A leaping lineage

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First Posted: 1/27/2014

Mikhail Baryshnikov, now in his 60s, has been busy with a new venture, acting in a Chekhov play in Washington, D.C.

So it would have been very unlikely for Baryshnikov, whom critics describe as one of the best, most athletic ballet dancers of all time, to have suddenly appeared in the Wyoming Valley a few weeks ago to offer tips to aspiring hoofers.

Acclaimed ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev died in 1993, and the innovative “King of Pop” Michael Jackson died in 2009. Naturally, they wouldn’t have been available either.

But the young dancers who signed up for up to six hours of ballet, hip-hop, contemporary dance, and leaps and turns during a winter workshop at the Harris Conservatory for the Arts in Luzerne nevertheless had a connection to those legendary performers.

They had a chance to take a class with LaVon Patterson from Philadelphia, who helped choreograph Jackson’s 30th-anniversary special at Madison Square Garden in 2001, and with Scott Jovovich, also of Philadelphia, who worked with the Russian ballet masters during their dancing days.

“I talk to my students about that,” Jovovich noted. “I tell them, your pedigree includes Nureyev and Baryshnikov. In the dancers’ world, they are your family. That’s your ancestry.

“They affected me so immeasurably,” Jovovich said of Nureyev, with whom he worked as a principal dancer at the Northern Ballet Theatre in England and of Baryshnikov, with whom he studied in New York City.

“The artistry was unreal.”

Last month, the artistry continued on the local level, as Jovovich and Patterson shared their knowledge with students at the Harris Conservatory.

“We didn’t want it to be over,” said 17-year-old Rachel Makar, a senior at Holy Redeemer High School in Wilkes-Barre who hopes to continue her dance studies at the university level. “It made you love dance all over again.”

Kira Pomrinke, 9, of Dallas, said she learned a lot during the workshop.

“To keep your back straight, and your stomach has to be even with your bottom,” she said, ticking off the advice. “We learned chaines turns, too.”

Harris Conservatory manager Jim Harris said he was thrilled that both teachers had a broad range of dance experiences to share with the students, noting Jovovich’s appearances in Tony Award-winning Broadway shows as well as Patterson’s collaboration with such stars as Usher and Jennifer Lopez in addition to Jackson.

“They were perfect,” he said. “I can’t wait to bring them back.”