RATHDRUM – Warm boots, a good winter coat, a passport and travel visa – and Russian language lessons.
Isaac Sanders is making a list of what he needs in the next few weeks before he departs for Moscow to begin the biggest, most nerve-wracking adventure of his life.
Sanders, 14, has been invited to study at the prestigious Bolshoi Ballet Academy. And if you haven’t heard of that, think Juilliard or the Royal College of Music, only lots more snow.
The terse invitation came by email earlier this month. His mother, Emily, opened it first and let out a scream. Then he read it.
“I was just stunned for the next couple of hours,” Sanders said. “I mean, I just couldn’t believe it.”
He celebrated by dancing around the living room.
It’s an extraordinary opportunity to study under the world’s greatest ballet instructors. Even more impressive, Sanders first put on the tights only about three years ago. Before that, he spent three years learning other dance styles.
“I started with tap-dancing and contemporary,” he said. “I actually did a hip-hop routine one year, which is the complete opposite of ballet.”
Then he took a class at a ballet studio in southeastern Idaho, where the family lived until about two years ago. “It was super-challenging, super-difficult, but I loved it,” he said.
Soon after, Sanders watched the Pocatello studio’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s classical ballet “Swan Lake.” He was hooked.
“I saw some of the male dancers that they had,” he said. “Just incredible. I was mesmerized by their turns and their jumps. Everything was just so amazing.”
Sanders enrolled in the Brindusa-Moore Ballet Academy’s summer program, followed by its year-round program. He has danced in “The Nutcracker,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Cinderella” and “Giselle.”
He still spends most of his time in Pocatello, returning to Rathdrum every few weeks to visit his parents, four younger sisters and baby brother.
One of his instructors, academy co-founder Sergiu Brindusa, called Sanders a genuine prodigy exhibiting natural ease and outstanding coordination.
“He really is meant to go far in life, and we’ve always known that,” Brindusa said.
This is their first student to be invited to such a prominent institution, and Brindusa said he wouldn’t be surprised if the Bolshoi invited Sanders to stay on after the first year.
“Our whole premise with his mom and dad was that we said this kid is so talented that he has to go somewhere. From day one we said that,” Brindusa said.
Sanders kept busy this year with national competitions in New York, San Francisco and Orlando, Fla., and he recently completed the six-week Bolshoi Academy Summer Intensive in Connecticut – recruiting grounds for the Moscow academy. Usually just one boy and one girl are tapped from there and from a sister program in New York to study in Moscow each year.
The summer intensive is aptly named. Sanders started each day early with stretching and strengthening routines followed by ballet classes, then character and acting classes in the afternoon, and finally Russian language and ballet history courses in the evening.
“We really were going all day,” he said. “It took it out of me.”
Now he’s bracing for an even more rigorous experience.
“It’s going to be scary,” he said. “From what I’ve heard of other students who have gone in the past, it’s the best year of your life but it’s also the hardest of your life.”
Most of his training has been in the Russian method of ballet, which is an advantage. But he won’t have the assistance of translators and needs to learn Russian quickly.
“I just want to dive in and get it all,” said Sanders, who intends to dance professionally but is completely open to where he ends up.
His parents are feeling a range of emotions over all this.
“For me it’s terrifying, and I feel robbed because I want my son home,” Emily Sanders said. “But when I think about it from his perspective, I get really excited for him. What an incredible opportunity, 14 years old, to be able to be immersed in a completely different culture and language, something that his dad and I have only read about.”
His father, Justin, added, “It will be interesting to see what he’s like when he comes back and to see where this goes. Regardless of what happens, it will be an adventure.”
Sanders will leave in October and return next June.
“To me it’s just about performing and doing what I love,” he said. “On stage through movement, you can make people feel things that they can’t feel through words.”