Viktor Yeliohin of the Viktor Yeliohin International Ballet Academy admits he’s a little nice to the Sugar Plum Fairy, Nutcracker Prince, Clara and an assortment of dewdrops, snowflakes and flowers.
As the ballet master of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker,” Yeliohin will mark the 25th annual performance of holiday classical ballet with Ukraine’s Donetsk Ballet Co. from Dec. 1-3 at Lancaster Mennonite High School.
“’Nutcracker’ is beautiful magic. It is softness and beauty. It’s a gift. I could never get tired of doing “The Nutcracker”, says Yeliohin.
He may have staged the famous Lancaster Ballet for a quarter of a century, but his story with “The Nutcracker” dates back to 1956, when Yeliohin was born in Uzbekistan and raised in a cold and lonely orphanage.
The ballet saved him. He was 10 years old when he was selected by the Soviet government to study ballet. He was told he had a natural ability and ballet became his lifeline. After high school, he auditioned and was accepted into the prestigious Donetsk Ballet Co. of Ukraine. After the obligatory military service, he joins the company of which he becomes the number one soloist.
During these years he starred several times in “The Nutcracker”. In 1989 the Donetsk Ballet Co. began a tour of the United States. He first performed “The Nutcracker” in Lancaster in 1993, when Yeliohin was a soloist and children’s choreographer for local students.
While dancers performed in many cities, Yeliohin valued the connection to the community the most in Lancaster, he told LNP in a 2015 article, and decided to open the Viktor Yeliohin International Ballet Academy.
Now that he runs his own studio, he auditions students from over 20 different dance studios in Lancaster County.
In the 25 years he choreographed for the ballet, he worked with hundreds of children, adding new dance moves, costumes, sets and music to keep it fresh.
One of the highlights of this year’s Jubilee performance will be having several of its former Claras in the audience, who will be recognized for their role in the local heritage of the beloved holiday ballet. Most of them started ballet very young.
“I’ve seen so many snowflakes grow up to be soloists. It’s magical to see the children blossom,” says Yeliohin, who added even more snowflakes to the ballet, to give younger children dancers the chance to shine in the wonder of it all.
This visual of over 30 dancing snowflakes is a stunning sight on stage. It brings tears to her eyes to see the little ones.
“I love children. I like the way they dance and the way they feel the enchantment,” Yeliohin says. “It’s very hard work because they are getting better and better.”
A few of his students went on to study at the Moscow State Academy of Choreography or performed with the Joffrey Ballet School and the Martha Graham Dance Co. Seeing his dancers succeed makes him succeed, says Yeliohin.
“They are my gift, and I give them a gift too. It’s to love the ballet that we cherish so much as ‘The Nutcracker’”, he says, adding that he also gives real gifts to his young performers.
There are 90 young dancers in the 25th performance of “The Nutcracker” this year, and each of them receives a gift from Yeliohin. It is reminiscent of the Stahlbaum family Christmas party, with each member of the family receiving gifts. Clara’s gift, of course, is the precious Nutcracker, which takes her on a magical journey to winter wonderland, a battle with the Mouse King and the foreign lands of Spain, Russia, Denmark, China and Arabia.
“Tchaikovsky wrote ‘The Nutcracker’ for children,” says Yeliohin. “He composed it just a year before he died.”
Composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in 1892, “The Nutcracker” was based on ETA Hoffmann’s story of “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King”. It was Tchaikovsky’s third ballet masterpiece, with “Swan Lake” in 1876, “Sleeping Beauty” in 1889 and “The Nutcracker” as his last ballet before his death in 1893.
“‘Nutcracker’ was Tchaikovsky’s gift to children, and the world has loved it ever since,” says Yeliohin. “For 25 years, this has been our gift to Lancaster.”¶