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Academy of Russian Classical Ballet dances into downtown Ann Arbor

Owners Jessica and Nikolai Morschakov pose for a photo with their youngest daughter, Yulia, at their Ann Arbor studio at 527 E. Liberty St. (Credit: Meredith Bruckner)
Owners Jessica and Nikolai Morschakov pose for a photo with their youngest daughter, Yulia, at their Ann Arbor studio at 527 E. Liberty St. (Credit: Meredith Bruckner)

ANN ARBOR – A new dance studio has arrived in town, and it is no stranger to Ann Arbor.

The Academy of Russian Classical Ballet opened in August at 527 E. Liberty St. above the Michigan Theater, where the school has been performing its annual Nutcracker for the past three years.

The dance school's original location in Wixom opened in 2004 and serves students of all ages.

"We take students from two and a half all the way through adult," said co-owner Jessica Morschakov. "Last year, we had about 200 students of all different ages. We've performed in Ann Arbor for years. This will be our fourth year doing the Nutcracker at Michigan Theater. We've done spring performances at Mendelssohn Theatre, the Ann Arbor District Library, and we've done gala performances at Power Center, so we've had performances here for a long time."

Ballet gap in Michigan

Morschakov grew up in Ann Arbor but moved away when she needed higher-level training to become a professional dancer. After working with a professional company in Sarasota, Florida, she decided to open her own school in Michigan.

"I've always had a passion for teaching and I felt that in this area there was a really strong need to have classical ballet and have proper education so you don't have to go away," said Morschakov. "I went away at 14, and I know how hard it is for the kids and their families. So, I really wanted to bring that high-level training into Michigan. The reason I opened in Wixom was it was just a very central location, right at I-96. We have students that come from Ohio, from Canada, from Grand Rapids."

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With many families commuting from the Ann Arbor area, and considering the city's international population and strong arts appreciation, it was only a matter of time before the Academy of Russian Classical Ballet opened in town.

"Seventy-five to 80% of our younger students are international," said Morschakov. "It's interesting, you'll walk into our classes and pretty much every child in that class speaks two languages. It's a really nice experience for them to be exposed to that when they're little and growing up with different cultures."

"Ann Arbor is a very appreciative community," said Jessica's husband and co-owner Nikolai Morschakov. "They love art here." 

A former principal dancer, Nikolai was born in Russia and trained under the Bolshoi ballet's world-famous director, Yury Grigorovich. He danced with Bolshoi for eight years and is now working toward his pedagogy degree from Bolshoi Academy.

"It is one of the best in the world," said Jessica. "He'll be the only one in Michigan who has it."

Two of the academy's instructors have their pedagogies from Perm ballet in Russia. "In Michigan and as a whole, I don't know that there are other teachers that have their pedagogy," said Jessica. "I know for a fact that nobody has one from Bolshoi."

In addition to ballet classes, the school also offers pointe, character and contemporary classes.

"We really try to offer a program that's going to create a very well-rounded dancer," said Jessica. "Not all of our dancers want to go on to be professional dancers, and we understand that. There's also a stigma that Russians are a little bit scary, but we try to have a very warm, supportive and welcoming school. We have very open communication with our students and their parents, and we like to provide a lot of mentorship, especially with our older dancers."

Once students reach middle school age, instructors begin to have sit-downs with families to understand what the student's goals are, whether it be the professional route, or to dance in college. "We want to know what their goals are, so we can help them get there and create the best program for them," said Jessica. "We don't have this cookie-cutter approach where we look at them and lump them together."

Performing is another key element to dance education at the academy. Dancers are given several opportunities to perform throughout the year. "We let them perform as many times as they want," said Nikolai.

While the Academy of Russian Classical Ballet is not a competition school, its most dedicated and talented dancers participate and excel in annual competitions.

Michigan Classical Ballet

The Morschakovs are in the process of developing the area's first professional classical ballet company called the Michigan Classical Ballet. While there is an adult company in Grand Rapids, there are no professional companies in the Metro Detroit area.

"I think it would be really, really great to have something like that here," said Jessica. "It would be wonderful for the community and it would be great for dancers. Once they need to go off and get a job, there's nothing here for them. So, we're losing all of our dancers because they're going all over the world. It would be so nice to have a home company and to have some of these dancers stay here and provide the community with great performances, too."

The adult-only ensemble will take a few years to establish, but the Morschakovs say their existing adult dancers are passionate and committed.

To learn more about the academy, visit www.russianclassicalballet.com.

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