The Russian Ballet is renowned for its performers’ dedication to perfection and so it is no small thing to be the first American to join the dance troupe. Add to that the thrill of performing at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. and you have some idea of the homecoming dancer Keenan Kampa was experiencing last week.
Kampa had been visiting the Kennedy Center since she was a child but this was the first time she would be there as a performer, a member of the famous Mariinsky Ballet.
The centuries old Russian company was formerly known as the Kirov Ballet. It and the dance academy that supplied many of its dancers, the Vagonova Ballet Academy, have trained and been home to legends including Mikhail Baryshnikov, George Balanchine, and Natalia Makarova.
It was during Kampa’s senior year of high school, when she studied in master classes at the Kennedy Center that she was first discovered by a Vagonova instructor. She was offered the opportunity to study at the Russian academy. Though she calls the invite a stroke of good fortune, her move to St. Petersburg was anything but easy.
She describes that first year as full of silence. She was unable to speak the language and could not communicate with her peers. Away from her family and learning a tough, new style of dance, Kampa struggled to find her place.
Things changed for the 5’8” dancer in her second year as she began to adapt. She won leads in productions like “The Nutcracker” and was the first American to graduate with a full Russian degree. She auditioned for a spot with the company, hoping to fulfill a dream. When she didn’t hear anything, she signed a two-year contract with the Boston Ballet after graduation.
A year later, the invitation came. Under contract with Boston, she had to postpone her return to Mariinsky until June of 2012. Now she is not only living her dream but reaching her fullest potential. Her return to the U.S.A. as part of the troupe performing “Cinderella” culminated with the performance at the Kennedy Center.
Kampa herself is a perfectionist and welcomes the challenges the Mariinsky reputation brings with it. Now, back in St. Petersburg, Kampa hopes to dance with purpose to become the dancer she imagines in her head.