May 6, 2013

Maine dancer gets rare opportunity in Russia

Gabrielle Perkins of Oakland is the only American admitted to a prestigious ballet academy in St. Petersburg.

By MATT HONGOLTZ-HETLING Morning Sentinel

Gabrielle Perkins, 17, of Oakland has become the only American accepted this year into one of the world's most prestigious ballet academies: the Vaganova Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia.

click image to enlarge

Gabrielle Perkins rehearses at the Bossov Ballet Theatre at Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield. She is one of 15 foreign dancers accepted at the Vaganova Ballet Academy in Russia.

David Leaming/Morning Sentinel

Given that the academy accepts fewer than 100 of the more than 3,000 aspiring students who apply each year, it is an enormous accomplishment for the Messalonskee High School senior.

For Perkins, however, a slim girl with long, brown hair, Vaganova is just the next, precious step in a delicate dance she has been performing since she was 4 years old.

Dancing isn't quite her first memory. That distinction dates back to when she was 3, crying and washing her face during a visit to Arizona, where the Southwestern sun revealed a spate of unfamiliar freckles.

But she remembers performing soon after that in dance recitals, enjoying the rush of learning new ways to move her body in time to music.

By the time Perkins was 7, her dance instructor at the local YMCA invited her to teach adult students how to dance better.

Always, she said, she was asking her parents for more classes, more opportunities to learn an art form she had already fallen in love with.

Her father, Mike Perkins, is the Oakland Town Council chairman and owner of KMD Driving School. Her mother, Kelley Perkins, is a chemist at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

Kelley Perkins said she and her husband are excited that their daughter is achieving her dreams.

"She really wanted it when she was little, and we told her, as long as she didn't get hurt too badly and worked hard for it, we would support her."

Perkins' journey has not been free of injury. One serious misstep has left her with recurring stiffness in one leg.

It was a momentary, disastrous lapse of concentration in the midst of a complicated interplay of gravity, muscle and thought.

She was in eighth grade, Perkins said, and she was practicing a fouett?- swinging one leg through the air to add speed and motion while twirling on the other.

One moment, she was twirling, she said, and the next she was on the ground with two fractures in her leg, an injury that put her in a cast for a month, and took 18 months to heal.

THE RUSSIAN BALLET

For many ballet students, acceptance into Vaganova, an institution that embodies cultural and artistic credentials, would be seen not as a stepping stone but as a goal in itself.

The academy, which is affiliated with the world-famous Marinsky Ballet, is older than the United States and numbers among its graduates some of ballet's most acclaimed superstars, including Vaslav Nijinsky, Rudolph Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov.

When the academy was founded in 1738 by royal decree of Empress Anna, niece of Peter the Great, its first class of 12 boys and 12 girls trained in St. Petersburg's Winter Palace.

Perkins came to audition at Vaganova through her association with Pittsfield's Bossov Ballet Theatre, a school based at the Maine Central Institute. She has been taking classes at Bossov since she was a fifth-grader at Mt. Merici Academy in Waterville, she said.

Executive Director Mike Wyly founded the school in 1996. Much of its success can be attributed to his steady leadership and the expertise of Artistic Director Andrei Bossov, himself a Vaganova School graduate. In 2005, another Bossov student, Michael Dunsmore, became the first American male to be accepted at Vaganova.

Perkins' audition came in mid-April, during a Bossov trip to an annual "Dance Open" in St. Petersburg. During the trip, 12 groups from eight countries competed for the honor of performing the finale. A group of 14 Bossov dancers, including Perkins, won.

(Continued on page 2)

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