First Australian to join Mariinsky

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With her teacher for the three years, Maria Alexandrovna Gribanova. 'Working with her is an unforgettable experience,' says Jasmine.
With her teacher for the three years, Maria Alexandrovna Gribanova. 'Working with her is an unforgettable experience,' says Jasmine.

A young dancer from Perth has just made ballet history by becoming the first Australian accepted for the legendary Mariinsky Ballet in Russia.

Jasmine Henry had already shown her extraordinary talent – and her tenacity – by being accepted to study at the the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet in St Petersburg. She left for Russia from her home in Perth at the tender age of 15, joining the sixth year of the eight-year program. Three years later she is about to graduate, performing on on the stage of the historical Mariinsky Theatre.

Jasmine has been drawn to Russian dancers ever since she began studying ballet full time. “I was so inspired by how hard they worked and how effortless they made everything look on stage. I also aspired to have that level of dedication to the art,” she says. When her teacher Sergey Pevnev, himself a product of the Vaganova school, took her to audition “it was a dream come true for me”, she says. “It was a chance to experience ballet at its purest form.” 

The Vaganova Academy is one of the oldest ballet schools in the world, established in 1738, and is inextricably bound up with the history of ballet itself. It has produced some of the world’s greatest dancers and historical figures. It is no surprise then, that Jasmine’s first impression of the place was the way “the history of ballet had been preserved into one building”. “There are photos of famous dancers all along the walls. My favourite place in the academy is the Marius Petipa Studio. This is the studio where Petipa himself created many of his ballets. You feel a great privilege to be dancing in the same studio where some of the greatest ballets have been born. I couldn’t believe I was walking down the same corridors as famous dancers such as Rudolf Nureyev, Galina Ulanova, Mikhail Barishnikov, Galina Mezentseva and many more. Still, to this day, it feels an incredible honour to walk the corridors. The magic never wore off." 

Jasmine Henry with the Vaganova Academy's director, Nikolai Tsiskaridze.
Jasmine Henry with the Vaganova Academy's director, Nikolai Tsiskaridze.

Her path to graduation was been “incredibly intense” but also the most rewarding experience of her life.

“You have to give 100% to every class and rehearsal no matter how tired you are, which is why the school produces dancers who aren’t only physically strong but also mentally strong.

“My training experience differed from Australia in that when I came to Russia it made me aware of how much more I could give of myself and how much more I could be working in class. The teachers expect a certain standard of you and I felt a responsibility to lift that standard every day I came into class. We have many teachers including classical, acting, character, historical and duet, and they all contribute to training us, not just to graduate, but to become artists. Although the training is much more harsh here, the results come much faster and everyone at the school has our best interest at heart.”

Pupils are accommodated in a dormitory attached to the academy and meals are provided. Jasmine says the dormitory is large, with beautiful courtyards and gardens to enjoy (“when it’s not snowing!”). “I lived with three different roommates, but all of them have been lovely. Living in the same building as my friends has made us all grow much closer to the point where they have become my second family. They provide us with Russian-style meals, and the canteen staff are very kind and accommodating of everyone’s dietary requirements (I am a vegetarian).”

She loves living in Saint Petersburg. “It is a place I would recommend for everyone to come visit. There is so much history and life in the city. The academy is in the centre of the city so everything is accessible. There is a true love for ballet and the arts here, with many beautiful theatres all in close range.”

For her graduation exams, Jasmine had to pass six exams – Corps de Ballet, Historical Dance, Character Dance, Duet, Acting and Classical – and received top marks in each. The classical exam is observed by theatre directors scouting for talent. Jasmine was invited to audition for the Mariinsky and was the only “international” girl accepted, and one of just four girls to be accepted this year.

Next comes life as a professional dancer, performing with the Mariinsky, which she still finds unbelievable.

All of this, she says, wouldn’t have been possible without the love and support of her family. “I talk with my Mum and Dad almost every day, and have two of the coolest brothers ever. They were always at the end of the phone, whether to dry my tears or make me cry from laughter.  Their unwavering belief in me got me through the some of the hardest and best times of my life in Russia so far.”

Audiences eagerly await Jasmine’s professional debut

Note: In Australia Jasmine attended the Debra McCulloch Dance Academy, then Charlesworth Ballet Institute, then the Pevnev Ballet Academy.

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