As real estate goes, the top floor of the Grand Opera House, the slate-shingled brow above the all-seeing Eye of Providence, makes for a pretty heady love nest. That floor, which houses the First State Ballet Theatre, isn’t home to Pasha and Kristina Kambalov, but it is both an incubator for and a showcase of love, theirs for each other and for their shared passion of ballet. Ballet came first. Their origin stories began continents apart. Kristina started dancing at age nine in Indiana, before continuing her dance education at North Carolina School of the Arts and Joffrey Ballet School in New York. Pasha, meanwhile, studied dance in St. Petersburg, Russia. Following his graduation from the Vaganova Ballet Academy, he danced professionally, touring with companies throughout the U.S.S.R, Europe, and the United States.
Kristina and Pasha’s professional paths finally merged in 1993 while each was dancing with The Russian Ballet Theatre of Delaware. Their partnership, or shall we say Pas de Deux, has been an ongoing love letter to the state of Delaware ever since. After the Russian Ballet Theatre closed in 1999, Kristina and Pasha stepped up to fill the void. In a matter of months, they opened a ballet centre in Newport, Delaware, before incorporating First State Ballet Theatre (FSBT) as a non-profit organization in December 1999. In 2003, FSBT moved to its current location in Wilmington’s Grand Opera House. Five years later, in 2008, they started the professional ballet company with a slate of ten dancers and a mission to bring value-priced professional performances to all three counties in Delaware. They have made good on that mission. Today, FSBT boasts a roster of twenty-four dancers who perform all over the state from August through April. Oh, and yeah–in between all the excitement and rigors of starting and running a dance school and company—Pasha and Kristina got married in 2002.
IN: Tell me about the experience of working with your spouse. Is it difficult?
Pasha: It’s mostly good. You have complete trust. Sometimes you can communicate with just a look. You don’t always have to take time to explain yourself. Other times [He waves an arm–dancers must add flourish.] The ladies are always right.
[I looked over to Kristina to confirm or deny this last part, but she gave me—or Pasha—no satisfaction.]
Kristina: It can be hard sometimes, but it is what we have always done. We don’t know any other way.
Pasha: We are not together all the time. Sometimes, we don’t see each other all day while we work. I’ll be teaching a class; she’ll be teaching a class. Or we will be working on different projects. It isn’t like we are working together the whole day. We might see each other at lunch.
IN: When you aren’t working, do you find yourselves spend time together or separately?
Pasha: At home, she might be working on something upstairs. I will be working in the basement or doing yard work. We have our own thing.
Kristina: But not all the time. We love to go to Rehoboth together or going for bike rides. I don’t like to walk, but I love to ride bikes.
Pasha: I like to go for walks. But I walk early in the morning while she is still sleeping.
Kristina: I like to stay up late.
IN: It sounds like you do each get your space in the relationship, but that you also do have things you like doing together outside of dance.
Kristina: Yes, and we really like the beach.
IN: Access to the beach is a great thing about living in Delaware. What drew you to this area. What do you like about being in the city of Wilmington?
Kristina: It has been awesome to see the growth. When we first moved here, the place was so charming. It still is, but it is evolving. The whole vibe has changed, and we feel lucky to be part of it. When we got to the Grand in 2003, nobody was on the streets. It was a walking street—no cars, but nobody was out there. Now, a lot of young professionals have moved in, the businesses and arts have expanded…the Riverfront, with all its changes. It is exciting to see people out walking their dogs on Market Street now.
Pasha: I like the fact that it is small. A microcity almost. It isn’t overwhelming. Plus, it is close to the beaches. And we have bigger cities nearby that we can visit. Philadelphia, New York, D.C.
IN: How has being at The Grand inspired you?
Pasha: It’s great. We’ve collaborated with other arts organizations. We’ve added dances to Opera Delaware and worked with the Delaware Symphony Orchestra.
Kristina: We support one another.
IN: What would you like to see for the future of First State Ballet School—for Wilmington?
Pasha: I’d like to get even more families and young people to come out to our performances. People in Delaware take it for granted that we have a professional ballet company in our state. Not all states do. To have one so close. There are so many kids who take ballet classes in this area. I would like for them to come out with their families to see professional ballet right here in Wilmington. We need to support live performances of all the arts.
IN: What performances do you have coming up? What are the opportunities to see live dance?
Kristina: We have UpFront on Market. It’s a chance to see dance, classic and modern, in a personal setting—one of our studios at the Grand. That’s on February 21 and 22. Then we have a children’s version of that. A one-act ballet called Hansel and Gretel and Other Tales [February 23]. It includes Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White. It incorporates a lot of familiar fairy tale characters.
Pasha: And then, of course, we have our big production of Romeo and Juliet in April [April 3-5].
IN: Thank you to Kristina and Pasha for talking with us and sharing a little bit of what it means to be IN love IN Wilmington. It sounds like tickets to the ballet might make for a great Valentine’s Day present this year. hINt hINt!
For more information on First State Ballet Theatre or to get tickets for upcoming performances, check out their website.