Alameda dancer raises funds for Bolshoi ballet training
By Janelle Bitker
As a child, Mario Labrador dreamed of becoming the best dancer the world has ever seen. Now, the 19-year-old Alameda resident has been accepted into one of the best ballet schools in the world — the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow.
Labrador initially auditioned for the Bolshoi Academy as a joke, but his acceptance changed the way he decided to go about becoming a professional ballet dancer.
“I didn’t take it seriously because in no way did I feel I could ever, in a million years, get that kind of opportunity,” Labrador said in an e-mail interview.
The school’s prestige isn’t the main draw for Labrador, who said the Bolshoi Academy teaches the appropriate ballet style for his body type. Despite being trained through the Danish style, which is characterized by quick, light feet, Labrador is built for Russian ballet, which emphasizes musicality, personal expression and strength.
“I want to use my potential to its fullest, so that I can become the best dancer I was meant to be,” he said.
Labrador needs $20,000 to embark on this dream, and he is currently raising funds through his website. Labrador is fairly confident he will be able to raise the money. The fundraising progress is updated daily online.
As of July 23, Labrador had raised $8,215. He needs $13,350 for tuition, including Russian language lessons, meals and room and board. Another $3,500 would go toward airfare, and $3,150 would go toward other necessities like medical prescriptions and ballet gear.
If Labrador raises the funds, he will participate in the Bolshoi Academy’s 10-month Choreographic Art – Ballet Dancer program, which begins September 1. He is currently in New York City participating in the Bolshoi Academy’s three-week summer intensive program.
Labrador has lived in Alameda since 2002, when he entered the sixth grade at Will C. Wood Middle School. He graduated from Alameda Community Learning Center in 2009.
Before coming to the Island, Labrador moved around a lot, from Oakley to San Francisco to Oakland to Florida and back to Oakland all before he entered the fifth grade. It was around this time that Labrador began ballet at the Oakland Ballet School.
His mother, Gina Vitale, said her son was “born to dance” and that he aspired to be a top dancer beginning at age 10. Vitale, who called herself her son’s “parent, best friend and micro-manager,” said he never missed a beat in his studies.
Labrador managed to balance ballet, academics and a social life largely because he wasn’t enrolled in full-time ballet school, where dancing lasts from morning until evening.
“(Ballet) class started about two hours after school and then we’d rehearse for about three hours after that, and then I would come home and do it all over again,” he said.
This balancing act proved challenging though, and as he got older, he couldn’t do it.
“Ballet became more demanding as I became more serious about it, so I had to choose between a social life and ballet,” Labrador said. “But the passion had already settled in the very first few months, so there was no question.”
In 2006, Ronn Guidi brought back the Oakland Ballet Company and gave Labrador his first professional role, as the Rose Cavalier in the Nutcracker. He performed in front of 3,000 people at the Paramount Theater. One year later, Guidi offered Labrador a contract and Labrador has held several featured roles since, including the Prince in the Nutcracker and Benvolio in Romeo and Juliet.
Labrador has received critical acclaim throughout his professional career. In a review of the Oakland Ballet Company’s 2007 production of The Nutcracker, for example, the San Francisco Chronicle said Labrador’s performance was “filled with gusto.”
Although many tell him that the professional ballet career is usually short, Labrador never thought about switching paths.
“I’ve never really taken it into consideration because I am someone who naturally loves to live in the moment,” he said.
Labrador is using Rosetta Stone software to improve his Russian in anticipation for Moscow. It’s helping, he said, and when he gets to the Bolshoi Academy he will be enrolled in Russian language class full time.
Labrador advises open-mindedness when it comes to pursuing dreams.
“You must be fearless, determined and passionate,” he said. “And when all is said and done, there is no telling what exciting adventures await your spirit.”
Labrador said he keeps his mind open when it comes to his plan to attend the Bolshoi Academy. Even if he cannot raise the $20,000, he is still optimistic about his dreams of professional ballet dancing.
“I do have lots of love and support from my family, friends and the Bay Area community. I couldn’t have ever wished for better people in my life,” he said.