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Tijuana children perform show based on Russian holiday stories

By Anna Cearley 

December 19, 2003

Snowflakes at Colegio La Esperanza Christmas Balle
PEGGY PEATTIE / Union-Tribune
Young dancers at Colegio de Esperanza in Tijuana perform a Pastorela for friends and family. The choreography was organized by Valeri Tchekachev and his wife, Tatiana, both of whom trained at the Kirov Ballet in Russia.
TIJUANA – On a dry hilltop, a 6-year-old snowflake in a white tutu stood patiently as her fellow students took turns lifting her in the air.

Elves decked out in satin suits practiced waving their cobbling tools while Russian ballet choreographer Tatiana Alexandrovna Tchekasheva, 48, painted stripes on the faces of children outfitted as plump, evil spiders.

A precocious dog played by 11-year-old Marcos Rosas in a camel-colored jumpsuit arched his leg in a series of quick flexes.

"I'm not nervous. I'm confident," said Rosas, who added he wasn't playing just any dog in this holiday performance at the Colegio de Esperanza, or School of Hope. The elementary school is run by the San Diego-based Americas Foundation and funded mostly through donations.

"I'm the principal dog," Marcos said, wiggling his painted nose and pointing out that he has been doing ballet for three years now.

The school's ballet program started five years ago when director Christine Brady, who has a background in ballet, began searching for dancers to teach her students, who live in poor neighborhoods on the city's outskirts.

She was referred to Tatiana and her husband, Valeri, professional dancers who live in Tijuana but got their training at the Vaganova Academy of Russia's famous Kirov Ballet.

Within the school's mosaic-lined walls, the Tchekashevas have taught many of the elementary school's 250 pupils the subtleties and grace of ballet.

"If we take them now, then it will stay with them for all their life," said Valeri, 52.

This year's holiday ballet was based on Russian Christmas stories and was choreographed to music by Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich and Wagner. It included the Russian equivalent of Santa Claus and his foil, a witch-like character. Parents helped sew the costumes.

Elizabeth Cervantes watched her four children – three snowflakes and an elf – dance across the outdoor patio, where piñatas dangled from trees.

"This raises their self-esteem and communication, and they are acquiring a taste for art," she said.

More information about the school, which includes a kindergarten and a new high school component, can be found at

Anna Cearley: (619) 542-4595;