GRACEFUL: Promotional photo from the Moscow Ballet’s “Dance With Us” program features young dancers like freshman Adira Waldman (not pictured.) (Photo credit:
GRACEFUL: Promotional photo from the Moscow Ballet’s “Dance With Us” program features young dancers like freshman Adira Waldman (not pictured.)

Photo credit:

Ninth-grade ballerina twirls into four-minute role in Moscow Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker’

Adira Waldman performs a four-minute duet "Danse Arabe" in Tchaikowsky classic, today and tomorrow at the Wiltern Theater on Wilshire Boulevard.

December 21, 2015

Going to sleep at midnight on a regular basis is not a rare event for most Shalhevet students, but try doing so after four rigorous hours of jazz, tap and ballet. This is no rarity for freshman Adira Waldman, who will perform in The Moscow Ballet’s The Nutcracker at the Wiltern Theater on Dec. 20 and 21.

Adira has been doing gymnastics since she was six. When it took up too much time and she realized she was interested in the arts, she began practicing ballet, tap and jazz when she was nine years old. Since then she has danced in two performances, the 2014 Nutcracker with the Moscow Ballet, and a recital at the end of an intensive ballet training program in the summer of 2015.

Last year, Adira danced the Nutcracker role of a Russian dancer — a 45-second dance — but this year, she has a primary, four-minute dance duet, in the famous “Danse Arab,” also called the Arabian.

“It’s a twist on ballet,” Adira said in an interview after a practice for the performance on December 6. “In the piece we put our hands behind our head, and that’s not usually done in ballet. The shapes you make with your body are more abstract — for example we go down in to the splits at one point, which you wouldn’t do in a ballet dance.”

The split is the most unconventional part, she said, as well as the most challenging. Adira and her dance partner must slide slowly into the splits and from there transition to dance moves performed on the floor of the stage.

Those moves were the ones most heavily critiqued by her teacher, Jill Collins, at the second-to-last practice before the performance.

“Toes on the six!” she instructed them the two ballerinas at the commencement of the piece.

“Shift, but don’t shift too much,” Ms. Collins said as they glided into their splits.

“Be in sync with one another, but dance on your own,” she said later.

These instructions and practices are weekly for Adira, who rehearsed for the Nutcracker every Sunday beginning in mid-October at the Penny Lane dance academy in Sherman Oaks. Ms. Collins learned the dances during a week-long period with one of the Moscow ballerinas.

These practices were the only ones Adira will have aside from one rehearsal with the professional Moscow ballerinas on the day of the first performance, Dec. 20.

High school turns out to be difficult for the teacher, too.

“The hardest part would be [that] because these dancers are from different schools, we have dancers from all over the Los Angeles area that are coming together,” Ms. Collins said in an interview.  “That’s been the hardest thing, to train the dancers as a group when they just met each other.”

Adira is one of five high school students in the ballet. The other student dancers are mostly elementary schoolers with smaller parts.

She found out about this dance opportunity from her teacher Anat Stigers, who knew the Moscow Ballet company was recruiting in the Los Angeles area. Recruitments are conducted by professional ballerinas from Russia who are a part of the company’s “Dance With Us” program, which has recruited an estimated 50,000 student dancers over the past 2 decades, according to their website. 

Remaining performances are today at 3 and 7 p.m., and Monday at 7 p.m., all at the Wiltern Theater on Wilshire Boulevard near Rossmore. The performance is two hours long with a 20-minute intermission.

In the days leading up to the performance, Adira said she was nervous, but more excited than anything else because this year she knows what to expect.

The Arabian, or “Danse Arabe,” occurs when the prince, previously “the nutcracker” takes Clara, the prima ballerina, to the Land of Sweets. The two are welcomed with dances from different countries, each piece personifying luxuries of that country. From Arabia is Coffee.

Adira and her partner, Rena Pearl, quite literally embody this Middle Eastern delicacy. At different points in the dance the ballerinas pretend to pour cups of coffee and then twirl their hands upward, wafting the steam and scent of the coffee toward themselves.

Slow and graceful yet unconventional moves such as these are perfect accompaniment for its musical score written by Tchaikovsky.

Despite being a Western romantic piece, it has an extracted Middle Eastern feel to it. To match the music and the dance, the outfits for the Arabian are straight out of Disney’s Aladdin, with baggy pants and a simple top.

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