier (2003). She's quite spectacular.]

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I think these questions are common to exclusive academies everywhere. During Soviet times, before foreigners could pay their way in, there was the question of whether the daughters (especially) and sons of government officials were taking the place of needy candidates, something that Madame Mao tried to counteract in China by insisting that only the children of peasants be part of her state-supported ballet academy.

In official schools of US ballet companies, a similar issue is raised pretty consistently: are the daughters of wealthy contributors taking up spaces that should go to more "deserving" candidates? (While these schools are considered "private", they are subsidized publically by direct government subsidies and by foundation grants and corporate donors from tax-exempt earnings.)

Two differences between US schools and state-sponsored schools are :

1. There has only been one way into the state-sponsored academies, especially for girls, and that is as a young child, whereas at School of American Ballet, for example, the pre-professional classes are comprised mainly by students from all over the country who audition as young teenagers, and had their formative training elsewhere. Not many of the kids who start at 8-year-olds make it into the Pre-professional ranks. At PNB school, for example, there is a separate, non-professional track for those students who want to continue.

2. State-sponsored schools are "free" for citizens, while US elite academies assume tuition. One way to not accept a student is to not give a scholarship or subsidy.

No one really blinks in higher academia when Harvard, for example, sets aside 25% of its freshman class each year for "legacy" students (children of alumni.)

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This is a most interesting article indeed and a situation that has taken years to get to this point.

Having been a foreign teacher, who did attend two years of study at the Vaganova Academy, perhaps there may be a different look inside than the article discusses, although my experiences may differ from those of students now.

There are good foreign students and there are good Russian students. Please note, according to country delineation, S. Sakharova is techinically a foreigner since she is a Ukrainian, not a Russian. Other foreigner are Ti Yon Ru, Korean, graduated 1995 after attending the school for 5 years, Islom Baimuradov, graduated 1994, an Austrian by birth on his mother's side and a Russian father. Islom attended Vaganova Academy the two final years of study.

At the time I was in Russia, 1993-1995, the foreigners were not able to be official members of Mariinsky unless they 1) had Russian heritage or 2) if they married a Russian. The foreigners and other Russian graduates were members of various Russian companies, such as, St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre (Choreographic Miniatures), Maly Theatre, Stanoslovsky, and the Dolgushin company at the Conservatory. The majority of students at the school did not enter the Mariinsky Theatre. There are not enough openings on an annual basis.

There are also, not so good foreign and Russian students alike. At the time I was in school, acceptance to the school was on an annual basis. The foreigners, for the most part did not come from the background of the Russians. It was a struggle for most. The high technical and physical demands, the increased hours of work, the struggle with language, the psychological differences in work ethic, the daily dealings with life, such as buying food, cleaning of apartments, dealing with a transportation system that did not work are a tremendous amount for a non-Russian to deal with. At that time, all foreigners either had completed their high school requirements in their country of origin or were completing their work through coorespondence. The Academy did not grant a high school diploma for academics to the foreigners.

The level of foreign teachers was very high for those of us who attended on a daily basis. We all had to show that we had professional experience as a dancer/teacher for at least 10 years with well-known organizations and come equipped with references out the gazoo. Our examination process was as stringent as the Russian teachers. There were a few teachers who passed through shall we say...by this I mean, paid the $10,000.00 in tuition/living expenses, but did not attend the pedegogy discussions on a daily basis. There is one who came in three times a year, studied for two weeks and took exams and another who was never official enrolled, studied privately for two months and was given a certification. I do not know the ins and outs at all. I am only saying what I observed and know happened.

There is very strict enrollment criteria for foreign students and teachers alike. There are no 12 year old foreign students at Vaganova Academy. There was a non-professional track level of classes being taught to Russian children at the school. It was never clear to me, what these classes were. I observed them on a few occasions and taught the youngest level of 6-8 year olds for six months. These were regularly scheduled classes that took place in the late afternoons. For the most part, the students were treated the same as the professional track students, however their proportions or physical potential were not correct for a career in ballet. These classes never progressed beyond a Russian intermediate level.

Differing rules for foreign students, has more to do with money than talent. There have always been talented foreigners in Vaganova Academy. In the foreign student's office, the walls are filled with success photos of dancers and teachers alike. My late husband was a foreign student at GITIS and Vaganova Academy in the 1960s. There were quite a few German, Polish, Bulgarian, Czech, Chinese, Vietnamese, etc. All of these governments paid money to the Russian government to attend however the students were talented.

There will always be some students more talented than others. How the Russian government will choose to deal in the future with tuition paying students remains to be seen. It is my hope that foreign students will be able to study in the school anyway possible. It can only raise the level of performing and teaching in the countries outside of Russia.

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vrsfanatic - Thank you for your fascinating insights.

Many CIS (territory of former USSR) students at the Vaganova Academy, such as Svetlana Zakharova, attend only the one or two years. It's a sort of finishing school. In those cases, as you point out, they are already near-professional-level artists. Other examples included Igor Zelensky (Tbilisi, Georgia), Mikhail Baryshnikov (Riga, Latvia), and Rudolf Nureyev (Ufa, Tatarstan).

I would not lump those CIS-territory countries with the 'tuition-paying foreigners' group that is the object of such controversies. Rather, I would suggest that the Vaganova Academy has not two but three nationality tracks:

* Russian

* CIS foreigners (former Soviet Union countries...mostly highly-gifted, mostly non-paying)

* non-CIS foreigners (Japan, Korea, USA, Canada, etc....gifted enough to be there but must pay tuition/room/board)

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Where was Zakharova trained before she went to Petersburg, Natalia?

Zakharova trained in Kiev, Ukraine, Ari. She was spotted by Kirov coaches during the 1995 Vaganova Prix competition for juniors, when she was 16 and won a bronze or silver medal. [The St. Petersburg trained-and-bred Maya Dumchenko won the gold, I recall. Igor Kolb, who won bronze, was another 'Soviet ally' who was spotted by Kirov coaches during that competition; he represented the Minsk, Belarus, academy.]

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Natalia, I did not include Nureyev, Baryshnikov nor Zelinsky in the list because at the time, their countries were part of the Soviet Union. There would be a very long list of non-Russian dancers if we did a search, whose origins are not from what is today known as Russia.

The entrance of Zakharova was at a time that the Ukraine was no longer part of Russia. There were many students from former Soviet block nations who found themselves in limbo as far as nationality and status at the school in 1993. I believe Sakharova entered the fall of 1995. She was not there in the winter of 1994 nor in the spring of 1995. I believe she graduated in the summer of 1996 in the class of Zubkovskaya, but that may not be correct. I ran a search but could not find any biographical information on her.

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vrsfanatic -

I was there at the time (overlapped with part of your time, actually). Zakharova graduated in spring 1996 in the class of Evteyeva, not Zubkovskaya. Pavlenko was also in Evteyeva's group. Zubkovskaya had Nekipelova, S. Ivanova, & Part, among others.

Actually, I always felt a bit sorry for Daria Pavlenko because she was the 'star' of the class as she grew up, only to have the 'outsider' Zakharova step in & become the unofficial Queen of the 1996 Graduation Class. :excl: That's life, though.

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I totally agree about Pavlenko. I knew the class of both teachers, as usual only by first name. Thank you for clearing up whose class Sakharova was in. I still have never seen her although I read it all. Hopefully one day I will have the opportunity. Moscow is a bit out of reach at the moment.

Well, now I am curious as to who you are. Hum, same time as me...we were only a few! :shake:

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vrsfanatic - Ah, but I was not at the Vaganova Academy; only following it closely as a fan. I was shown around once by Mr. Nadirov & used the library a few times (with Ms. Vivien). I was employed by a USAID contractor in the privatization of the port. Then, as now, ballet was just a passion.

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vrsfanatic -

Actually, I always felt a bit sorry for Daria Pavlenko because she was the 'star' of the class as she grew up, only to have the 'outsider' Zakharova step in & become the unofficial Queen of the 1996 Graduation Class. :) That's life, though.

I agree with you vrsfanatic. At the '96 graduation performance, Pavlenko missed her chance to dance Nikiya in Act 3 because she had fallen ill, so her performance went to V. Part. With great respect to Zakarova, IMO I find Dasha and Veronica to be much more versatile artists than she. Certainly, Dasha's rep is already varied, and at least comparable to Sveta's. Part is also a very fascinating dancer. With few great exceptions, you can't get around this fact: These characteristics are nurtured on the foundation, guidance, discipline and experience one gets when spending a minimum number of years in the corps. Both Sveta and Diana were aggresively pushed by the management, by-passing the corps. Indeed, Sveta and Diana are more travelled and well known than the two Ps, but in the last few years life seems to have balanced everything out. Today each of these ballerinas more than hold their own in their respective theatres. Re the lawsuit - V Academy has the final say, as they should. Like someone mentioned earlier in this thread - acceptance, graduation and a career are not guaranteed.

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I believe she graduated in the summer of 1996 in the class of Zubkovskaya, but that may not be correct. I ran a search but could not find any biographical information on her.

:( For your info: a bio can be found on her website: Svetlana Zakharova website. Same for Daria Pavlenko website. There is also biographical information about both ballerinas on For Ballet Lovers Only, while Zakharova is also covered on Small Ballet Encyclopedia.

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Thank you Mr. Haegeman. I did run a search on whatever search engine my carrier has. Next time I will be more thorough! To tell you the truth I could not remember who was opposite Zubkovskaya's class that graduation year. Was it not Evteyeva's first graduating class? I remember both classes in 5th year with Baltacheva and...who was that teacher. Sorry about the slip up in memory! :(

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In a St. Petersburg Court, a judge has ruled in favor of the Vaganova Academy & against the parents of the young girl who filed suit to have their daughter reinstated to the academy. The news was published in several St. P. newspapers on April 9 (last Friday). Here is a link to the Russian-language article in a leading periodical:


The newspaper mentions all names, including that of the young girl, one Polina Asmalovskaya. It also mentions the names of two other young girls who were similarly dismissed by the Vaganova Academy, whose parents also filed lawsuits, which are pending at present.

The trial (hearings) took place last week, on the 7th & 8th of april. The Vaganova Academy rolled out its 'biggest names' to testify, including Director Altynai Assylmuratova & many great professors. It was a no-holds-barred testimony exposing all of Polina's perceived deficiencies. In other words, it was not pretty. The following excerpt from the the testimony was given by Dean of the teachers, Marina Vasilieva. I translate a bit of the Kommersant article (link above):

Marina Vasilieva, the former soloist of the Mariinsky Theater and dean of the Performance Department, in which Polina Asmalovskaya studied, was more categorical: "To me, even before the examination, it was clear that the girl would not pass to the following year of instruction, according to professional data. She has a heavyish, feminine figure. For an [average] girl this is good; for a ballerina - it is bad ," stated Mrs. Vasilieva.

Interestingly, until Vasilieva's words were pronounced, the press had been under the impression that Polina's main problem was the shape of her feet, not her 'heavyish' figure.

Too, the article mentions that, last November 2004, another judge had asked that Polina be reinstated into the academy. She is back at the academy, preparing for the next round of annual exams. Regardless of that fact, Polina's parents decided to proceed with the case, presumably to make a point & set a precedent. [The article does not really state why the parents continued with the suit, despite the daughter being reinstated into the Vaganova Acad.] Now the case was lost; no precedent was set, which would have helped the two pending cases.

Assylmuratova was quoted in Kommersant thus:

According to the artistic director of the Academy, Altynai Assylmuratova, "If the girl passes the next examination, then she will pass into the following class and, naturally, will not be asked to leave."

Imagine the pressure on Polina Asmalovskaya, these days!

Natalia Nabatova

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The Vaganova Ballet Academy won the case against the parents who insisted that their daughter should stay at the School despite her lack of ability for classical dance. The School is subsidized by the Government of the Russian federation, and has only money to teach students with big talent for ballet.

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