Friday, April 9, 2004
From Kiev to Carlisle and the Bolshoi Ballet in Cambridge
Yes, I have to admit I am partial to most things Russian. Each of my sons took four years of Russian at Concord-Carlisle High School in the '80s. They continued to study Russian in college and beyond. My older son is married to a Russian woman from Vologda, and my younger is a professor of Russian Literature and Film at Bryn Mawr College, outside Philadelphia.
I first met dance teacher Marina Tomashuk VanWinkle, formerly of Kiev, Ukraine, when my son Will and daughter-in-law Lyudmila were living in Carlisle. Marina was looking for a place to live, and I suggested she rent a room from Mary Diment on South Street, where the Carlisle Mosquito was then located in the Diment garage. I have kept up with Marina over the years, even after the Mosquito moved from South Street and she rented rooms on Acton Street. I have attended recitals at the Acton School of Ballet, where she is a dance instructor, and have heard more about her from my neighbor Joanne Crowell, whose daughters Katie and Molly have trained with her in Acton. I also get to see her when my daughter-in-law comes to town.
So when Marina called several weeks ago to tell me about her latest venture into the world of dance with her friend and former dancer Nellie Droznin of Brook Street, I was eager to hear all about it.
This summer these two young women will help coordinate a program that brings members of the Bolshoi Ballet Academy of Russia to Cambridge for a four-week intensive training session as part of the newly formed Moscow Art Summer Academy USA. The classes will be taught by well-known dancers and teachers from the Bolshoi Ballet and will include courses in classical repertoire, character, and historical dance. There will be separate options for junior dancers (ages 9 to 13) and advanced students (15 and up).
Marina and Nellie will be joining ranks with Alexander Popov, the administrator of the Stanislavsky Summer School which has been in existence for the past seven years, in conjunction with The American Repertory Theater of Cambridge, Massachusetts and the Moscow Art Theater School of Russia. Popov's six-week drama school will be taught by the best teachers, actors and directors coming from Russia, using the famous Stanislavsky system. His program is geared to drama students and professional actors.
The second program to be added to the Summer Academy is the Tchaikovsky Summer School, which will offer classes in cello and violin, for both young and advanced musicians. Once again classes will be taught by outstanding teachers and musicians from the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory. A special option will be offered for accomplished professionals and music teachers, as well.
Enrollment in all three programs is limited and acceptance is by audition only. Classes are scheduled Monday through Saturday. On-campus dormitory accommodations will be available on Brattle Street for students 14 and up.
Back to the days in Kiev
Now back to the story of Marina and Nellie and their long-time friendship, which dates back to the early 1970s in Kiev. "Marina and I have been friends since we were eight years old and sat together in the second grade," explained Nellie. In the USSR, I learned, two students were assigned to a desk, a much wider one than those used in American schools. Marina and Nellie shared a desk throughout their school years together. They also started taking ballet lessons at a dance studio associated with a nearby college at about the same time. "We went to school together, walked home from school and studied together and we danced together," added Nellie.
In 1979, in what Nellie described as the height of Communist oppression, her family decided to emigrate to the United States. There had been a poor wheat harvest that year, and the American government had been willing to supply wheat to the Ukraine. Under those circumstances the Soviet government was less reluctant to prohibit emigration to the U.S. and Nellie's family had an invitation from close friends who had emigrated to the Cleveland, Ohio, area the year before.
"Growing up in those days you knew what you could say in public and out of public," recalled Nellie. She did not tell Marina about plans to leave the country until the week before her family's departure, when they had gone to meet in the park. "Our teacher told the class you were moving to another town," recalled Marina. "It was like the Iron Curtain shutting down, but we did have the government's permission to move," added Nellie.
Emigrating to the United States
Traveling first to Austria, then on to Italy and finally to the States, the family settled in the Cleveland area. "I wrote letters to my grandmother and to Marina," Nellie remembered. "Marina wrote back and in one letter asked how could I grow up without Russia and Russian birch trees? Marina didn't know about the States."
Within the first week of arrival, Nellie started dancing with the Cleveland Civic Ballet Company. She also remembered making an effort to change American perceptions of Russia which she believed were incorrect. Soon she stopped hearing from Marina.
Upon finishing high school, Nellie went on to study at Case Western Reserve University, while continuing to live at home. In 1987, after graduating from college she decided to move to Boston. "There was a poor economy in the Cleveland area and I wanted something urban and more cosmopolitan," said Nellie. She finally bought a condominium in Lawrence and at about the same time started hearing about the Russian peristroika and the possibility of émigrés returning home for a visit. "I never really expected to go back. When I left, it was like burying everybody and closing the door behind you," recalled Nellie. "I applied for a tourist visa in 1988, nine years after I had departed from Kiev. I had been hearing about political changes since 1979...now I could visit my entire family, my grandparents and cousins. And I had dreams of going to Marina's apartment and knowing when she saw me I would see her faint."
Returning to Kiev
On the first day back in her grandmother's apartment in Kiev, Nellie learned that a few days earlier her grandmother had seen Marina passing by the apartment with an ice cream cone and had called down to let her know that Nellie would be coming for a visit. "I called her on the phone. I hadn't forgotten that number, 745261. She had finished university [studying Russian language and literature] and still was dancing, but not so much. We spent two weeks together, visited our old school and seeing our ballet teacher. As I was leaving, I told Marina to start thinking about a visit to the U.S."
Marina did come to visit Nellie the next year in 1989. "It was an eye-opener for me," reported Marina. "I saw so many opportunities in that 1-1/2 months that I was here.
"I traveled around the eastern part of the country before I returned to Russia, to grumpy Moscow. I defended Russia while I was here, but I was shocked by the freedom in the U.S., but not at home in Russia," she continued.
In 1992, Marina came back to the U.S., this time to stay. She moved in with Nellie and her husband Vadim, who by then had moved to Brook Street, Carlisle. "I came with an ugly green suitcase and the 200 bucks that the government allowed," she recalled. "I had my freedom, but looking around I remember thinking,' Oh my God, where are the people and so many trees.'"
Marina lived with Nellie and Vadim for about a year, a year in which she got to know several Carlisle families well, while baby-sittingthe Ritz family, the Epsteins, and the Wallhagens. Eventually she moved to an apartment next door to Assurance Technology on South Street.
"I didn't want to teach in the schools. Instead I decided to pursue a ballet career and got a job with the Acton School of Ballet, a well established school," added Marina. As for her career at the ballet school, parent Joanne Crowell had nothing but praise. "My children have been fortunate to work with Marina...She is a very challenging teacher who emphasizes Russian dance technique ... no one ever leaves her class feeling less than fully challenged ... and many consider life as professional dancers."
Nellie stopped ballet dancing after moving to Boston. She does enjoy ballroom dancing with her husband Vadim and keeping busy with her children, Maxwell who is in fourth grade and Katya who is 4 1/2. She follows the ballet world and is always in touch with Marina. Together they wanted to bring a dance program to Extended Day on East Street, but they couldn't get the space or a block of time. Then Alexander (Sasha) Popov came into the picture with the possibility of the introduction of a dance school to the Moscow Art Summer Academy USA. "Sasha is expanding the summer program and hopes it will lead to a year-round program," said Nellie.
Today, these long-time friends, Marina and Nellie, who were part of a classical dance ensemble in Kiev in the '70s, are back together again as the "point people, the caretakers," as Sasha explained it, of the Bolshoi Summer Academy in Cambridge, and they couldn't be happier.
For more information on dance call (978) 371-0346. To learn more about the Academy visit www.moscowart.org or call the main office (617) 372-4707.
© 2004 The Carlisle Mosquito