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.


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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

Wyly said Bossov's students do so well in Russia because the school has such exacting standards.

"My two principal teachers here demand more discipline, are more exacting, and adhere more closely to the strict Russian standards than American ballet teachers and most Russians who've come here," he said.


Wyly said Perkins has exhibited an unusual level of dedication.

"She has, from the very beginning, from a very early age, been absolutely determined that this is what she wants to do with her life, to be a professional ballerina," Wyly said.

Throughout her lifelong quest, Perkins has paid close attention to the size and shape of the girls she's seen on stage.

"Some are really small," she said, "but some aren't."

Her intense drive to succeed makes her feel the pressure that can, in some people, turn to unhealthy outcomes.

"In a way, there is a lot of pressure; but I don't think it has to get to the point of anorexia," she said.

Still, she said, if she had a chance at a really big part in a professional production, and she was told to lose weight from her 116-pound, 5-foot, 5½-inch frame, she would consider losing a couple of pounds.

Wyly said he's seen eating disorders in the ballet community, but that he actively polices the students to ensure that they are eating properly.

"My policy is, you better eat so that you've got strong bones and strong muscles, or you can forget about dancing," he said.

Students who want to lose weight, he said, are required to work with a nutritionist to set parameters on what is healthy and what isn't.

Making a living in ballet is not easy, even for a girl who has dedicated 13 of her 17 years to getting there.

Some of those who dance professionally in well-known venues, Perkins said, have to work a second job to help pay the bills.

While she considers a potential career as a pediatrician as her backup plan, it's clear that her focus is ballet, and she hopes that, after two years at Vaganova, she can find a job, perhaps on a new stage that Marinsky is building in St. Petersburg.

Perkins said the prospect of a two-year term at a Russian academy is scary, but her drive is such that she is willing to be separated from family and friends, to go to a place where the local customs are strange, to receive strict direction from instructors who speak a language she does not know.

In the end, she hopes that somewhere in the wide world of professional ballet she is continuing to learn more about, there will be a stage waiting for her where she can take the final steps toward her dream career.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be contacted at 861-9287 or at:


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