11-year-old Vasilisa Ampleyeva, formerly from Pahoa, accepted into famed Russian ballet academy

  • Vasilisa Ampleyeva performs at Center Stage Dance Alliance. Courtesy photos

  • Pier Sircello trains 11-year-old Vasilisa Ampleyeva during a one-on-one lesson earlier this year.

HILO — Like many 11-year-old girls, Vasilisa Ampleyeva wants to be a ballerina.

Unlike most 11-year-old girls — or, indeed, most people at all — the former Pahoa resident is studying ballet at one of the most prestigious ballet academies in the world.

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In August, Vasilisa was accepted into the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia, a highly rigorous ballet school only a handful of students are qualified to attend, and even fewer have the discipline to graduate.

Vasilisa’s mother, Anna Ampleyeva, said Vasilisa’s admittance to Vaganova was still more impressive considering her training: Vasilisa had only studied ballet for two years.

“I was very surprised because usually it’s about the parents’ passion, not the child’s,” Anna Ampleyeva said. “Usually the ones who get accepted start training at 4 (years old), and you don’t know if they ever chose to do it.”

When Vasilisa began studying ballet, her mother — who grew up in Russia and visited family there every year — had ballet tutors in Russia judge whether Vasilisa’s skills could get her into Vaganova. They concluded that, while Vasilisa had obvious natural talent, she was far behind other contenders her age and would require serious training to be considered.

Pier Sircello, director of Hilo dance studio Center Stage Dance Alliance, agreed to tutor Vasilisa for free, later saying that the Ampleyevas had few options on the island for professional dance training.

“We’re a small town, so there’s just not enough people interested in high-level dance training for anyone to hold daily classes with a homogeneous level of instruction,” Sircello said.

While ballet academies on the mainland exist, they can be prohibitively expensive without a scholarship. Anna Ampleyeva, a single mother working as a photographer, would have been unable to pay for that level of schooling, but having grown up in Russia, she knew about the promise of the famed Vaganova Academy, which offers free training, education, room and board.

Anna Ampleyeva and Sircello said Vasilisa took to her training with determination, attending daily lessons with Sircello while also attending as many group lessons as possible.

“I didn’t like it at first, but then I decided I didn’t like getting up early for school, but I liked getting up early for ballet,” Vasilisa said.

Her hard work paid off: Vasilisa was told after her audition that she was accepted on the basis of her “stamina and charm,” Sircello said.

Now at Vaganova, Vasilisa said her work is much harder, involving several additional dance subjects and rehearsals, with classes going until 8 p.m. six days a week. While few students who attend Vaganova make it through all eight years of training, Vasilisa said she is not nervous about her future.

Her past, meanwhile, doesn’t seem to trouble Vasilisa either. Anna Ampleyeva said the two of them are unlikely to return to Hawaii now that they are living in Russia full-time.

“I don’t miss Hawaii that much, but I do miss my friends and my teachers,” Vasilisa said.

Because of the unavailability of professional ballet instruction in Hawaii, Anna Ampleyeva said she and her daughter were planning on leaving the island regardless of whether Vasilisa was accepted.

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“We had talked about leaving for a while,” Anna Ampleyeva said. “And the day after I bought the tickets, the (Kilauea) eruption started, so I felt like that was a sign.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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