By Leeta-Rose Ballester
San Jose Mercury News
August 20, 2015
[San Jose, California, USA] – He had to travel almost 6,000 miles and adjust to a completely different culture while spending long hours on the practice floor, but a local teenager now can fulfill his dream of performing among the best dancers in Russian ballet.
Daniel Rubin, born and raised in Cupertino, has been accepted to the Eifman Ballet in St. Petersburg as the company’s first American male dancer.
Rubin has been tiptoeing toward his goal to dance on the big stage since he was 5 years old, though ballet wasn’t his first choice because he didn’t want to be with “all the girls” back then, he said.
But tap and hip-hop dance just didn’t work out, so his parents searched for a ballet class he could enjoy. They found that in San Jose Ballet. “At first it was just for fun, then when I was 11 or 12 there was a performance. It felt … golden,” Rubin recalled. That was a turning point, the now 19-year-old said.
But his mother Svetlana, who was born in Moscow, hadn’t really considered professional ballet as an option for her son. “Me being born in Russia and being very tall, well, I wasn’t a good prospect for dance,” she half-joked. “We were pretty surprised when he asked us to take him to dance. I knew what it took [to get to the professional level], and being first-generation immigrants who had to work, taking him to class seven days a week was really hard.”
But the family’s hard work paid off as the slender 6-foot, 2-inch teen made his way through several dance schools and camps in the United States, including the Kirov Academy of Ballet of Washington, D.C., and the Santa Rosa Dance Theatre.
Among other schools, he also spent two summers at the Royal Ballet School of London before heading to Russia.
“Never in our wildest dreams did we think our son would go and study in Russia,” Svetlana said. “God bless Internet and texting.”
Though Rubin was familiar with Russian culture and language because both his parents had emigrated, he said nothing could have totally prepared him for the difference between the U.S. and Moscow, where he attended the Bolshoi Ballet Academy the past three years. “The culture is very different and they treasure ballet,” he said. “There are some very impoverished places, sure, but people will save up their whole life to go to the Bolshoi Theater.”
Rubin said he feels that he wouldn’t have come so far so quickly if he hadn’t been thrust into the world of Russian ballet. “It’s like they say, that to make progress, you have to put yourself in a place where you’re completely uncomfortable,” he said. “This was the epitome of that–something completely new.”
At the school he was taught not only dance technique but also the theory of classical dance, duet and character and history of performance. Placed in classes with Russian students, many of whom had been practicing ballet since they were very young, Rubin also needed to brush up on his Russian language skills. All the while, his mother asked that he continue with American high school classes online.
“There are no shortcuts, to becoming a professional ballet dancer, Svetlana said. “And he decided to go to the hardcore school because he wanted to learn all sorts of stuff. It was brutal, and he had to catch up really fast.”
But receiving his high school diploma from home was equally important to both parents, she said, because “things happen in life.”
“The first thing was to do Russian academics, but every night he was doing his American school,” she said. “You have to be committed and you have to be a really special person to do that.”
The pace of life in the Russian ballet academy did take some time to get used to, Rubin said. “But I was able to find my place at the academy and in Russian life,” he said. “Just like any school, not all of the teachers, nor peers, were perfect or agreeable, but I learned how to make the best of every situation and tried to remain positive and goal-oriented. I can’t say that it was easy in Moscow, especially in light of the current diplomatic relationship between Russia and America. However, I believe that art has the power to overcome all diplomatic and political rivalries.”
His mother, who left her Russian home in 1989 and found a job as a chemist in California, admits she worried while he was at school in Moscow. “I do know that years ago, an American boy coming to Russian ballet school was an impossibility,” she said. “When I was finally able to visit, I felt a little better.”
THE GRAY STAGE
After years of preparation, barre work and perfecting plies and footwork, students at Bolshoi take to the big, gray theater stage where final exams are taken. “I think every dancer who graduated from our academy has said that this exam, especially the beginning, is the most frightening moment on stage of their lives,” Rubin said.
“The curtain rises, there’s this really bright light that blinds you, the audience is overflowing. In the first row you see a commission of national and honored artists of Russia, the superstars of ballet. They’re staring at you as if you’re all nude slabs of meat, already ticking off everything that’s wrong or might be wrong with you.”
He said his body went into autopilot after the initial fear wore off and that he turned “to gold inside.”
After weathering four days of exams, Daniel was granted certification from the school–and immediately drove to St. Petersburg to apply for the Eifman Ballet. He was accepted and will take his place as the first male American dancer in the company this month.
Rubin said that having learned the classical techniques, he wants to try a more contemporary style. “After having learned, hated and loved the classical Moscow school, I think this is something really interesting, fresh, and enlightening,” he said. “I really like everything that is new. The most interesting things, the most satisfying, are the new things.
“I like when there is soul to it,” he added. “I really feel that the most important thing is not to be a ballet dancer but performer of dance. St. Petersburg is unique because the soul of dance comes first.
“I’m proud to be graduating from one of the best ballet academies in the world and to be beginning my career in one of the most innovative contemporary theaters in the world, all the while representing my country in the ballet realm.”
Copyright 2015 San Jose Mercury News