BY JOHN FLEMING
Times Performing Arts Critic
“It's hard. Ballet is not easy. These girls work hard.''
So said Pavel Fomin as he took a break from the Saturday morning technique class of Florida West Ballet, held every week in the atmospheric second-floor dance studios of the city shuffleboard complex.
For the past half-hour or so, Fomin had been putting a group of nine young women in black leotards, pink tights and ballet slippers through their paces. They worked along the barre in the mirrored space, ballet posters on the walls, windows open to the spring breeze, overlooking Mirror Lake.
"Circle foot, lift left, lift right,'' the ballet teacher would say, the dancers attuned to his every word, doing their steps to recorded piano music.
Fomin is artistic director of Florida West Ballet, a youth company founded in 1981. A gray-haired man with glasses, he is a trim, erect figure, his Russian-accented English putting a flavorful old-world spin on the mostly French terminology of ballet: plie, arabesque, port de bras.
From time to time, he would step in to pay close attention to a dancer, adjusting the position of an arm, the curve of the fingers. Or he'd ask about an injury. On this morning, one dancer was sitting out with a sprained ankle; another changed from soft ballet slippers to hard pointe shoes to take pressure off a painful wart on her foot.
"Clarity of movement, breathing, flexibility, their turnout — this is what we work on every Saturday morning,'' Fomin said. "Then we'll spend the afternoon rehearsing our ballet.''
On Sunday, the company will give its big performance of the year, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, at the Palladium Theater. Sergiy Mikhaylov, a former principal dancer with Sarasota Ballet, will be one of two male guest artists in the cast for this Russian version of the fairy tale.
The 30 young women in Florida West Ballet — and the company is virtually all female; there is one young man at the beginner level — come from all over the Tampa Bay area. They take classes during the week at their hometown studios and schools, then spend Saturdays from September through May at the Mirror Lake studios under the tutelage of Fomin and Darya Fedotova, a former soloist with Sarasota Ballet. They have been rehearsing Snow White since January.
Ella Titus, a 13-year-old from Clearwater, will be dancing the title role. Sporting a yellow flower in her hair, which is tied back in a tight bun, she's an advanced dancer who will be spending part of this summer training with Miami City Ballet. Like others in Florida West Ballet, she dreams of a career in ballet.
"She's very beautiful, very promising,'' said Fomin, who is also ballet master of Sarasota Ballet. Young dancers who trained with Florida West Ballet have gone on to be members of the New York City Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Atlanta Ballet, the Joffrey Ballet and other major companies.
"Some of these girls will be professional dancers if they want,'' Fomin said. "But even if they don't, it is good for them to be involved at this age in activity that exposes them to music and movement, art and design. It gives them discipline, which is good for anything.''
Fomin, 68, grew up in Ukraine and was a longtime principal dancer with the Odessa State Ballet, performing leading roles in classics like Giselle, Don Quixote and Sleeping Beauty. His wealth of ballet experience, and his ability to pass it on to American adolescents, is an invaluable artistic resource.
"He is like our own little secret,'' said Ria McQueen, president of the board of Florida West Ballet. "He has a fabulous eye. He is all about the training.''
John Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8716. He blogs on Critics Circle at blogs.tampabay.com/arts.