The Arty Semite

First Israeli To Study in Russian Ballet Academy

By Lisa Traiger

  • Print
  • Share Share

When Noa Erlitzki flies to Russia early next month to enroll in the Perm State Choreographic College, the 19-year-old ballerina will become the first Israeli, and among a very few Americans, to study in one of the most venerable ballet academies in the world.

Haifa-born Erlitzki was a late bloomer in the ballet world, already 11 when she signed on for lessons with a Ukrainian-trained teacher, Natalia Shevchenko, at Chambers Performing Arts Academy in suburban Atlanta. Shevchenko inculcated Erlitzki with the Vaganova technique, a strict methodology that has produced some of the world’s most prized ballet dancers. At the beginning Erlitzki danced in a class with girls three or four years younger than herself, but within two years she caught up, dancing on pointe with students close to her own age.

Now, after eight years of ballet lessons, Erlitzki is intent on refining her training and gaining a spot with a European company. She says she’s ready to leave behind the comforts of family and friends in the U.S. for grueling 10- to 12-hour days of classes, rehearsals, more classes and coaching sessions in Perm, which is about 800 miles east of Moscow, near the Ural mountains.

While Erlitzki is excited about her impending trip, her family, particularly her grandparents who remain in Israel, expressed surprise that she would choose to study in Russia, long inhospitable to Jews. “It’s hard for them,” Erlitzki admitted. “It is a strange and unique thing for an Israeli to be doing. Unfortunately, sometimes [there are] stereotypes between Israelis and Russians.”

Ballet, of course, has been an integral part of Russian culture since the 19th century, when a great classical style developed under a near-militaristic training system supported by and for the czars. For Erlitzki to follow in the footsteps of generations of great dancers and choreographers — Perm is the nation’s third-ranked ballet company and academy behind the famed Mariinsky (Kirov) and Bolshoi ballets — is a dream come true.

But while Russian classical ballet is renowned and copied the world over, it has not been particularly friendly to Jews. Even one of the 20th century’s greatest ballerinas, Maya Plisetskaya, who rose to the highest ranks at the Bolshoi Ballet, faced difficulties as a Jew. Born into a prominent theatrical family, Plisetskaya’s father Michael Plisetski was executed during Stalin’s purges, and her mother, Rachel Messerer, a film actress, was sent to a labor camp in the gulag. Young Maya rose rapidly through the Bolshoi’s ranks after joining the company in 1943, but she was prohibited from touring in the West until 1959 due to her family’s Jewish background.

For Erlitzki, though, this is ancient history. Her inspiration to apply to Perm came when she saw another young American ballet student, Texan Joy Womack, accepted into the Bolshoi’s academy two years earlier. (Last month Womack, 18, became the first American trained at the Bolshoi to join the company.) “I think the Russians are the best in the world,” Erlitzki, an admitted Russophile, said, “and I always wanted to be like them but thought it was something that could never happen.”

Erlitzki is seeking a rarefied life in Russia where she she’s heard that ballet dancers are as popular as football and basketball stars are in the U.S. She is aware, too, of the strictness and hands-on techniques of Russian teachers, who have no qualms about slapping a student’s misplaced thigh or foot. “The methods are a little different,” she said. “That is what attracted me in the first place. I’ve always liked being pushed hard… I know it will be extremely difficult, but when you try to get a compliment out of them, it’s so much more rewarding.”

Her first year at Perm is probationary; if she passes her exams she will have three more years before receiving a diploma as a ballet artist. Then she hopes to join a company, perhaps in Europe, or, even better, the Israel Ballet. But $14,000 a year tuition, shoes (a few pair a week at about $90 each), and travel add up. Erlitzki is still seeking funding to cover her expenses, but is hopeful she’ll be able to complete the year. She also discovered that on her mother’s side there is some Russian ancestry, which makes her proud. “I hope that maybe somehow, I can do something to use this opportunity to improve the relations between Russians and Israelis,” Erlitzki said. “I’m not sure how to go about doing that, but I think that would be amazing.”


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Perm State Choreographic College, Noa Erlitzki, Lisa Traiger, Dance, Ballet

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Yeshiva University's lawyer wanted to know why the dozens of former schoolboys now suing over a sexual abuse cover-up didn't sue decades ago. Read the judge's striking response here.
  • It’s over. The tyranny of the straight-haired, button nosed, tan-skinned girl has ended. Jewesses rejoice!
  • It's really, really, really hard to get kicked out of Hebrew school these days.
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.