Teachable Moments with Nicolas Petrov, Ph.D.
"When you teach, you try to transmit experience. Teaching is at least 50 percent experience. The other half is knowledge of the subject," says Nicolas Petrov, Ph.D., professor of dance in the Conservatory of Performing Arts.
Few people have as great a wealth of experience as Petrov, a legendary dancer and choreographer who created Point Park's dance program and founded Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (and was its director from 1969 to 1977). He continues to share his experience with young dancers.
Born in Yugsolavia, he studied at the Novi Sad Theatre Academy at the Belgrade State Ballet Academy. He danced with the National Popular Theatre in Novi Sad from 1946 to 1951 and the Belgrade National Popular Theater from 1951 to 1954. He went to France in 1954 where he danced with Charrat's company and with Massine's Ballet Europeo di Nervi.
In 1969, Petrov was teaching at the Pittsburgh Playhouse when [then President] Arthur Blum "brought me to Point Park. I was ready to return to New York, but he persuaded me to stay and was very supportive." Petrov earned his Ph.D. in philosophy of dance from the University of California, Los Angeles.
The American Dance Ensemble of Point Park College was founded by Petrov in 1977. He was able to attract some of the best-known ballet teachers in the world to be instructors at Point Park, including Marina Stavitskaya, Asaf Messerer, Jean Guelis, Vassili Sulich, Mikhail Korogodsky, Gabriella Komleva, and Lillia Sharapova.
"In the early years, it was much simpler in many ways. Point Park had just two buildings," recalls Petrov. Today, however, with facilities such as the newly dedicated George Rowland White Performance Center on the Boulevard of the Allies, "we have superb studios. You can't find comparable quality even in New York City because there simply isn't enough available space."
Petrov chronicled his career, and his influential role in shaping dance in Pittsburgh, in his book, In the Shadow of the Greats. Students, dancers, teachers, and guest artists who created the professional dance movement in Pittsburgh are featured. In another book, The Dance Method, Petrov focuses on the principles of Constantin Stanislavski's acting method and applies them to dance. Highlighting determination of talent, theory of education, development of a critical mind, and protecting the dancer's instrument, the body, he offers dancers techniques for establishing a long and healthy career. Both books are available at the Point Park bookstore.
"I feel connected to all of my students," he says. "I try to stay in touch with as many as possible."
Text by Cheryl Valyo
Photo by Martha Rial
The Point is a magazine for alumni and friends of Point Park University