This is a magnificent story from Crisis Magazine about an American girl, a devout Catholic girl, who is also one of the best ballet dancers in the world and who was trained, virtually unheard of for Americans, at the pinnacle school of Russian Ballet, the Vaganova Ballet Academy.

Vaganova is where Nijinsky studied, and for those of you who have read my book, The Criminal’s Search for God: Sources, you know that Nijinsky was one of the great artists who were profiled by Colin Wilson in his wonderful book, The Outsiders.

An excerpt from the book.

The Outsider is one of a series of books by Colin Wilson that reflects on the nexus between creativity, alienation, and society, by examining the works of various artists, like Nietzsche, Shaw, Blake, Van Gogh, Hesse, Hemingway, Camus, Nijinsky, and Gurdjieff.

Wilson proposes that it is through the work of the Outsider, those artists who have seen, who are compelled to see, reality more deeply than the common man, and by bringing their vision back to the world, help propel it upward.

The Outsiders’ vision is one of a wholeness they struggle to capture in a world of broken systems and valueless cultures, and it is in the results of their search, even when failing, that the rest of us are provided glimpses of the path ahead.

Most of them fail and go mad in the failing, but the few who succeed, bring back something for us of great value, but whether it is a positive or negative value—depending on one’s perspective—can be often difficult to determine. (p. 51)

An excerpt from the story from Crisis Magazine.

A classic American story plays itself out even now at a place called Theater Street in St. Petersburg, Russia. The story begins 17 years ago when a little girl in Northern Virginia watched a grainy documentary narrated by Princess Grace of Monaco about the most famous ballet academy in the world.

Keenan Kampa was transfixed by The Children of Theater Street, the documentary tale of four children selected as students to the Vaganova Ballet Academy. She was captivated by the intensity of the Russian method, by the fact that this school and this method are the pinnacle of the sometimes-mysterious thing called classical ballet.

Thousands of little Russian children as young as 8 years old try out for the Vaganova Academy each year. Only a few are chosen. To be chosen is a life-changing experience not just for the children but for their families, too. They have the chance to be catapulted into a life of bone-breaking hard work but also magnificent rewards and their families lifted out of poverty.

Already entranced by ballet, Keenan started lessons at four-years-old, but the documentary planted a new seed in her that would grow in ways she couldn’t even imagine. The seed was the Russian method of ballet.

The Russian method is different from the American one. Experts say it is more exacting. The girls are made to lift their legs higher, a lot higher and hold it there a lot longer. Balletomanes of each method hold the other in disdain. The Russians feel superior and they probably are.

Americans have no frame of reference to understand the intensity of Russian love for ballet. Imagine an American president not only keeping but also constantly using a box at the ballet as Russian leaders have done with hardly an interruption for three centuries. News reports of the blinding of the manager of the Bolshoi demonstrate that ballet can be a blood sport in Russia.

This was the method Keenan pursued with an almost frightening single-mindedness from an age most girls play with baby-dolls. What she could not know at 4 and 5 and 6 was that she was already learning the Russian method from Julia Reddick, who runs the Reston Conservatory. Reddick brought the method with her when she emigrated from Hungary. Her school may have been one of the only schools that teach the Russian method in America.

And later, providence put Keenan under the tutelage of another Russian teacher. One day into the Reston Conservatory walked Angelina Armeiskaya, who happened to be one of the four students featured in the documentary that so fired seven-year-old Keenan’s imagination. How had she found her way to Northern Virginia and to the school where Keenan went?

There are pictures of Keenan from around that time still hanging on the walls at the Reston Conservatory. The little girls are lined up at the barre for a formal picture. All of the girls are doing something wrong, an arm less than precise, a foot out of place, a slouch. Not Keenan. Every muscle, every bone, every appendage precise, perfect, at least to our untrained eyes.

Such precision paid off. At 17 she was dancing in a master class at the Kennedy Center. A distinguished man stood nearby and watched. Gennady Selyutsky, a professor at the Vagonava Academy, a ballet master of the company, and a distinguished Russian artist, was not looking for greatness; he was watching Americans after all. But then he saw Keenan dance and he did something he had never done before. On the spot, he asked Keenan to come to the Vagonava Academy in Russia, the first American ever invited.

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