Dance to Live, Live to Dance
In Media, Bolshoi-trained artist Denis Gronostayskiy helps keep the art of ballet alive and well
by Bill Donahue


One might describe Denis Gronostayskiy as an ambassador of a slowly disappearing art form.


Born in the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod, Gronostayskiy spent much of his life in Moscow, where he his love of ballet took root, ultimately graduating from the world-renowned Bolshoi Ballet Academy. He has danced professionally throughout Europe, Japan and the United States, performing in works such as “Swan Lake,” “The Nutcracker,” “Romeo and Juliet” and “Giselle,” among others.


Formerly a principal artist with the Moscow Renaissance Ballet in Russia, Philadelphia Dance Theatre and the Richmond Ballet in Richmond, Va., Gronostayskiy currently serves as artistic director of International Ballet Classique and master instructor of the Academy of International Ballet, both of Media. He is joined there by ballet mistress/master instructor Anastasia Babayeva, another graduate of the Bolshoi and his longtime ballet partner, who also happens to be his wife. Both are also master lecturers with The University of the Arts in Center City.


Suburban Life spoke with Gronostayskiy about his time in Russia, his decision to come to America and, of course, a gifted dancer’s ability to turn the human body into a sort of transmitter that shares powerful stories capable of making a lifelong impression.


Suburban Life: How did you first get started in dance?

Denis Gronostayskiy: Both of my parents were quite famous dancers in Russia, and I was always watching their performances, listening to classical music and so on. … Then when I was 10 years old, I went to [ballet academy], and I didn’t think it would be as hard as it was. You live without parents and are constantly on your own. Most of the day you were busy, with classes starting at 9 a.m. and going till 6 in the evening. If you didn’t have rehearsal, maybe you’d watch an hour of TV, and that’s it. It was a year-round school, from September to the end of June or early July. You would have two or three months to go back home and then go back the next year. It was eight years, so it was a very big step.


After that I went to a new company, the Renaissance Ballet, which wanted to keep to the old style of ballet. … I became the principal dancer, so I think it was quite a good choice. I danced in the Bolshoi Theatre, and eventually came to the United States. It was a tough time in Russia then and there was a job for me here, mostly dancing and teaching.


SL: I imagine you had quite an adjustment leaving Russia for the United States, both in terms of the culture and in the differences in the way the countries perceive or appreciate dance.

DG: First I lived in northeast Philadelphia, where there is a very big Russian community. There are lots of Russian-owned stores, almost like Russia in the United States. It was very hard because I came here without any understanding of the language beyond “hello” and “yes” and a few other words; in school, I had learned French, because everything in ballet is in French. From there, I was traveling all around the United States, and the same with Anastasia. There are not too many companies in the United States, and within each company not so many dancers. The Bolshoi has something like 170 dancers, with performances almost every day.


People in Russia go to the theater almost like here going to the movies. In a way it was very interesting, the differences between here and there. But every time you dance, no matter where you are, you try to put something of your own into it—your soul, your feeling. It was the same steps, the same choreography, but for the people who are coming to the performances, it was very new way, a new feeling. What’s different about the ballet arts from any other performance is that the body is showing the story so people understand it. You’re a dancer, but you also have to be an actor.


SL: As artistic director of International Ballet Classique, how do you spend most of your time?

DG: I’m heading up the programs we are doing for the year, teaching classes, choreographing, trying to do as much as I can. Why ballet is dying is because it costs lots of money to put big productions together, and a full performance takes lots of rehearsal time. It’s easier to make some kind of short, small dances with two or three dancers. So far we’ve had five or six productions, and we’re trying to expand and come up with some new performances.


SL: How would you describe the life of someone who is gifted enough to make a career out of ballet?

DG: It’s quite a busy life, a very interesting life. When I look back I would not change a thing in my life, and I hope I will be able to do this as long as I can, teaching kids and putting performances together. … Like all art, this one is slowly dying. Hopefully we will be able to generate some kind of niche to have productions, pulling together music, the arts, opera—any kind of creative stuff—and continue to generate interest.