Better living through ballet
Local academy teaches students to turn their bodies into art
The tiny dancers begin their exercises with movements so slight they might pass as nervous shifting if the girls weren't performing them in unison. They move their feet from flat on the floor to tip-toe — all the while doing their best to keep the rest of their bodies still.
A curly-haired woman plays a Russian waltz on the upright piano in the corner, and Inna Bayer traipses about the room, correcting the girls' posture — gently nudging up a chin here and readjusting a foot over there. The little girls, all elementary school students from up and down the Peninsula, are straining to hold the stances Bayer puts them in.
"Relax," she urges them in her thick Ukrainian accent.
Bayer, a former professional ballerina and founder of the Mountain View-headquartered Bayer Ballet Academy and dance company, is readying her students for this month's big show — A Winter Fairy Tale, which will be held downtown on Dec. 17 and 18 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts.
The ballet, which was written and choreographed specifically for students at Bayer's academy, is "an opportunity to show the result of their learning and working hard," Bayer says. "It is a motivating force."
Bayer founded the academy in 2005. She started the performance company in 2010 in order to provide serious, pre-professional performance opportunities for the young dancers and to showcase the academy, according to her website.
A Winter Fairly Tale follows several bunny rabbits on an adventure through an enchanted forest, filled with anthropomorphic animals from common Russian folk tales, a magician, Santa Claus and the evil Queen of the Bats, to name a few.
The performance features some traditional Russian folk dances, known as "character dances," but mostly Bayer's students will be showcasing what they have learned of the Vaganova method of ballet — a fusion of French and Italian styles that works the whole body, according to Bayer.
The Vagonova method is Bayer's specialty. She continues to teach the style in order to preserve the tradition and because she believes it is the most beneficial for the body. Other methods, she says, can hurt the body over time, but Vagonava, if taught correctly, is the least likely to cause injury to the dancer.
Preserving the bodies of her young dancers is paramount to Bayer. In her mind, ballet — whether it is pursued as an enjoyable hobby, a career or something in between — is ultimately about turning the human body into a work of art.
The body must be maintained, Bayer says, or the art itself will suffer. "Ballet is a way you can express yourself — your mind, your feelings. It's a unique opportunity to express yourself with your body, and you can become the work of art in a way."
One of Bayer's recent students has taken a big step toward becoming a professional ballerina. Jordan Lian is currently in Russia, studying at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, a world-renowned dance school in Moscow.
"I'm very happy for her," Bayer says of the 16-year-old dancer. "I'm proud."
In addition to Lian's success, other students from Bayer's academy have gone on to dance for the New York City Ballet and the San Francisco Ballet.
Even if her students don't attempt to make a career in dance, Bayer says, ballet can be just as much of a transformative force — on or off the stage.
"You're not just working hard for nothing," she tells her students. In the process of learning ballet, her students also learn about music, art, history and culture, all while building friendships. "Even if you don't pursue it as a profession, you better yourself. Ballet is something that makes our life, our culture and our civilization beautiful."