Ekaterina Shchelkanova, a former soloist of American Ballet Theatre and Kirov Ballet, established the Open World Dance Foundation in 2010 after recognizing that the art form she loves could help the many orphans in her hometown of St. Petersburg, Russia. Through Open World Foundation, she also runs a successful summer intensive program, presenting students a rare opportunity to train with master teachers with a direct connection to Vaganova Ballet Academy.
Ekaterina, or Katya, began her journey in St. Petersburg, Russia. From the time she was a little girl, she dreamed of becoming a dancer. In 1988, she graduated from the Vaganova Ballet Academy, in the class of Professor Ludmila Safronova, one of Agrippina Vaganova’s last students. She was invited to the Kirov, now Mariinsky Theater, and started her career with the company as a soloist.
After performing the Kirov rep for several years, Katya decided to uproot and move to New York. In a class with beloved teacher David Howard, she had a chance meeting with Mikhail Baryshnikov. After explaining that she was not dancing with a company at the time, he encouraged her to keep dancing. With his words of encouragement, she built her confidence and in January 1995, Ekaterina joined the
American Ballet Theatre (ABT). There she worked with choreographers Twyla Tharp and Mark Morris, dancing solo and leading parts in the broad repertoire of American Ballet Theatre and travelling extensively with the company.
In 2001, Ekaterina left ABT to work with Twyla Tharp in creating “Moving Out”, the Broadway musical by Billy Joel. Just one year later, she debuted in the Oscar award winning film, Chicago, in the role of Hunyak. She and the other principal actors received a Screen Actors Guild Award. Then in 2004, Ekaterina produced and starre in The End of Silence, a film by Anita Doron.
Later, in 2005, Ekaterina served as Artistic Director of Berlin Children’s Art Festival and began her teaching and coaching career at Royal Ballet of Canadian and Les Grands Ballet Canadiens de Montreal.
In her heart, Katya knew she needed to reach out to children in a more meaningful way. She began to reflect on the difficult life of a ballet dancer and her gratitude for her much needed family’s support. She then started to wonder about those who don’t have parents.
These thoughts lead Ekaterina to research orphans in Russia, a country that has the highest number of orphans anywhere in the world. Russian orphanages are numbered rather than named; there are 120 orphanages in St. Petersburg alone. Ekaterina knew she had to get involved, and when she mentioned the idea to her friend, Baryshnikov, he encouraged her to follow her instinct.
On a visit to a St. Petersburg orphanage, an 11-year-old boy approached her and told her how much he loved to dance. He said he wanted to one day join the Mariinsky Ballet. But it was too late: Training at the Vaganova Ballet Academy, which feeds into the Mariinsky, begins at age ten. Ekaterina knew the boy had missed his shot at the legendary school, so she arranged for him and a few others from the orphanage to take lessons at a small private school.
These lessons brought about noticeable changes in the children. They became more responsible for themselves and their studies. Their grades improved. They saw themselves as able to succeed. When she talked with a psychologist about this, the psychologist said that “with dancing they were able to accomplish more in two weeks than what the psychologist can do in a whole year.”
Ekaterina also recognized that the way to ensure that a child’s talent will be seen before age ten is to educate the teachers and orphanage personnel. With better informed teachers, dance programs for children in orphanages blossom and the children who have a special aptitude are identified early. But whether or not professional careers emerge, the central goal of the foundation is for the students to find a creative outlet and a sense of joy. With a new life passion, Ekaterina formed Open World Dance Foundation.
One particularly bright and promising twelve year-old girl, Tatiana Koltsova was an Open World Dance Foundation student. She was offered the opportunity to train with the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School within ABT, New York. Refused the opportunity by the head of the orphanage, Ekaterina was determined to further Tatiana’s training. With a desire to prepare her to audition for the Vaganova Academy, Katya developed a summer intensive, asking her friends, former dancers and master ballet teachers, to help her. That summer in Soschi, Tatiana and other orphans attended. Following the intensive, Tatiana auditioned and was accepted to the Vaganova Academy.
Click Here for Tatiana’s Story
The Open World Dance Foundation Summer Intensive is now in its third year and will be held in Riga, Latvia, birthplace of Mikhail Baryshnikov, Maris Liepa, and Alexandr Godunov. The two week intensive, held in July is open to students as young as ten years old through professional dancers. Auditions in America are held in five different locations throughout January or can be submitted via DVD. The intensive presents a rare opportunity to train with master teachers with a direct connection to Vaganova Ballet Academy of St Petersburg, Russia receiving coaching from the world’s most elite instructors.
Open World Dance Foundation will also be offering their first teachers program and conference for ballet instructors, coaches, and studio owners lead by Professors of Vaganova Academy Irina Trofimova and Ludmila Safronova who were both students of Agrippina Vaganova. These amazing women will provide lectures on Vaganova methods by level which will be followed immediately with observation of their teaching reinforcing those approaches as they are used in the studios of the summer intensive program. Special pricing available for those attending with students.