Alexei Orohovsky waited in the wings for hours for his moment in the prestigious Youth America Grand Prix 2022 in Tampa, Fla., trying to keep his muscles ready for the final round in the world’s largest nonprofit international student dance competition and scholarship program. He was 15, primed to dance the God of Wind variation from “Talisman,” in a situation and setting that hardly qualified as breezy.
“I was the very, very last dancer of the night,” Orohovsky said. “I had been warm for, like, four hours—trying to keep warm. I was exhausted. But I remember hearing the audience, thundering, backstage.”
Then, once onstage, it all came together for him. “Of course, there were mistakes,” he said, brushing those aside like the most minor of nuisances. After he finished, a whirlwind of applause enveloped him like a hug. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘I want this experience. I love this moment.’ I really invoked something in the audience, and I want to be able to do it again.”
He won the Youth Grand Prix, the top prize in his division, at the YAGP 2022. Just over a month later, as the youngest competitor by two years, he earned a junior men’s silver medal in the 2022 Helsinki International Ballet Competition.
Now, the dancer from Hattiesburg is fulfilling a prediction he made to his parents, that he would come here to compete in the XII USA International Ballet Competition when he was 15. He was close. The XII USA IBC was postponed a year because of the pandemic; he’s now 16, but he is the sole Mississippi competitor among nearly 100 dancers in the USA IBC.
The competition started Saturday, June 10, at Thalia Mara Hall in Jackson, Miss., with the Gertrude C. Ford Opening Ceremony and its Parade of Nations, the lighting of the USA IBC torch, and a performance from The Washington Ballet, a company that includes many USA IBC alumni. Three successive rounds of classical and contemporary ballet competition will follow, concluding with an Awards Gala on June 23 and the C Spire Encore Gala capping the event on June 24. The 2023 competitor field features 99 dancers (down from the initially announced 120 because of injuries or travel issues) from 17 countries.
At the Jackson Convention Complex earlier this week, Orohovsky’s hair was still a bit damp with sweat from the hour-and-a-half competitor class he had just finished. He joked about feeling old at one point, dealing with a pain in his hip that had been bugging him. But his thrill about being at the USA IBC, and performing in his home state, was palpable.
Orohovsky’s first competition performance, Round 1 Session 2, began at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, June 11.
‘I Want to Be One of Those Names’
The dancer grew up amid the pre-professional ballet training program his parents, Arkadiy and Katya Orohovsky, started in Hattiesburg, his mother’s hometown. Both professional dancers, they founded South Mississippi Ballet Theatre in the 2009-2010 season. The ballet school serves about 50 students, drawing from a three-state area, and performs full-length ballets two, sometimes three times a year, Katya said.
“We tried very hard to keep him out of dance,” she said of Alexei, but he grew up in the studio. “My office had a baby bed in it because my husband and I teach and train together, so we’re in the studio 24-7. He was around it, but we would never let him take classes until he was about 8.” He tried soccer, baseball, gymnastics, basketball and taekwondo, too.
“We never wanted him to feel like it was forced on him or expected of him,” she said. “We are very much about letting him find his own way through things.”
Usually, with one dancer as a parent and especially with two, children are “either going to really, really love it, or they’re going to absolutely want nothing to do with it; it’s not usually an in-between,” Katya explained. Alexei fell into the “love it” camp. “We tried to treat him like any other student in the school,” she added.
When the COVID-19 pandemic halted the family’s usual summer plans to teach ballet and visit family in Europe, Alexei Orohovsky asked to take the summer off. Before the season ended, however, the Boys Ballet Summer Intensive in North Carolina had him back at the barre.
“I was very out of shape, I looked awful. I was dancing terribly,” he said. “But I realized how much I missed it, and I realized that I don’t want to be away from it. … This is something I can’t see myself living without.”
That feeling sparked his motivation to pursue dance as a career, with the goal of becoming a principal dancer at a company in Europe, where he feels the art form enjoys a deeper legacy and more stable support and appreciation.
Orohovsky recalled the USA IBC poster that was always on view in his parents’ studio, the tapes he watched of it as a child, and his first time at the event in 2014 when he was 7. He was amazed, seeing so many dancers and their level of skill “I remember thinking how cool it would be to do that one day,” he said.
The 16-year-old knows the dancers featured on IBC posters who have competed and won at that level. “I want to be one of those names,” he said.
At the 2018 USA IBC, Orohovsky told his mother, “When I’m 15, I’ll be just old enough, and I want to come back.” His training prepared him for this weekend, as he honed the skills necessary to qualify. “I was dead set on it.” While the event’s pandemic-related postponement prevented him from competing at 15, he has finally reached this long-awaited stage.
Alexei Orohovsky is among a handful of Mississippians to compete at the USA IBC since its launch in 1979—a count that includes Kathy Thibodeaux (silver medalist in 1982), Sarah Newman and Jon Drake.
Instead of pressure, the young competitor feels excited “that I’m able to represent something so great,” he said. “I love it, being in Mississippi. It’s great to have more people in my home state, especially related to ballet.”
The dancer relishes another opportunity to be on stage and share the technique, skills and artistry he has worked hard to achieve. “It also allows me to experience a great time with all my fellow competitors, many of which I have known for years,” Orohovsky said. “I get to share the love of ballet with them on a stage, and it’s so much fun.”
Should he advance to Round 3, Orohovsky will perform the world premiere of “Lament,” a powerful and introspective contemporary work that Catherine Lewellen, founder and director of highly selective Elite Classical Coaching in Frisco, Texas, choreographed. “It kind of moves me from the soul,” Alexei said of the piece. He trained with Elite Coaching during the 2021-2022 season. For the past year, he has been studying at the John Cranko School in Stuttgart, Germany.
“He’s fearless about stuff, in his training as well,” Lewellen said, with results that can go “kamikaze, like a tornado that goes crazy and it’s too much. Or, it can be this just amazing thing, like, ‘Where did that come from?’ It’s this fearlessness that I think really helps him push those boundaries and see what he can do. When it works, it works, and he skyrockets.”
“When I’m on the stage and I’m able to tell a story to the audience through my movement alone, and I’m able to invoke an emotion in the audience that I’m feeling onstage, that makes everything worth it—all the training, all the hours, the sweat, everything,” Orohovsky said. “Then, I’m able to become a true artist.”
For more information and tickets to USA IBC events and competition performances, visit usaibc.com.