Joy Womack in Leonid Lavrosky's Classical Symphony at the Kennedy Center

California-born Joy Womack considered giving up dance after she was told by her early teachers that she didn’t have the body or turnout. But a Bolshoi Ballet master class in New York City put her back on the path toward a professional career. “That master class changed my life,” says Womack. “When I was asked to do the Bolshoi summer intensive, it was the first time I felt like I’d won something—that I was good enough.” At 15, she moved to Moscow and now, four years later, she is the first American woman to dance with the company. DT caught up with Womack this spring, at the close of her first year.

Learning to adapt: Getting through school was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I love living in Russia now—I have a “family” here, and I love the theater. But no one came with me to the Bolshoi. I didn’t speak the language. And they just threw me into rehearsals. I had no idea what was going on. At the Kirov, I had some support: There are residence assistants and student life programs. At the Bolshoi, you’re on your own. When you get injured, you have to find a clinic yourself, and parents can’t complain to the school.

On company camaraderie after the acid attack on artistic director Sergei Filin: When this whole thing happened, I was rehearsing for The Rite of Spring. We were having seven-hour rehearsals every day, and we just became this tight-knit group of people, which was a blessing. But the focus has stayed very much on the quality of the work. It’s very serious.

Favorite role she’s performed there: Definitely The Nutcracker, as the Spanish doll. It’s the hardest part! I had to do it without any dress rehearsals or run-throughs, and I got to dance it on December 31, which is Russian New Year’s Eve and also like their Christmas.

The role she’s dying to dance: Giselle! My teacher said we can finally start learning it. I know it’s going to take a long time to get it ready, but this is the ballet I’ve been dreaming about my whole life. I can spend a year getting it ready—I’m fine with that. DT

Path to the Bolshoi

• 2007: Invited to Kirov Academy of Ballet of Washington, DC

• 2009: Attends Bolshoi Ballet Academy’s summer intensive in New York City and is offered a spot at the year-round program

• 2012: Graduates from the Academy and becomes the first American woman to dance with the Bolshoi Ballet

Photo by Vihao Pham

The Conversation
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