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Ziyi Zhang started dance training when she was 8 years old and at the age of 11 joined the Beijing Dance Academy where she retrained in national dance. At the age of 15, she won the national youth dance championship and then began appearing in television commercials, beginning with shampoo commercials in which she failed at her first attempt at ‘acting’.
When she was 17 years of age Ziyi Zhang had to go through a government imposed test to assess her best talent and it was discovered that she really did have acting skills. When the Party commands, Zhang obeys and at the age of 18 she was enrolled in the Central Academy of Drama, the most prestigious acting college in China.
A year later the nineteen year old Ziyi was offered her first role in “The Road Home”, winner of the 1999 Berlin Film Festival Silver Bear award, which started her on the road to movie stardom. She has become adept at integrating ballet into karate and karate into ballet as this Van Dam in a skirt demonstrates in the films “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “House of Flying Daggers”.
Michelle Yeoh is another ballet trained actress who has forged her pointes to swords. Malaysian born but based in Hong Kong, Michelle started ballet training at the age of four and after moving with her family to England at age 15 was accepted by London’s Royal Academy of Dance.
However, due to a back injury she changed her career to acting and achieved fame as the girlfriend of James Bond in “Tomorrow Never Dies”. She is the highest paid Asian actor and co-starred with Ziyi Zhang in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Memoirs of a Geisha”.
If you want a living example of globalization you need to look no further than Zoe Soldana. Her father is Dominican and her mother Puerto Rican but her ancestry includes an exotic mix of other bloods – Lebanese, Indian, Irish and Jamaican. Her full name is Zoe Yadira Nazario Zaldana and she was born in Queens, New York. At the age of ten she moved with her parents to the Dominican Republic where she studied ballet until she was 17 when her family returned to America. This is where it all began. First she joined The Faces, a drama group with elements of dance, and while there she taught teenagers a healthy lifestyle. It was here that she was discovered by a talent agency.
The producers of “Center Stage” were looking for an actress-dancer and Zoe got the part. The film came out in 2000 and led to a succession of movie roles including “Crossroads” in which she appeared with another ballet trained dancer Britney Spears, “Pirates of the Caribbean”, “Star Trek” and, of course, “Avatar”. After Zoe was colored blue and got a tail she gave an interview to a Russian magazine:
GRAZIA: You studied ballet for a long time. Why did you decide to go into movies?
ZS: I’ll tell you how: I was dreaming of the Bolshoi Theatre! But I knew I was not good enough to dance as well as I wanted. I tried for ten years and then realized it was a talent from God that is not given to everyone. Of course, the decision was very difficult for me. Ironically, my first film “Center Stage” – was about ballet and this seemed very symbolic – it was like saying goodbye to my old life and starting a new one.”
Such a farewell awaits all dancers and I wish every one to have such a successful career as Zoe after they retire from ballet.
Actress Elisabeth Moss was born Los Angeles, the city where everything is somehow related to films and the janitor is not a really janitor but an actor-in-waiting and the waitress is not really a waitress but a future star of the screen.
However, Elisabeth took a different course and studied ballet. At the age of eight she appeared in her first TV movie “Bar Girls” but continued to study at the School of American Ballet Theatre in New York. From 1992 to 1995 she appeared in seven episodes of the TV series “Picket Fences” while continuing lessons with Susan Farrell at the Kennedy Center in Washington.
Real fame came with the role of Peggy Olson in the “Mad Men” for which she was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, but except for us, few will remember that she once danced in “The Nutcracker” with the Joffrey Ballet and “Swan Lake” with New York City Ballet.
Alexander Borisovitch had a life as dramatic as any role he played. He joined the Bolshoi Ballet in 1971 and rose to principal dancer but also became well known in the Soviet Union as a movie actor and in 1974 played Vronsky in Anna Karenina.
In 1979 while on tour with the Bolshoi Ballet in New York City Godunov asked for political asylum. The KGB retaliated by putting his wife Ludmila Vlasova on a plane to Moscow. US President Jimmy Carter and Soviet leader Leonid Brehznev became involved and the flight was held up while the US State Department tried to ascertain if she was going back to the Soviet Union voluntarily.
US diplomats came to the airport with a US passport already prepared for Mila but she said she wanted to return to Moscow and after a three day delay the flight was allowed to depart. Alexander Borisovitch tried to get his wife back but without success and the two became known as the Romeo and Juliet of the Cold War.
Godunov joined American Ballet Theatre on such a huge salary that the entire company called a six-month strike! In 1980 ABT appointed Baryshnikov as artistic director. Back home at the Riga Choreography School Godunov and Baryshnikov were friends but in America they were competitors. Godunov continued to dance as principal until 1982 when they quarreled and he left ABT.
He spent some time travelling with his own troupe and dancing as guest artist with ballet companies around the world until a meeting with the movie star Jacqueline Bisset opened the gates to Hollywood. Although Jacqueline and Alexander had a long-standing romance he continued to love his far-away wife Mila. His most prominent movie role was in “Die Hard” with Bruce Willis.
Alexander Borisovitch Godunov died in West Hollywood, California, in 1995 at the age of only 45. Although he requested his ashes to be scattered in his three homelands – in Moscow, Riga and Los Angeles – he did not get his last wish and his American manager dispersed his ashes into the Pacific Ocean. There is a memorial at Gates Mortuary in Los Angeles engraved with the epitaph “His future remained in the past.”
Texas born actress Summer Glau received a ballet company scholarship and was admitted to the San Antonio Academy of Ballet. To accommodate her ballet training she was home-schooled from grades 3 to 12. In addition to her classical ballet Summer studied tango and flamenco.
“I danced classical ballet all my life. It was my destiny. I was known only as a dancer and thought I’d do it all my life” said Summer.
However, a serious ankle injury ended her dancing career and in 2002 she moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career.
It so happened that her dancing ambitions were not entirely dashed and her debut as an actress was as a ballerina in an episode of the “Angel” series “Waiting in the Wings” in which she danced “Giselle”. She then worked on the ballet film “The Maid” which was seen by no one!
Summer became famous as the cyborg killer Cameron in “The Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles”. She also appeared again as Cameron in the seventh episode of the series “The Demon Hand” where she dances in a ballet for which she herself found the music and choreographed the dance. Schwarzenegger stand aside, look and learn:
We have found this black panther’s weak spot… and yes, it’s ballet!
On her visits to Russia she is to be seen in the audience at the Bolshoi Ballet and if this is not enough to qualify her as a true lover of our beautiful art, we can now reveal that she actually trained to be a dancer.
Her mother Valerie Campbell is a former ballet dancer of Afro-Jamaican descent and while she toured Europe with with the contemporary dance troup Fantastica a nanny was engaged to take care of little Naomi. At the age of 10 she was accepted into London’s famous Italia Conti Academy stage school where she studied ballet. She continued her training at the London Academy of Performing Arts but as she grew taller a career in ballet did not look a promising future.
Fortunately, at the age of 15, while window shopping in Covent Garden, she was spotted by the head of the Synchro model agency. Naomi decided to become a full-time model and signed with Elite Model Management. As we all know, she went on to become one of the most sought after fashion models of all time and adding to her talents Naomi occasionally performs as an actress and a singer.