PALM COAST, Fla. – With a dream of one day being a professional dancer, 13-year-old Leila Abdusattrov was thrilled to be among the 26 students from the Mia Bella Academy of Dance selected to perform alongside the professionals representing the State Ballet of Ukraine, after auditions in October 2022.

Select dance schools were presented the chance to be part of the show as the professional dance company tours the United States. Mia Bella owner and artistic director Brie Valenti Crane acknowledged the once in a lifetime opportunity for the aspiring dancers, some of whom had never seen a professional ballet.

“Because of the culture of the world, it’s something our families felt super passionate about participating in,” said Valenti Crane.

“They are getting their first professional experience on stage tonight, so they’re very excited. Being on stage and active in the arts is imperative for healthy development. Some of them have never even seen a classical ballet before, so to have the opportunity to participate in it alongside the professionals, especially because of the special place Ukraine has in our hearts right now, it’s going to be something they remember for the rest of their lives.”

Posing for photos early in the afternoon before the show, the Mia Bella dancers were eager with anticipation after rehearsing for weeks to prepare.

“I feel like it’s a great opportunity for me to grow from it,” said Abdusattrov, whose parents are Polish and Husavik. “I love watching other ballerinas and seeing them be on stage, it’s really inspirational.”

Sell Out Crowd

Jackie McDevitt Gillilland has grown up in the theater.  A student of dance herself, Gilliland produced the Dance Around Flagler show for a decade during the annual Holiday Extravaganza events at the Flagler Auditorium.

Never has she seen such enthusiasm for the ballet, a staple for the venue each January.

“It’s amazing to see a ballet in Flagler County sold out,” she said.

“As long as I’ve worked here, I do not remember a ballet being sold out. It’s a beautiful thing to see the kids up on the stage with the professionals. They’re blending right in. It’s magical, and if you’re here tonight there’s definitely magic in the air.”

Seeing new faces among the audience, she was encouraged by the number of people discovering the Flagler Auditorium as both patrons and volunteers.

“I think the quality of entertainment in Flagler County just keeps getting better and better each year.

Among the packed house were parents and grandparents, mingling during the show’s intermission while praising their little dancer on stage.

Combining Arts and Education

Flagler Auditorium director Amelia Fulmer was pleased by the excitement generated by the State Ballet of Ukraine’s visit, and especially proud to host them during such a difficult time for their country, booking them early.

“This year’s extremely special. Normally we wait to book them but this year we were called in April of 2022 to talk about bringing them here in January,” shared Fulmer. “We went ahead and signed all the contracts early because even then we weren’t sure they’d be able to get their visas to come.”

Helping it feel more like home, Oksa Cakes from Flagler Beach made a traditional Ukrainian Borscht soup for the dance company.

“We’re excited about sharing not only the food but their language and familiarity with each other, hoping we can make it even more pleasant,” said Fulmer.

As the lights went down and the curtains opened, it was pure magic with exquisite finery and costumes. Dancers fluttered gracefully across the stage, drawing the audience to another place and time.

“We doing our arts in education, as we usually do. That’s our passion,” said Fulmer. “We’re able to do something different. We’ve had the ballet here before, but we’ve never had students participate.”