Dance for Love!
Life seems pretty hectic sometimes, or probably even most of the time. If you were to define it, using verbs of motion, which ones would you choose? Run, hurry, rush are the ones that I can come up off the top of my head as I think of the commotion and the unsleeping "perpetuum mobile" that turns the wheels that keep everything in motion in this busy, busy world… in this busy, busy city of Moscow.
But as I further challenge my in-built thesaurus for something more life-affirming, the verb “to dance” steps forth. Why not see the turning and swirling world around us as dancing? Why not join in the dance?
“Life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we’re here we should dance”, someone once said.
Oh yes. We definitely should. Even if you weren’t all too inspired, see how you feel after you talk to someone for whom to live and to dance means, really, the same thing!
Allow me the privilege to present two such people to you, two unique American dancers in Moscow, students of the Bolshoi Ballet Academy: Mario Vitale Labrador and Joy Anabelle Womack.
Joy Womack is a 17-year old American student at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, born April, 20, 1994. She began dancing at the age of three in a dance exploration class in Los Angeles. Growing up, she trained at many different studios with many prominent choreographers around Santa Monica and Los Angeles, and dreamt of going to New York. In 2006, the Womack family moved to Austin, Texas. “At first I thought this would be the end to all my achievements and dreams”, says Joy. But was it?
Joy, you started dancing very early in life. When did you realize that ballet was your calling?
By the time I was 7, I knew I wanted to dance for the rest of my life. At the age of nine I received a book about ballet as a Christmas present. As I began reading it, what jumped to my attention was that it said that to achieve anything as a dancer, you need to dance about ten hours a day. I highlighted these lines in the book and took it to my teacher, demanding a change of schedule. The teacher was astonished and was like, okay, hold your horses. That’s a significant memory I have of myself.
That’s truly significant, even symbolic, makes one think of Appolo’s quadriga above the portico of the Bolshoi Theatre…
Really the turning point for me was joining Austin School of classical ballet in 2006, where Jennifer Felkner introduced me to the traditions of Russian ballet. Then my dreams changed and now were all about Russia and Bolshoi.
And no more “New York State of mind”?
My New York dream did come true, too! During the summer of 2008, I attended American Ballet Theatre summer intensive in New York. I was then taking classes at Steps on Broadway with world renowned teachers David Howard, Alexander Filipov, Edward Ellison, Fabrice Herrault, and Wilhelm Burmann. I was studying at the Kirov Ballet Academy at the time and that was my summer break.
Where did Russia come in?
In New York, Svetlana Ivanova of the Bolshoi Theatre gave an open class of ballet as she was looking for students for the Russian-American foundation’s summer program. I went there and Ivanova asked me if I wanted to be in their school, the Bolshoi Ballet Academy.
That’s how my dream came true, and I couldn’t even believe it. In Moscow, Natalia Arkhipova opened the door for me to dance solo roles.
You are a fluent speaker of Russian. Did you learn Russian before you began living in the country?
When I came, I didn’t speak it at all and was faced with a choice. I was the only American at the Bolshoi Academy at the time, and the program was intended for Russians and taught in Russian. I had literally three months to learn the language, and it was the second thing after dancing I gave my best effort to. You know, when you speak the language of the country you’re in, it becomes a part of you. You are able to understand the culture, the mentality better. This was also important to me as a dancer.
You have such an exciting life, so many amazing achievements, but it also seems incredibly challenging. What keeps you going?
My teachers who make me demand the best of myself. My family back home, my friends here in Russia.
But most importantly, God. I’m a Christian, and all I am, all I have achieved, wouldn’t be possible without His will.
As a dancer, whatever I do, wherever I go, I dance for God.
My soul is open and lies bare on the stage, and I hope the audience will find something there.
Mario Vitale Labrador is a 21 year old American originally from the Bay Area, California, United States. Born on 16 November 1990, he started ballet in 2001, at the age of ten. In 2006, joined the Oakland Ballet Company, where he performed The Prince from the Nutcracker and Benvolio from Romeo and Juliet. In 2009, joined Diablo Ballet. In 2010, he applied, and was accepted, to the prestigious ballet school , the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow.
P: Mario, what was your first encounter with ballet? Did you fall in love with it right away?
As a child, I was always a big dreamer. I loved pretending to be everything, and it would all happen mostly in my room (laughs). I never had any patience for anything that required work or time. Ballet wasn’t presented to me until I was about 5 years old, when my mother took me to see my cousin in the San Francisco Ballet’s production of the Nutcracker. My mother asked me a couple times if I wanted to try ballet. But the kids at school were saying that ballet was just for girls, and being the naive kid I was, I believed it and I told her that I didn’t want to get bullied. But I did tell her, that maybe later, when I’m older, I’ll try.
P: Obviously, you did try later.
I started dancing ballet when I was 10, at a very small dance studio called Oakland Ballet Academy. At 5:15 pm, June 9th, 2001, I remember walking into the studio, sitting down in the corner on the other side of the room from the teacher. To this day I don’t know how I got up and just started dancing. Somehow I untied my shoes, took them off, and…
"I’m a Christian, and all I am, all I have achieved, wouldn’t be possible without God’s will. As a dancer, whatever I do, wherever I go, I dance for God"
P: Why Russia? What brought you here? A life-time dream, a lucky chance, a crazy idea?
Before I knew coming to Bolshoi was an option for me, I never even thought about Russia! My favorite company was American Ballet Theatre because, I loved the dancing coming from there, and America was the place where I thought I would stay forever. But, as I got older, my ballet knowledge grew. I started wondering about what was happening in the ballet world all around the globe, and the possibilities that could be achieved. But I still felt that I wasn’t good enough to participate in that, and it would be on a different continent. It felt like a far-off dream.
My friend Joy Womack and I met at American Ballet Theatre Summer Intensive back in 2008. She became a student of Bolshoi Ballet Academy. We kept in touch and joked a lot, saying how it would be so cool if we were in the same school together. So I finally, quite randomly, decided to send the Bolshoi a very amateur video of me doing class. I basically didn’t know what I was doing. But somehow, a week after the video, I received my acceptance letter. And I’ve been here over two years.
In November 2011, you and Joy Womack danced the lead parts in “La Fille Mal Gardee” on the newly re-opened Bolshoi Stage.
“La Fille” was really the chance of a lifetime. It was the first time they had cast Americans for the lead roles in their Annual full-length ballet at the Bolshoi. It was such a privilege for both Joy and me. I wouldn’t have wanted to dance it with anyone else except her. With Joy, I felt like we had a fusion, an electricity on stage that was so tangible!
There’s a saying that everyone can be a dancer at heart. How is this achieved?
Live everything that you love, to the fullest, because there is no greater gift than love and happiness. Whether it’s dancing on stage, working in a classroom, sitting on a bench, or eating a burger, do it with the integrity of love, because I believe everyone deserves to experience life at its fullest.
I can’t but agree. And it makes my heart dance.