Rose Vermazen stands en pointe, balancing perfectly on the tips of her ballet shoes.
How long can she stand like that?
“Until I want to go down,” she says, matter-of-factly.
Her dogged push for excellence has paid off. On Sunday, Rose officially began life as a student at the Bolshoi Academy in Moscow.
Like many, the 15-year-old Davis resident began her dancing career in a children’s ballet class. Unlike the rest of the kids, however, Rose was serious, practicing the steps without breaking into laughter or goofing around.
She also was fast falling in love with ballet. And, almost as quickly, she zeroed in on attending the Bolshoi Academy, drawn to the academy’s reputation as one of the oldest and most prestigious ballet schools in the world.
“Nobody’s perfect, but they really have produced nearly perfect dancers,” Rose said.
Rose would spend time watching YouTube videos, admiring the traditions and distinctive style of ballet for which Russia, and the Bolshoi in particular, is known.
“What (the teachers) learned, they’re teaching you. It’s directly from the source,” Rose said. “It’s just pure classical ballet.”
Not that it’s been an easy journey.
“It has been a process,” said Heather Vermazen, Rose’s mother. “When she was 9 and announced she wanted to go to Russia to dance, we said, ‘Are you kidding?’ ”
But Rose set to work, training with various teachers, many of them Russian. She auditioned — and earned — a spot in the Bolshoi Summer Intensive in 2009. Financial constraints kept her from attending the summer program in 2010, but Rose returned to dance in 2011 and this past summer.
Teachers took notice of Rose’s training, but also her natural form: Rose has the leg hyperextension and high foot arches highly favored in ballerinas, along with a natural 180-degree “turnout,” or the ability to place her feet ankle-to-ankle in a straight line.
At the end of each summer, Rose received a report from her teachers. The reports typically carry a brief positive remark and a long list of how to improve.
“For Rose, it was ‘You have the makings of a true ballerina.’ So, at 15, they just see clay to work with,” Heather said. “The biggest thing at this age is that she has the physical ability to do things and the desire to do things, and those combined are talent.”
After the close of each program, a select handful of the roughly 200 program attendees receive invitations to enroll in the Bolshoi Academy.
“I’ve wanted it for so long, and I always thought maybe it would happen,” Rose said.
But all of her hard work didn’t prepare her for the day she finally received her invitation.
“It was the greatest feeling in the world,” Rose said.
Rose hopes to complete three years in the Bolshoi program, auditioning at the end of each year. She calls it “AP testing for dance,” though a low score comes with a consequence a bit more drastic than an irate parent: a too-low score, and a dancer could lose her spot in the school.
Rose remains unconcerned, even at the thought of dancing with some of the world’s best ballet students, each one trying to succeed and perhaps one day dance in the professional Bolshoi Ballet.
“I’m a pretty strong-willed person myself,” Rose said. “It’s not about competing against other students, it’s about achieving perfection and the ideal dancer.”
But all dreams have a price.
“Training is very expensive,” Rose said. “There’s no way to fund it.”
Russian students benefit from subsidized tuition, and students from other countries receive financial aid or other benefits, such as free flights, to make attending the school more affordable. However, the United States does not offer financial aid.
“It’s the burden of families to fund,” Heather said.
Her family has turned to Youth Arts in Action, a nonprofit organization that helps fund American dancers through its Americans at the Bolshoi donation site. Donors can read a short bio on the five dancers participating in the program online, and then decide to whom and how much they will give. Visit www.youthartsinaction.org/AmericansAtTheBolshoi.aspx.
The Bolshoi Academy also demands absolute commitment.
In addition to five dance classes a day, six days a week, dancers must take academic classes. (Rose has been homeschooled in Davis.) Foreign students also must study the Russian language. Students receive one break during the winter of their first and second years, but no break during their third year.
“I love my family, but I don’t get homesick,” Rose said. “I know I’ll be so focused, I won’t have time to think about it.”
Not only must foreign students leave behind their families to travel to Moscow, they also must adapt to a different language and culture.
“I’m trying to go in with no expectations,” Rose said. “My Russian teachers just told me to go in with a blank slate, and look at it with a Russian point of view.”
Rose hopes her experiences with her Russian teachers will help her deal with the culture shock, particularly the notoriously critical Russian teaching style.
“I’ve always loved it, because they can yell at you and correct you, but it comes from love,” Rose said. “They correct you, but it’s because they want you to become better.”
“(Rose’s teachers) have all given her a list of advice, both dancing advice and social advice,” Heather said.
A small community has grown among the group of parents who have children attending the Bolshoi Academy. One family has several sons enrolled in the school, and the mother “lives across from the Bolshoi in a little apartment,” according to Heather. She’s agreed to check in with Rose, and help her to make the transition from America to Russia.
“She’s catching Rose on the other end,” Heather said.
Despite the miles that will be between her and her daughter, Heather is confident that Rose will be able to handle being by herself.
“She’s proved to us over the years that she’s responsible,” Heather said. “She can handle being in the city.”
However, that doesn’t make sending her child to a foreign country any less hard.
“There are other adults in her life, telling her mom and dad this is what she needs to do,” Heather said.
Rose hopes to graduate from the academy and become part of the Bolshoi Company, the professional company that takes most of its dancers from the school. But for now, she’s satisfied with being able to take the opportunity to study ballet with the best.
“I’m so happy when I can express myself in my dance,” she said.
— Reach Anna Sturla at [email protected]