Of the dozen 15-year-old girls in lavender leotards in Tatyana Galtseva’s class at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow, Russia, one is different — I thought you wouldn’t know just by watching her dance.
Unlike her classmates, Harper Ortlieb is an American who left her small town in Oregon to travel more than 5,300 miles to Moscow, where she now lives and pursues her dream of becoming a prima ballerina.
The prestigious academy has 84 foreigners among its 721 students, but few are accepted when they are as young as Harper and few are integrated into the regular Russian curriculum.
Prima ballerina: Harper Ortlieb, from Mount Hood, Oregon, is seen performing at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow, Russia, where she is one of the youngest students
Standing out: The 15-year-old is one of 84 foreigners at the school, where there are a total of 721 pupils
Bold steps: Last year, aged 14, she moved alone to Russia to attend the academy
“She’s a very gifted girl. She’s all ballet, all inspiration,” Galtseva said. ‘they do.”
The Bolshoi noticed Harper during a summer program he hosted in Connecticut, and from there offered him a place at the Moscow Academy. She knew her teachers would be tough and it would be a challenge to be so far from home, but it was even harder than she had expected.
“It’s been very difficult, but with that comes strength and with that I’m getting better,” Harper said. “I feel like I came here to improve, to improve, not only technically but emotionally, so when I dance people see something.”
One of her parents’ concerns in the decision to send their daughter, then 14, to Moscow was the strain in US-Russian relations and the strong anti-American sentiments in Russian society.
Adjustment: She said the transition was difficult, but her teachers praised her
Finding her place: She was first noticed during a summer program she did with the Connecticut academy
Keep busy: in addition to attending dance classes, she is learning Russian and taking regular classes in the evenings and on weekends.
Harper, however, says she feels accepted by her classmates. Her teacher agrees, noting that that very morning some of the other girls had brought her a skirt to wear over her leotard because they were expecting a visit to the class from foreign journalists.
In her Moscow neighborhood, the ladies at her favorite grocery store made the delicate American teenager shine, helping her choose fresh fruit and keep her favorite almond butter in stock. And at the local Starbucks, they learned to spell his unusual name on his mug.
A total of 17 Americans study at the Bolshoi Academy, outnumbered among foreign students only by 28 Japanese, the others coming from 22 other countries. Some of the foreign students took part in the spring concert on Thursday night, and Harper was among the few girls in her class chosen for two of the dances.
‘Preparing a performance is all you think about. It kind of goes over your mind,” she said. “Preparing for exams, I am always very nervous. There is a lot of stress. But with that stress, you know, comes happiness and you feel overjoyed when you dance, you forget everything, you forget the sacrifices you make, you forget the pain or the tears.
Missing mum: At first, Harper moved to Russia alone, but her mother has since moved there to live with her in an apartment
Keeping in touch: Harper was able to leave her dorm, and she and her mom Skype her dad every night
Young girl: There are only 17 Americans in the school, and few were accepted at only 14, because Harper was
Arduous study: The Mount Hood, Oregon native will have three more years in school if she decides to pursue a degree
“Dancing is what makes me happy, no matter how much you have to sacrifice,” she added.
Her teacher thinks Harper has what it takes to be a classical ballerina, possessing not only the necessary physical and aesthetic qualities, but also the will to learn.
“She is extraordinarily attentive,” Galtseva said. ‘She is always smiling. Such a sweet and wonderful girl.
If Harper wants to be one of those rare foreigners to graduate from the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, she still has three tough years ahead of her. But now she has her mother by her side.
Harper’s mother, Layne Baumann, made two trips to Moscow after she and her husband, Tim Ortlieb, dropped off their only child in September. In February, Baumann decided to move to Moscow at least for the rest of the school year, and she now rents an apartment two blocks from the academy, which allowed Harper to leave the dorm.
At the end of each day, Baumann talks to his daughter about what she learned in class and logs on to Skype so Harper’s dad can join the conversation from their home in Mount Hood, Oregon, 11 spindles away. schedule.
It’s All Right: Although her parents were initially concerned about US-Russian relations, Harper had no trouble fitting in with her classmates
Loving it: Although she admits ballet takes sacrifice, she said dancing is what makes her happy
Busy bee: she only has Sundays off and uses them to explore her adopted city
Big Changes: While ballet was “fun” when she started at age three, she’s found it’s been a lot harder since becoming more professional.
In addition to her dance lessons, Harper takes daily Russian lessons at the academy. For her other subjects, she takes online classes in the evenings and on weekends.
On Sundays, her only day off, she and her mother often explore their new town. They have also already seen more performances at the Bolshoi Theater than most Russians see in their lifetime.
Harper started ballet at a local dance school when she was three years old. At age 11, she was accepted into the School of Oregon Ballet Theater in Portland, a three-hour round trip she and her mother completed six days a week.
“Being three in ballet class is fun and fun,” Harper said, smiling at the memory. ‘My teacher was wonderful, it was so much fun. And then once I became more professional, I realized how much you had to sacrifice and how difficult it was.
She talks about learning to deal with the pain of wearing spikes and the constant feeling of doubting she’s not good enough.
“And I’m not good enough. I mean, I’m not,” Harper said. ‘We have to wait. I have to work harder.