“Upon attending our first performance, we were not expecting anything spectacular. But just 10 minutes into the show, we were truly startled by the exquisitely beautiful, smooth, ethereal, and technically flawless level of the dancers in this local performance.”
Bill Conville, a Delaware County resident, was describing a performance of “Coppelia” that he and his wife attended given by International Ballet Classique, a resident ballet company in Media, Del.
Founded in 2003, the International Ballet Classique is a professional dance company in Delaware County and is the official company of the Academy of International Ballet, which opened in 2001. Both the school and company were co-founded by Anastasia Babayeva and her husband, Denis Gronostayskiy, along with executive director Josie Singer.
Babayeva and Gronostayskiy both graduated from the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow before coming to America to continue their training. Babayeva and Gronostayskiy danced with several companies in America including the Chicago Ballet and the Richmond Ballet. “I never paid much attention to younger boys,” Babayeva said of Gronostayskiy, who is several years younger. “But after partnering together for years in America, we became partners in life.”
The couple met Singer at the Philadelphia Ballet Theatre where they were dancing the principle roles in “Don Quixote.” Singer is a former board member and past president of Philadelphia Ballet Theatre. She had been searching for high-level training for her daughter for years and found that the caliber in America was no match for the European tradition.
“I would travel an hour in each direction to train with Russian dancers because I found it to be far superior,” she said of her daughter’s training.
The inspiration for the Academy of International Ballet soon transpired.
“We all have a mission to take forward classical ballet to those who have never been exposed to it. We want to train a new generation to preserve and transmit classical performances for the future,” Singer said.
The school specializes in the Vaganova method, a Russian tradition developed in the early 20th century that offers a level of training to take dancers to the professional level. Currently 70 to 80 students are enrolled in the school, which offers a variety of classes, ranging from beginners ballet to hip-hop to training for adults seeking to return to dance.
As a result of the school, the company was developed.
“We wanted to give children the opportunity to dance professionally with lights and nice costumes,” Babayeva said. “It doesn’t make sense to train your body if you can’t perform live.”
IBC is a non-profit organization that aims to expose audiences to the long-standing tradition of classical ballet. Attending a professional performance can be pricy, especially if one must travel to a larger city, but IBC offers the same caliber of professionalism right in the Brandywine Valley.
The company also wants to educate the general public about classical ballet. The dancers give lectures and demonstrations at schools, universities, assisted living communities and libraries, and just last year, they donated 30 tickets to the Girl Scouts of Southeastern Delaware.
“Grants and money are tight in the arts, so we started a non-profit company so that we could receive donations that can benefit our performances,” Babayeva said.
Upon meeting the couple for the first time, Conville invited them to perform a demonstration at his local library. “We want them to be able to transfer their education to the local, regional culture so that a new generation can grasp and absorb their culture. I want to do anything I can to ensure that [Anastasia and Denis] stay here instead of going to the larger cities where they are surely in demand.”
Overshadowed by movies and television, ballet is fading from the spotlight of popular culture.
“If more people were exposed to ballet at the level of aesthetic excellence offered by Denis and Anastasia, then audience members would quite easily realize upon leaving the theatre that ballet captures in motion our personal thoughts, or deepest held beliefs and our highest ideals,” Conville said.
Couples like Anastasia and Denis are a rare find. Their passion for ballet is truly inspiring, and their spell-bounding performances have been captivating audiences for years. “They live for the art, and the art lives for them. Anyone who watches them can tell that they are blissfully in love,” Conville said of the couple.
Babayeva and Gronostayskiy have two sons, ages 16 and eight months. Their oldest son is also a classically trained dancer, receiving a scholarship to the prestigious Kirov Academy in Washington, D.C.
“Its nice to see boys dancing. We offer a class for boys, and I was surprised by how many wanted to do it. I”m hoping that we can change fathers” opinions on dance,” Babayeva said.
Classical ballet demands a lot from the dancer; however, as Conville put it, “For us they create on stage a wonderful array of emotion, passion, fun, love and tenderness.”
Added Babayeva, “It’s not magic, it’s hard work, hard work, hard work, so don’t ever give up.”