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Bring on the Bolshoi: Preston girl off to study at world-class ballet company in Moscow

Chloe Heninger, left, with her mom, Kristin Bennett,  of Preston, talks excitedly about her opportunity to study ballet at the Bolshoi Academy, a goal of hers since she was 5 years old. Chloe, 13, will spend the school year practicing ballet and Russian, and she will be home for “Russian Christmas” in January. - Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo
Chloe Heninger, left, with her mom, Kristin Bennett, of Preston, talks excitedly about her opportunity to study ballet at the Bolshoi Academy, a goal of hers since she was 5 years old. Chloe, 13, will spend the school year practicing ballet and Russian, and she will be home for “Russian Christmas” in January.
— image credit: Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo

Her small hand crammed into a pink ballet slipper, Chloe Heninger concentrates on her work, flexing the sole, and pushing out the toe. She’s only 13, and had, moments earlier, been talking animatedly about her favorite character in “Don Quixote,” a Spanish girl with lots of attitude. Stretching out her shoe, though, she reveals the passionate but serious dancer that she already is, but still hopes to become.

Chloe, the daughter of Wade Heninger and Kristin Bennett of Preston, is well on her way toward that goal, since she began her training with the prestigious Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow last month.

She was offered a place in the academy in September, after she unknowingly auditioned for the spot during a three-week camp, the Bolshoi Ballet Academy Summer Intensive, in Connecticut last summer.

“The teachers … at the summer intensive, they were watching us the whole time. We didn’t know it, but they were, and at the end, they got to choose the students they thought would do well at the Academy,” Chloe said.

Chloe had auditioned for, and attended the camp at the urging of Victoria Titova, her dance teacher at Emerald Ballet Theater in Bellevue, and a former Bolshoi dancer herself.

“She was the one who found the summer intensive, and came to Chloe, and said ‘this is the one I want you to audition for,’” Bennett said.

She was just as surprised as Chloe and her family were to hear that the academy had extended her an offer to spend the next year there in study.

“She said ‘It’s impossible to get an offer! How did you get one?’” Bennett remembered.

Chloe neither knows, nor cares how it happened, she’s just thrilled it did because she’s wanted to dance at the Bolshoi since she was 5 years old.

“The students that have trained there are really strong, technically, and they’re really, really good dancers,” she said. “Also, just the fact that my teacher danced at the Bolshoi made me want to go there, because I want to be like her. Because she’s a really good dancer, even now.”

Also, the Bolshoi has a reputation for favoring expressive dancers Bennett said, definitely one of Chloe’s strengths.

“I like doing the roles where you get to be, like Spanish,” Chloe says as she snaps her fingers. “There’s a Spanish dancer in the Nutcracker and I’ve always wanted to be her, because I really like that style.”

“Chloe likes to bring that attitude, that flair to it,” added Bennett. “And that is probably one of her strengths, that emotionality on stage. The Bolshoi really cares about that” — “and the technical side” interjects Chloe, before Bennett finishes — “they want to see the passion and the emotion.”

On the technical side, Chloe’s got plenty of strengths, too. She fidgets through much of the conversation, until we talk about dancing itself.

“I’m a really, really good turner!” she announces, beaming.

The turn she’s talking about is a fouetté, a one-footed spin requiring the dancer to kick out her bent leg once per revolution. Chloe can do 80-plus of them consecutively flat-footed, and 64 “sometimes more” of them en pointe, or on the tips of her toes.

Afterward, she says, her feet “really hurt and my legs shake,” but she’s fairly certain that’s what helped her get noticed by the Bolshoi teachers.

The pain in her feet, the blisters and the burning sensation that runs across the top of her foot “whenever I go en pointe, because of my blisters,” are all to her completely worth it for the chance to fulfill her lifelong dream.

“If it had been any other school, I think we might have said let’s wait for you to grow up a little more,” Bennett said, “but because it was this school, that she’d been focused on for eight years…”

“And it might not ever happen again!” added Chloe.

Exactly one day before the two left for Moscow, in October,  Chloe was fidgeting through yet another interview, this one, completely over her nerves.

“I’ve always been pretty independent,” she says.

Her mom, meanwhile, was a little overwhelmed. Looking at her daughter, she said she was glad to see that Chloe had been nervous, because it meant she understood all the aspects of what she was committing to. “And now, she’s ready to go,” Bennett said. “Bring on the Bolshoi!”

Bennett’s own feelings are still a little mixed. “She’s not going to be totally alone at 13, in a country halfway around the world, where she doesn’t speak the language!” she says with a laugh.

Well, not exactly. Chloe practiced Russian before she left, since her dance instruction will all be done in that language. She also gets an hour-and-a-half more Russian instruction every day, after her five-and-a-half-hour dance classes, and before she completes her traditional classes, online.

Also, the Bolshoi is a self-contained ballet theater, dormitory, and school, with very strict rules about where and when students can go during the one day a week that is free to them.

“It’s all under one roof, and that’s why it even works for me,” Bennett says.

Bennett was there for Chloe’s first two weeks at the Bolshoi, thanks to some help from Preston-based Talking Rain. International students do not receive scholarships to the school, so Bennett said they are seeking sponsorships for Chloe’s training. Interested sponsors can contact the Emerald Ballet Theater in Bellevue.

 

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