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Bolshoi: Pas-de-Brazil

Brazil’s Bolshoi Theatre School turns favela kids into ballet stars

Brazil is famous as the land of carnival, samba, football, and now... classical ballet! The Bolshoi Theatre, which probably boasts the world's greatest ballet company, only has one ballet school outside Russia, and it's in the Brazilian city of Joinville. Talented children are selected from all over the country to learn classical dance and theatre in the best traditions of the famous Russian ballet school.

Bolshoi Theatre School in Joinville, Brazil
Students have to pass a difficult entrance exam to get into the Bolshoi Theatre School. It also offers free education to children from deprived backgrounds. © Cleber Gomes

The Bolshoi school isn't just about producing world-class ballet dancers; it’s also a grand social project. Children from deprived families get the opportunity to change their lives through art. At the start of the project in 2000, only five or six children applied for each spot. However, word soon spread throughout Brazil and beyond and now, more than 100 children compete for each place in the rigorous eight-year programme.

Escola do Teatro Bolshoi no Brasil
Since Julia’s family couldn’t afford to send her to the final selection stage at the Bolshoi Theatre School, she came up with a fundraiser ‘Julia is saving up for the Bolshoi’. She danced at church gatherings, meetings; anywhere she could, passing around a donation box.

The Bolshoi School is a dream for many Brazilian families. Stories about children from the most impoverished favelas having the chance to train with world-class instructors from the Bolshoi provide a fertile ground for touching media reports that inspire others. More than 200 pupils, mainly from low-income families, receive scholarships that cover the full costs of their education including transport, meals and medical care.

Amanda Gomes, prima ballerina at the Tatar State Opera and Ballet Theatre in Kazan, Russia
Amanda Gomes has always dreamed of becoming a prima ballerina. After finishing the Bolshoi School in Joinville, she was invited to join the junior company at the Zurich ballet. However, fate brought her to the Tatar State Opera and Ballet Theatre, where she fulfilled her dream.

In Joinville, RTD’s Ekaterina Kozhakina meets students to see how the Bolshoi ballet school gives them a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. She also learns of the sacrifices the parents make to give their children a future in ballet. She then travels to Russia, where some of the graduates are already performing professionally with renowned ballet companies, including the Bolshoi itself.

Erick Swolkin, dancer at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow
Erick Swolkin is a graduate of the Bolshoi Theatre School in Joinville. There aren’t many foreigners in the Bolshoi company in Moscow, but Erick and his girlfriend, Bruna Cantanhede, have joined the corps de ballet after finishing school.