After bailing out of the Bolshoi Ballet -- and Russia, where they led rather cushy lives as part of Moscow's artistic elite -- in 1995, Gennadi and Larissa Saveliev quickly learned that America isn't always a land of plenty. During one particularly lean period, they even ate in supermarkets, hoping not to be caught.
But they were determined to stick it out. Gennadi, fed up with the instability of post-Soviet society, explains, "Here, at least I know I have some control over things." And now they're actually in the position to help other dancers.
Gennadi, who won the New York International Dance Competition -- and a spot with American Ballet Theater -- in 1996, recognized the critical importance of such competitions. At the same time, Larissa, now a dance teacher, was frustrated that her most talented students had so few options to continue their training. So, in 2000, they launched Youth America Grand Prix -- the only large-scale ballet competition of its kind, for children 8 to 19. Top-notch institutions like the Royal Ballet School, the Washington Ballet School, the Kirov Academy, and American Ballet Theater's Studio Company signed on, awarding winners career-making scholarships.
This weekend, more than 250 young dancers from around the world will be in town for the final rounds (in a welcome sign of détente, one judge is a ballet master from the Bolshoi) and a gala performance at Alice Tully Hall on May 6. "I feel so proud," says Larissa one afternoon at the ABT studios with Gennadi and their 12-year-old son, Eugene, "because that was our intention -- to come here and do something good, not just, like, eat in supermarket." She looks over at Eugene, sitting patiently against a wall and popping Sour Patch Kids into his mouth, and says, "American children are so lucky."