BY AMANDA EISENBERG — Even doing something as mundane as ordering an iced coffee, Hyattsville resident Bianca Navari moves with an effortless grace.
The 16-year-old ballet student was one of four international students chosen to dance with the prestigious Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow. She plans to graduate in 2016 with a diploma in choreographic arts as well as an American high school degree, earned through online classes.
Her feat is made spectacular by her relatively late start — she began dancing at the age of 11, first at Joe’s Movement Emporium in Mount Rainier, and then at the Kirov Academy of Ballet of Washington, D.C., which specializes in teaching the Russian Vaganova method.
“My first year [at the academy], everyone had been dancing intensely for much longer,” said Navari. “My teacher pulled my mom aside and said, ‘Bianca doesn’t know anything.’ She worked really, really hard with me.”
According to her mother, longtime Hyattsville resident Kimberly Schmidt, Navari thrived in the intense environment. She began learning the Vaganova method of ballet, which originated in Russia and is widely used there; by her fourth year, she was getting solo roles in Kirov productions.
She auditioned for the Bolshoi Ballet Academy’s summer program in Manhattan, where she danced at Lincoln Center. During that time, Navari faced a challenging roadblock: an impingement in her ankle, a painful condition caused by bone spurs and often seen in athletes.
“The doctors kept misdiagnosing me,” she said. Her voyage to Moscow was delayed by a month before the proper diagnosis. While Navari is still worried about her ankle, she is doing strengthening exercises through resistance training which should help address the issue.
“I wouldn’t claim that Bianca is the strongest dancer her age, but she has beautiful lines. She is a lyrical dancer and she works incredibly hard. The teachers at Bolshoi recognized these qualities and her work ethic,” said Schmidt, a former ballet dancer.
Schmidt, after all, was the one to introduce her daughter to ballet. Navari was musical and athletic, but asthmatic and bored in school, said Schmidt. She thought dance would serve her daughter’s need to be both intellectually and physically engaged.
“I wanted her to have confidence in her body. Sports and ballet build that in a girl. But she had this terrible asthma. Working inside, in a clean studio at the Kirov, challenged her athletically and I didn’t have to worry about her lungs quite so much,” said Schmidt.
Navari attested to her mother’s beliefs. “I was really unhappy at my old school…. I didn’t fit in,” she said.
Now, Navari is “really pumped” for her upcoming year abroad, despite the big commitment of moving across the world. She aspires to join a smaller company upon graduation and ultimately become a soloist. Navari thinks it would be great to dance in Europe professionally.
The teen didn’t seem too worried about the move. As long as Moscow has a Starbucks nearby for a caramel macchiato, Navari is confident in her decision.
“Being asked to attend the Bolshoi Academy in Moscow was the first time I realized that other people thought I had potential,” said Navari, beaming as she finished one of her last stateside Starbucks drinks the week before her departure.
Navari added that Americans typically understand less about why someone would choose ballet as a profession.
“If you tell someone in the U.S. you’re studying ballet, they’ll say, ‘oh, that’s a hard life.’ But in Russia, if you tell someone you’re studying ballet, they’ll say their daughter has been dancing since she was three.”
Schmidt said that the Bolshoi teachers thought Bianca was Russian at first.
“Well,” she said, “in a few years, she might be.”
— Amanda Eisenberg