Ballet academy

North Vancouver dancer earns spot at Bolshoi Ballet Academy

Caitlin Smart one of 10 international dancers to have the opportunity to train with a prestigious program

Imagine moving to Switzerland to learn how to make chocolate from a master chocolatier.

Or Japan to immerse yourself in the world of high-tech electronics. Or Colombia to study the coffee-making process, or the Scottish Highlands to make whisky, or for that matter Canada, to play hockey at the highest level.

It’s a taste of what Caitlin Smart, a teenager from North Vancouver, is feeling as she begins an intensive six-month training program with the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow, Russia. The 16-year-old is one of 10 international students from around the world who have been invited to join 90 Russian dancers for training at the prestigious school starting this month. Learning ballet in Russia is something she’s been dreaming of for a long time, Smart said recently before setting off on an adventure.

“Russia is such a big part of the ballet world,” she said. “It is also one of their national prides. They have done a lot to really make ballet an art form and to make it more appreciated.

And the Bolshoi name, in particular, ranks up there with the Paris Opera as the embodiment of the art form, Smart said.

“It has a lot of power,” she said of the Bolshoi’s position in the ballet world. “There are these big, iconic names that even if you don’t know ballet from a personal perspective, you still know these theaters and dance schools. And I think that’s amazing.

It took a lot of hard work for Smart to get there. She started dancing at the age of three.

“I started out at rec centers just around North Van, just going to little drop-in classes with my mum,” she said. From there she joined Vanleena Dance Academy in North Vancouver, where she spent the next 13 years developing her skills with instructors Eileen Vanneck and Kehree Lacasse. A pivotal moment came at age 12 when she spent a summer training with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

“That’s when I decided ballet was something I wanted to pursue, not just something I loved,” she said.

Since then, she has been training almost non-stop, working to earn an opportunity such as the one offered to her by the Bolshoi Academy. This invite was hard-earned, as she first had to audition on Zoom for the chance to attend an extended six-week audition/training session in New York City last summer.

The New York session was difficult not only because she was vying for a coveted spot at the Bolshoi academy against other top dancers from around the world, but also because she was learning a new style of ballet. Smart is trained in classic English ballet style, while the Bolshoi audition was all Russian-style ballet. The difference may seem insignificant to the untrained eye, but small tweaks in placement and technique added up to create a big learning curve.

“It was a change of pace for me, which was very exciting,” Smart said.

Months after the New York audition, Smart received a letter telling her she had been accepted into the Bolshoi Academy.

“I was very speechless,” she said. “I didn’t really know what to do. …I didn’t deal with it right away. It was just kind of, like, I didn’t understand what it meant to move to a different country and kind of pursue my lifelong dream.

The adventure will begin now. Smart has spent the past month doing its best to avoid COVID exposures and is expected to arrive in Russia on January 14.

“It’s very nerve-wracking,” she said. “Obviously the language barrier and a whole new country with no one I know there. …I took Russian 11 [in high school] this year as a language, so I worked on it. Obviously, it’s hard to learn when you’re not completely surrounded by that. But we are getting there. »

She is also looking for some help with the cost of education and living in Russia, as there are no scholarships offered by the academy. To help defray the costs, her family set up a fundraising page.

Upon his return from Russia, Smart’s goal is to continue his career here in Canada.

“I hope to come back to Vancouver at some point and dance here with a company, and I would like to travel around Europe, dance and tour with companies,” she said, adding that she will always be grateful to the people who helped her get started. “The Vanleena Dance Academy, where I have been training for almost 13 years now, has been so instrumental in getting me to where I am today.”