Dance steps from Russia

The Baltimore Sun

Janette Sullivan has dedicated her life to teaching people of all ages how to "twirl with grace" in her ballet classes, and three years ago, she broadened her influence to encompass all types of aspiring young dancers, regardless of their training background, with the Westminster International Dance Festival.

"I found inspiration from spending many summers as a youth attending dance camps around the country," Sullivan said. "Those camps really strengthened my dance skills, and I knew there were no similar camps in the Westminster area."

Beginning Monday through July 27, dancers will gather at the State of the Arts Dance & Music Center in Westminster for up to eight hours a day for intensive workshops focusing on Russian technique, character dance and tango.

"Russian technique is an incredibly beautiful art that some of the finest dancers in the world have trained in," said Sullivan, who has danced for 35 years. "The way this style incorporates the upper body and the expressionism it involves is amazing. The essence of this style of dance is hard work, determination and tenacity - all of which is important for dancers to experience."

Dancers can choose their level of involvement in this festival, enrolling for the entire two weeks, day by day or simply by class. Students with all levels of experience and with any type of dance background, including modern dance and even hip-hop, are able to participate.

"It is not necessary to have background in ballet to participate in this summer festival," said Mary Talmi, co-producer of the Moscow Ballet American Tour and a dancer for more than 50 years. "Jazz, tap and modern dance, in most good schools, have some ballet training as a basis. A dancer coming to this program would be able to build on whatever amount of ballet training they have received."

When this international dance festival was founded three years ago by Sullivan, whose background is in classical ballet, she found inspiration from spending years attending international dance festivals around the country.

"I wanted to gather international minds of art to collaborate and make an open environment for people to come to," she said. "There wasn't a dance festival in this area at the time, and I thought it was important to have one."

This year's festival features Moscow Ballet soloist and prima ballerina Svetlana Todinova, who will be teaching classes in ballet technique, point and variations, character dance and partnering. Todinova will also teach students excerpts from the classical Russian ballet Giselle.

"The main point of interest for this year's festival is that we are bringing to students who are very serious about dance training a Russian dancer who has had such complete training," Talmi said. "Russian training is so much more thorough than what you find in America, and Svetlana is the epitome of an exquisite dancer. Her immersion in the classics is unparalleled."

Dancers will also take workshops from and will be mentored by members of the New Generation Dance Company - "The Tango Company," and from Leah Barsky, Almania Colombo, Ivanova Aguilar and Dardo Galletto - all international dance members of Westminster Ballet Theatre.

Every day will begin with a 1 1/2 -hour workshop on classical Russian vagonova technique, followed by an hour of pointe technique and then an hour of Russian character dance, a historic Russian folk dance that focuses a lot on footwork, such as stomping, and skirt work. The second half of every day will be dedicated to learning repertoire from Giselle.

"Summer dance festivals are so important because students who desire to learn about dance are able to immerse themselves in it for the whole day," Sullivan said. "All their brain cells and energy are focused on dance without the distraction of school. At these festivals alone, I have seen students progress one, sometimes even two levels, in just a two-week period. This means they completely skip one or two years of dance training."

The hard work will culminate in a performance at the Carroll Community College's Scott Theatre. Students will perform excerpts from Giselle alongside Todinova, and members of Westminster Ballet Theatre will also perform.

"Dance is the universal art, and it is important that there are no boundaries to it," Sullivan said. "This festival opens up young dancers' minds to a new kind of art with very personal training from the best."

The third annual Westminster International Dance Festival runs Monday-July 27 and will conclude with a free performance at 7 p.m. at the Carroll Community College's Scott Theatre, 1601 Washington Road, Westminster. Fees for classes vary. For more information or to inquire about participating in the festival, call 410-848-6048 or go to

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