Students At The Ballet Centre In Murray Learn From Russian Teacher Oleg Vinogradov
MURRAY, Utah – Ballet students in Utah had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity this summer to study with one of the world’s great teachers – from Russia. No one worried about politics or international relations – it was all about the dance.
The intense gaze as he watched a ballerina move was followed by graceful movements of his arms and hands, a quick command in Russian and then one American word, “Stay.” Oleg Vinogradov knows the art of ballet like few people in the world as a former Soviet dancer, choreographer and ballet director. He was named “People’s Artist of the USSR in 1983.
“This is ballet. This is a classical school of ballet, which is the most perfect.” He said through a translator.
Once the artistic director of the famed Kirov Ballet in Russia, he offers his wisdom and talent to ballet companies and schools everywhere. This summer, the students at The Ballet Centre in Murray learned the very exacting Oleg technique.
“Something through the universe feels like I was connected to him,” said Michelle Armstrong, the Centre’s artistic director.
As a girl, she knew of Oleg Vinogradov and wanted to study with him in then Leningrad.
“It was 1981 and I would dream about dancing in his company and I would be his favorite corps de ballet member in ‘Swan Lake’ and I would fantasize about this,” she said.
Her mother explained travel to the Soviet Union would not be possible. Eventually relations between the two nations thawed, and Michelle and her family, now husband and children, did travel to St. Petersburg to visit Oleg.
“I just tell my children and all my students, don’t ever give up on your dreams because 30 years later, I’m working with this man,” she said.
In the 1980s, Oleg broke through the political barriers that existed between the U.S. And Soviet Union touring America with his company.
“No one will be able to convince me to believe that we’re different,” said Vinogradov. “We’re all the same. God created every person equal.”
Today, Americans and Russians don’t always know how to feel about one another, but once again Oleg believes art to be the answer.
“If our governments would understand the more they budget for the arts, the better chances that the wars would never happen in world anymore,” he said.
Michelle Armstrong agrees: “Art pulls us all together, and politics are just this distraction around the outside.”
The students who participated in the Russian Youth Festival for 10 days this summer come from many dance schools and are at different levels of experience. But every single one of them wanted to have the experience of studying with Oleg.
Kayla Madsen wants to become a professional dancer. She currently studies at the MOGA Conservatory of Dance.
“Studying with Oleg is a different experience … he has so much knowledge, Kayla said. “It’s incredibly amazing to understanding everything he’s telling you and his perspective of how he wants us to dance.”
Erin McMahon studied for a summer at the Kirov Academy, is a University of Utah graduate and now dances with a professional company in California.
“To train with him and hear his knowledge and different things. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Erin said. “He’s a living legend.”
Oliver Wilson has been with the Dancer Centre for six years.
“Michelle and her daughters would come back from studying with Oleg in Russia and share with us how amazing it was and how much information they had received,” he said. “When he was coming here, I got to be a part of that and participate in this festival as well. Just the challenge of us working toward the beauty of ballet, just feels great to have a challenge like that.”
At the end of their studies with Oleg, the students performed in a Gala. It did not matter if he is Russian and they are American, as they sang, “Happy Birthday, Oleg,” when he turned 81. They all embraced and Vinogradov said this is his view of a peaceful co-existence.