The Bolshoi way: new North Ballet program director is rare American grad of famed Moscow school

North Ballet owner/director Katie Kocinski (left) introduced her new artistic and program director, Breanna Dvorack, whose first project will be the Rogers school’s annual “Nutcracker” in December. (Photo by Bruce Strand)


by Bruce Strand, Arts editor

Only a handful of Americans have  graduated from the prestigious Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow, and one of them, Breanna Dvorack, recently joined North Ballet of Rogers as program director.

Katie Kocinski, owner and director, can’t be blamed if she feels it’s a pretty nice coup for her three-year-old school.

“We want to continue what we have started, and bring in Breanna’s perspective from Bolshoi and her performance experience,” said Kocinski. “We wan to keep our standards high and growing. Her professional and experience are perfect fit for North Ballet.”

Dvorack’s first task is to direct the annual production of “Nutcracker,” slated for Dec. 15 at Zabee Theatre in Elk River. Seventy girls auditioned last weekend.

“I am really excited to be the new program director of North Ballet Academy, and artist director of the Nutcracker this year,”  said Dvorack, a 2008 Bolshoi graduate. “I want to help create a great ballet school that really focuses on the Vaganova ballet technique, and the true art of ballet.”

Breanna Dvorack during her ballerina days.

The St. Cloud native spent three years  in Moscow, training at the world’s oldest (started in 1773) and most famous ballet academy, and soaking in the luxurious Bolshoi performances. Ballet doesn’t get any better than that.

“In Russia, the ballet is like the NFL is here. Ballet is date night. They have big crowds. There are long lines of people getting autographs.”

Ballet has been “my whole life” since age three, when her parents bought her a “Nutracker” video.

“I watched it so many times, they  had to hide it from me!” said Dvorack. “From then on I wanted to be a ballerina.”

She grew up training for ballet, not minding that she was forbidden to take gym class, go skiing or tubing, or join sports, to protect her ballet legs.

At 14 she trained six hours a day, six days a week before  a summer intensive in Boston, where she impressed teachers from Bolshoi enough to get invited her to attend their academy.

“They gave me a 13-page contract, in Russian, that I had to translate!” she said. “And off I went.”

In Moscow, she trained from seven or eight in the morning to ten at night. The teachers, veterans of Bolshoi performances, were strict and demanding. “They can get away with a lot more than here,” she laughs. One teacher tore the arms off a chair and put them under Breanna’s arms to remind her to keep her elbows up. Another drew chalk marks on her tummy to remind her to suck it in.

She lived in a sort of dorm on the top floor at the academy, where they checked your room every night “like in the army.” As for modern conveniences, she allowed that Moscow is “about 30 years behind us.”

But she apparently loved every minute.

“It was a great experience,” she reflects. “That s what makes Russian-trained dancers so good, the perfection that’s demanded of them.”

She had such renowned instructors as Vladilen Semenov and Irina Kolpakova. both former Principle dancers with the Kirov Ballet in St. Petersburg and currently instructors for the American Ballet Theater, and many more.

Russia became home. She’s often “homesick” for Moscow still. She’s been back several times since graduating.

She was told she was only the second American graduate in the school’s 250-year history. (A Texas girl  followed this year). About 100 students were from other countries.

Back in the U.S., Dvorack performed as a soloist with St. Paul Chamber Ballet, and had roles in New York, Boston and Connecticutt. She has performed repertoire from classical ballets such as LaCorsaire, Paquita, Lafille Mal Garde, Don Quixote, Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty, Nutcracker, Giselle, as well as danced in many contemporary pieces.

Performance opportunities  dwindled  when the recession hit  and  several ballet companies closed down. But she had started teaching ballet by then and enjoyed nurturing young dancers as much as performing.

Now married to a U.S. Marine, and mother of a 10-month-old child, she is back in St. Cloud and has been teaching and not performing for about two years.  She also teaches other dances such as jazz and kick, and coaches college dance teams.

Two North Ballet students taking private lessons from Dvorack told her about their school.  Excited to learn that such a school existed not far away, Dvorack attended North Ballet’s summer intensive and met Kocinski.  By coincidence, later the same day, North Ballet’s program director resigned unexpectedly to take another position, so Kocinski got back in touch with Dvorack. They clicked immediately with regard to goals and aspirations.

“It has been a true privilege, already, to have seen the growth of our students and program under her great expertise and leadership,” said Kocinski. “I look forward, excitedly, to bringing another high quality, professional performance of the holiday favorite, the Nutcracker Ballet, to our community.”