Few 20-something's get excited when asked where they'd like to be in 10 years. "I love that question," says Adrian Blake Mitchell, 20, a student at Ellison Ballet. In a few weeks he'll be moving from New York City to St. Petersburg, Russia, where he'll study at the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet. The change is daunting, but exciting for Adrian.
The road to Russia has not always been easy. Growing up, Adrian moved around the country with his mom, and earned scholarships to attend ballet schools and summer intensives. He wanted to immerse himself in ballet and the ballet world, but rarely had the funds to go see performances. "Ballet is not easily accessible. That's one thing I'd love to change, get it out there." Adrian is breaking multiple boundaries not only as an American training at the Vaganova Academy, but also as the first African American male ballet dancer in Russia.
Adrian is humble when he thinks of the great male dancers who've come before him. He rattles off names of his favorite Russian dancers - "Baryshnikov, Nureyev, Makarova, Lopatkina, Vishneva" - like he's fluent. Like most things in his life, Adrian approaches learning Russian with quiet confidence, "I have Rosetta Stone; I'm working on it." he says.
As for the next 10 years, Adrian has big plans. "I want to have an international career, be on stage in front of thousands, experience everything there is to offer," he says. "But there's so much more than that." He sat down with NYC Dance Project to discuss his plans, the future of ballet, and of course, Russia.
Something clicked with the Russian training. Even before I got into the ballet, I always talked about Russia and my mom had no clue why. I loved the James Bond movie where he he was in Russia. It was something about the culture that I liked. I remember seeing the buildings and thinking they looked like they were made out of candy. I appreciate the history behind the Russian culture of dance. The Vaganova Academy was founded in 1738, that's the history that I love, Baryshnikov and Nureyev, they're products of the Russian method, too. I've had the most unorthodox training that you could imagine. All of my friends have had a private coach for five years or in a big school for a bunch of years, or a private coach and a big school - and then straight into that company. There are many different ways of training that people go through, and mine's not one of them. It wasn't until we settled down that I started to love dance. My mom was in law school as a single mother, so for a year I had to go live with my grandparents. The only studio near their house was recreational, and it was once a week, but I was able to attend a private Waldorf school. I was floored when Oleg Vinogradov asked my partner, Sarah Ezzell and me to come to Russia the first time. He was the one who gave Zakharova her contract, and all of these famous dancers have worked for him. We were like, "You think what of us?" We were surprised he even looked our way, because look at his standard. It was amazing, incredible. I found out that we were performing in a gala with the stars of the Mariinsky, dancing Giselle. It was surreal. We were in a theatre for 18,00 people and there were 2,000 people; standing in the aisles, sitting in the back. All of a sudden I was exactly where I'd always dreamt of being. It's crazy to be going to Vaganova. It's hit me now. I'm excited to be a black man with a diploma from the oldest most famous ballet school in the entire world. That'll be cool to go around with and have with me.
Although Adrian's dreams are coming together, he appreciates any support. If you would like to donate to cover the costs of his tuition, click here for more information. He extends his gratitude.
Written by Cory Stieg