Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bright Nights, Foreign City

Company dancers in front of St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow

They’re back! The fourteen dancers who travelled to Russia for the
Moscow International Contemporary Dance Festival have returned to the states bringing good reviews and Russian culture back from the East. Both the dancers and Artistic Director Gerard Charles agree the trip was a memorable, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and for some was even their first experience out of the country.

is the first American company to be invited to this festival, and this trip marks their fifth international performance. What was an even greater treat was that the company was able to visit one of the birthplaces of Ballet. Dancer Jackson Sarver thought it incredible to “be able to perform in the country that has born so many dancers before us.”

Take a look at some highlights of the trip from the dancers' perspectives!

Jackson Sarver

Jackson enjoyed the trip immensely and said he would have probably never done something like this until later in his life, if at all. However, the dancers faced several challenges while on the trip. “The floor of the stage was the biggest challenge,” Jackson said. Many older stages are “raked,” which means the back of the stage is actually set higher than the front of the stage. This is so the audience could better see the feet of the performers. However, the problem was not with the actual stage, but with the marley, the smooth gray surface the covers the floor. “It was not raked, but they laid the marley directly on the wood floor, unlike us who put down a 'sprung floor' first, then marley. It wasn’t a problem not having the sprung floor, except that the floor was ridged and uneven where it met the next piece of wood. It was like a picnic table that’s been warped a bit by sitting in the sun and heat for a few years.” Jackson also said the language barrier was thick, and they often had to “play charades” with the Russians in order to communicate. The dancers found it was easier to communicate with the people in St. Petersburg because the culture and diversity made them more willing to help out some confused Americans! Jackson also noted the White Nights as being one of the highlights of the trip. “I have a picture from the window of our hotel room at 12:30 a.m., and it looks like it’s only 8 p.m.” Jackson satisfied his so-called "historical-nerdy" side by watching the changing of the guard.

Andrew Notarile

For Andrew, this was his first experience leaving the United States! He describes the trip to Russia as “awesome, inspiring, and educational,” despite missed flights and a night spent sleeping on the floor of the Detroit airport. Like Jackson, Andrew found the stage and language barrier to be a difficulty, but enjoyed the beauty of the theatres and lively audiences. “The audiences for all the shows received us well,” Andrew said. “One thing I was not expecting was when they applaud, they clap in unison, unlike us where we clap at different times.” Andrew had the chance to go inside the Hermitage, the biggest museum in the world, with fellow dancers David Tlaiye, Annie Mallonee, and Dustin James. Though the dancers had much free time to explore the city, Andrew wished he had more time to spend in the museum. “I was telling my parents that I could spend a week or more just on the ceilings, floors, and moldings of the Hermitage alone, there is so much art to look at that it can’t be done all in one day,” Andrew said. He also found the White Nights to be especially beautiful, even though it confused his body and made it hard to fall asleep!

Adrienne Benz

“Russia was one of the most fun experiences I have ever had, with a great group of friends,” Adrienne said. She was lucky to be able to room with one of her good friends, dancer Adam Hundt. Adrienne is a big shopper, so she loved the souvenir tent shops and couldn’t get enough of the Russian nesting dolls, or as she likes to call them, “mushmoishas”. Adrienne also loved the historical sites. “The first day we got there we walked to the Red Square to see the Kremlin and St. Basil, which looked like it was from a fairy tale!” she exclaimed. The dancers also took a boat and bus tour of St. Petersburg and visited the Spilled Blood Cathedral.
Like the other dancers, Adrienne mostly stuck with familiar foods, but did try some traditional Russian cuisine. “I did try Borscht (a Russian soup), and they had great salads and even pizza,” Adrienne said. She even tried salmon caviar and didn’t think it was too bad.

Gerard Charles

Gerard and the dancers were impressed by the enthusiasm the audiences had for their performances and for dance in general. “It took us a little while to adjust our style of bowing at the end of a piece to fulfill their sustained hand clapping,” Gerard said. For their performance of Testify in Moscow, the company received a whopping 24 curtain calls. They even overheard a ballet master from the renowned Bolshoi Ballet saying it was worth waiting to see BalletMet perform Topsy. Despite slippery stages, feet caught in costumes, and music malfunctions, BalletMet gave performances to be remembered by the audiences. “At the last performance of the last piece just as the curtain was to open on Topsy, the person who ran the music told me she had the wrong music for the piece,” Gerard said. He had to run up and down three flights of stairs to fix the problem and said he “was still breathing heavily as the curtain closed.”
Gerard said that taking the overnight train ride from Moscow to St. Petersburg was a fun experience, though fitting all the people and luggage onto the train was like playing a game of Tetris.

To see more photos of the trip to Russia check out our Facebook photo album


  1. Awesome experience! What pieces did the company perform? Was it all in one show or over a regular program schedule?

  2. It's so awesome to see these photos and read some of the dancers' comments. I'm so proud of BalletMet's ultra- talented dancers and artistic staff for representing the United States at the festival so brilliantly!

  3. Thanks for your comments! The dancers performed Topsy, Testify, Play and There, below in four performances - two in Moscow then two in St. Petersburg - during the Moscow International Contemporary Dance Festival ( They performed alongside companies from Russia and Italy.