‘A well-kept secret’

Yuri Grigoriev School of Ballet to perform at Pepperdine University this weekend.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

For balletomanes who can never see too many Sugar Plum Fairy solos, the recital by the Yuri Grigoriev School of Ballet at Pepperdine University’s Smothers Theatre this weekend will satisfy the soul.

A graduate of the famed Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow and a revered principal dancer with the Moscow Stanislavsky Ballet, Grigoriev toured with the Stars of the Bolshoi in more than 50 countries before settling in Los Angeles in 1996 and opening his ballet school.

After suitable classical training in Grigoriev’s forté, the Vaganova Training Syllabus developed from the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg, his graduates are now beginning to move on to prestigious professional ballet schools such as American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School.

Amanda Kofsky is a choreographer and teacher at Grigoriev’s school and has seen her students perform strongly at dance competitions throughout the country. “Yuri’s is such an exceptional studio that some of our girls got into the finals of the Youth America Grand Prix the last few years,” Kofsky said. “Only 300 kids out of thousands around the country get to even compete. It shows you the outstanding technique training he offers.”

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In fact, Grigoriev received the Best Teacher Award from the Youth America Grand Prix at the California regional competition from 2004 through 2007.

Saturday’s recital at Pepperdine will showcase 33 of the school’s dancers, ages six to 17, performing solo and group excerpts from classical ballets like “Le Corsaire,” “Firebird” and “La Bayadère.”

Grigoriev’s wife, Alexandra Grigoriev, is an American who met her husband while visiting Moscow in the 1990s. They’ve been married 13 years. “My mother is Russian and I went to Moscow to research my roots,” she said. “I came home with a husband.”

Though not a professional herself, Alexandra loves to dance and runs the school’s administration, helping to assemble a faculty team of exceptionally trained teachers and choreographers. “What makes Yuri such a great teacher is his approach to a student as a whole performer,” Alexandra said. “His concept is to work with a child seeking technical perfection, but he looks at them as artists in development. So there is technical prowess, but with a deeper artistic sensibility.”

Many of the school’s dancers work hard in class only to graduate and go on to become veterinarians or financial advisors, Alexandra said. “The point is they become the best dancers they can possibly be,” she emphasized.

The school’s yearly recital at Smothers Theatre allows the students not only to dance, but also to showcase their own choreography along with their teachers. Ashley Guillem is one student who will perform her own work. Faculty member Kenji Yamaguchi, also a staff choreographer, has danced professionally throughout Asia and performed at local venues like the Ford Amphitheatre and the Kodak Theatre.

Indiana Woodward is a ninth grade student at Malibu High School and has been studying with Grigoriev for five years. Last year, she danced in the Youth America Grand Prix competition and made it to the finals. “Yuri is a great teacher because he sees all the little details that make up a good performance,” Woodward said. “When you dance, you know that he will really take care of you as an artist and make sure you are giving your best.”

Woodward’s friend, Gracie Gottlieb, is an eighth grader at New Roads School and agrees with her assessment. “Yuri is not just dedicated to his students but to the whole process of learning and creating a role,” Gottlieb said.

Grigoriev’s reputation as a teacher continues to resonate internationally. When Russia’s Kirov Ballet presented “The Nutcracker” in Los Angeles for the first time in 13 years last December, they asked him to coordinate and coach a group of local ballet students to appear with the company. Within four rehearsals, the children were performing alongside some of the world’s most accomplished dancers.

“We have remained a smaller school to really focus on producing quality dancers,” Alexandra said. “We’re a well-kept secret, but you will see tremendous dancers.”

The Yuri Grigoriev School of Ballet will offer two performances May 23 at Smothers Theatre, 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Tickets are $20 and can be reserved by calling 310.351.1536.

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