by Sue Ann Rybak
Thanks to Mt. Airy resident Nancy Malmed, executive director of the Germantown-based International Ballet Exchange (IBE), a non-profit organization dedicated to providing high-quality classical ballet education, performance opportunities and exposure to public school students, the Donetsk Ballet of Ukraine and 50 local ballet students will perform Peter Tchaikovsky’s famous fairy-tale ballet, “The Nutcracker,” at Plymouth Whitemarsh High School, 201 E. Germantown Pike in Plymouth Meeting, at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 17, and 2 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 18.
Malmed, also director of the Wissahickon Dance Academy (WDA), 35 E. School House Lane in Germantown, said the acclaimed dance company is on tour in the U.S., despite the continuing civil war in their city and country. Internationally renowned principal dancer, Irina Komarenko, will be dancing the lead role for the company. Since 1989, the Donetsk Ballet has been touring the world: Italy, Spain, Norway, France, China, Japan and the U.S.
“WDA has been involved with Donetsk Ballet since 1991,” said Malmed, who has a masters degree in Dance from Temple University. “The company was in Philadelphia for almost a year while their theater in Donetsk was being renovated. They were staying in Alden Park in Germantown and using the old Pennsylvania Ballet Studio. They contacted me because they needed a new place to rehearse. When they were here, their country, the Soviet Union, fell apart. The company dispersed. When the company was reinstated in 1993, I was invited to take a group of students to the Pisarev Choreography School in Donetsk.
“It was one of the most amazing experiences I ever had. In return, we brought their teacher here to teach at my school. The International Ballet Exchange initially began as the American-Ukraine Ballet Exchange, a partnership between WDA in Philadelphia and the Pisarev Choreography School in Donetsk, Ukraine. Later, I decided I didn’t want to be limited to just Ukraine.”
In 2013, students from WDA studied at the National Ballet of Cuba in Havana. Malmed said the performance is part of IBE’s Ballet Building Bridges program, which brings professionally-staged ballet into Philadelphia Public Schools.
The program also includes a 30-week course of ballet lessons by IBE’s Elena Tiuriakulova, a former principal ballet dancer from Kyrgys State Theater Opera and Ballet, who graduated from the same institution as Mikhail Baryshnikov (The Vaganova School in St. Petersburg, Russia). Since 2003, she has been teaching IBE’s residency program. Twice a week, Tiuriakulova, currently a faculty member at WDA, teaches ballet to public school students.
Many local students performing with Donetsk Ballet are from Malmed’s dance academy including Kathryn Bruttomesso-Clarke, 15, of Germantown. The GFS sophomore, who has been studying ballet for 12 years, will play the role of Clara in “The Nutcracker.”
“I have been dancing the Nutcracker [with the Donetsk Ballet Company] for about 10 years,” said Bruttomesso-Clarke, who hopes to become a principal dancer one day. “I really love dancing with them. It’s always a little intimidating at first, but after a while you start to feel more comfortable around them … The kids get really excited when they see you walking the halls in your costume. It’s a great privilege to be able to go and dance for them.”
In a telephone interview with Komarenko, 43, when asked about the political and military situation in Ukraine, she would only say that the situation is difficult for everyone living there.
“I took gymnastic lessons for five years until a teacher suggested I study ballet,” said Komarenko, who was the principal ballerina for Indianapolis Ballet for six years. “It’s my life. I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t dance on stage or in the theatre … When I am teaching ballet, I want the students to practice every day and make them understand what they need to do to become good on stage. I want them to love this job because it’s not always fun. Sometimes I am joking with them. Sometimes I am a little bit screaming, but I love them and want them to do their best.”
IBE will also perform a performance of “The Nutcracker” for Philadelphia school students at a reduced rate, $6 a ticket, at George Washington High School, 10175 Bustleton Ave. in Northeast Philadelphia on Thursday, Dec. 15, 10 a.m.
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 215-849-7950 or 1-800-849-4919. Tickets cost $20 for children, students and seniors and $30 for adults. To buy tickets online go to http://ibexchange.ticketleap.com. Tickets can also be purchased at the door. Group rates are available.