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Ballet star and Soviet defector finds welcoming home, rising talent in Norwalk

Valentina Kozlova, former dancer with the Bolshoi and New York City Ballets, opened a Dance Conservatory on Westport Avenue in Norwalk in September.

Before Valentina Kozlova brought her Manhattan ballet company to Norwalk, there were other dance corps in Fairfield County. But none could boast a commitment to the regal style of classical dance from nearly six decades of training with the Bolshoi and New York City ballets.

The Valentina Kozlova Dance Conservatory occupies an airy, spacious, and bright studio with high ceilings and no columns to obstruct the dancers – essential for a ballet school, and not easy to find. Forced out of the Theater District when her building was sold, Kozlova searched for comparable space from the Battery to White Plains before a friend told her to look in Norwalk.

“I need community, and I feel that [the] Norwalk community will welcome me,” said Kozlova, 61. Mayor Harry Rilling cut the ribbon for the conservatory’s grand opening at 509 Westport Avenue in September.

Though a large portion of students come from Norwalk, the conservatory has already drawn pupils from as far as Milford and New York City. They come to study the Vaganova method, a technique that has guided expressive dancers from Rudolph Nureyev to Mikhail Baryshnikov.

“It’s by art people get united, not by politics,” said Kozlova, who defected in 1979, while touring with the Bolshoi Ballet in Los Angeles.

What will bring people of different backgrounds and beliefs together, she said, “is the harmony of life, the beauty of life.”

Dancing was the dream of a towheaded young girl growing up in Moscow who loved to perform and recite poetry in parks. She reveled in the attention she received from passing families. Her mother took her to a local dance school. At 8, she was accepted by the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, the USSR’s most prestigious. She was invited to join the Bolshoi corps de ballet at 16, and was promoted to a principal dancer, the most prominent position, at 18.

After she fled communism, George Balanchine invited her to be a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet in 1983, where she remained until 1995.

Today, Kozlova draws on her reputation as a teacher and performer. Dancers from Japan, Peru, Panama, Israel, and other countries have studied at her conservatory by invitation. In 2019 and 2020, Kozlova said, she plans to host performers from Hungary, Paraguay, Brazil, Japan, and Mexico in Norwalk.

She also hosts the annual the Valentina Kozlova International Ballet Competition, now in its eighth year. Young artists from around the world contend for scholarships, training at her academy or simply the chance to challenge their peers.

They may stay for as long as a year or as little as a month, but the result of so much international traffic is that her conservatory “becomes not [a] local studio,’’ she said. “It becomes broad.”

One comment

Marija Bryant December 2, 2018 at 9:52 am

A welcome addition to Norwalk arts and culture. I know that many of the Bolshoi stars (including Baryshnikov) studied dance in Riga, Latvia – my family roots. IF that is so for Ms Kozlova, I would like to say “Sveiks!”

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