Arts Ballet Theater of Florida Celebrates 25 Years

Ringing in the Holidays with 'The Nutcracker'

Owen Horsford and Yayo Sasaki in the Snow Scene.


Owen Horsford and Yayo Sasaki in the Snow Scene.

Cameron Basden, Dance Writer

In this 25th Anniversary Season, Arts Ballet Theater of Florida (ABTF) continues its celebration with the family friendly classic, “The Nutcracker” holding performances and periphery holiday activities beginning Thursday, Dec. 8 and continuing through Sunday, Dec. 18. The magical "Nutcracker" performed to Tchaikovsky’s iconic score is choreographed and staged by ABTF Artistic Director and founder, Vladimir Issaev.

Issaev, has had a career that spans the global network of the ballet field, a role he continues as Artistic Director of the Asia Ballet Academy in Malaysia. Starting at a young age, his instruction, ballet coaching, choreography and stagings for professional dance organizations have provided him the opportunity to work with the best dancers and the most noted teachers in the world.

Now celebrating 25 years since the opening of his school, The Vladimir Issaev School of Classical Ballet, and emergence of his company, Arts Ballet Theater of Florida, Issaev looks back with fascination on how he’s arrived at 25 years.

Children as the little MICE.


Children as the little MICE.

“Unbelievable,” Issaev laughs. “It’s unbelievable 25 years in Miami. We started at zero, absolutely at zero.”

Having worked with numerous prestigious organizations, Issaev was a very familiar face in the dance arena. Early on, he had been invited to the U.S. repeatedly by the Dance Educators of America Association and by the Russian Ballet Seminar to hold seminars alongside the great stars of the Kirov Ballet, Alla Sizova and Irina Kolpakova in Florida, Pennsylvania, Ballet Theater of Scranton, California University, Santa Barbara and Sacramento.

Working in the U.S. was not unfamiliar.

It was in 1997, after carrying the role of Ballet Master for ten years at the Ballet Nacional de Caracas - Teresa Carreño under the direction of iconic choreographer, Maestro (Mo.) Vicente Nebrada, Issaev was enticed to settle in Miami at the invitation of Nina Allen and Marisa Parmeggiani, at whose small dance school Issaev would be an instructor.

1997 was also the year Issaev married his wife, Ruby, whom he had met three years prior, at the Teatro Teresa Carreño, both working for Nebrada at Ballet Nacional de Caracas. Ruby now serves as the Executive Director of ABTF.

As an experienced and results oriented instructor, Allen and Parmeggiani suggested Issaev purchase the school and become the director. Issaev, who had no money and no papers, was not keen on the idea, but the two women were relentless. They put everything in Issaev’s name and little by little payments were made for a legit purchase. It is Allen and Parmeggiani who are credited with founding ABTF with Issaev.

As the student body grew, more and more young pre-professional dancers would attend Issaev’s classes in preparation to audition and embark on their dance careers - elsewhere. He started putting together small performance opportunities, one of which was a shortened version of “The Nutcracker.”

Drosselmeyer played by Haiou Wang.


Drosselmeyer played by Haiou Wang.

“As Vladimir (Issaev) started to prepare students to go audition, they said ‘No, we don’t want to go. We want to stay with you,’ " explains Ruby Issaev. “And that’s how the company got started.”

It was initially a Youth Company comprised of students from the most advanced classes.

“The first "Nutcracker" performance was just the second act divertissement,” says Issaev. “Then we started adding mice and building the production. And we started to grow. We invited professional dancers to join us, so it wasn’t just youth dancers.”

Issaev was also connected to the dance community in Miami. Many of his students were dancing with Miami City Ballet, where Issaev was an instructor. He would choreograph solos for them or they would be dancers in his Nutcracker productions.

“We would all work together,” Issaev says. “I taught in other schools, I had my own school, but we would all work together, no problem.”

The dance community has always been a friendly, supportive environment.

ABTF now has numerous full-length productions, all choreographed by Issaev. His company dancers come from many countries, and he doesn’t bring in any guest artists. While most choreography is his own, as a former ballet master and colleague of Vicente Nebrada, Issaev has the rights to do Nebrada’s ballets, two which have been chosen are Nebrada’s difficult “Waltzes” and “Pentimento.”

“I like his choreography,” Issaev says. “I think 'Waltzes' is the most difficult partnering in the world.”

One of the strongest and most prestigious relationships that has been developed is with Diana Vishneva, a well-known Russian ballerina from the Maryinsky Theater. She has performed with major companies throughout the world such as American Ballet Theater and the Paris Opera Ballet - and keeps an apartment in Miami. Vishneva teaches at the school and is a coach for Issaev’s Miami International Ballet Competition.

The conversation took a small turn as Issaev spoke about Vishneva, who, in prior years, has gone back and forth to Russia.

“It has been difficult. She’s trying to sell everything and move from Russia,” Issaev remarks. “We also have one lady from Ukraine who has just moved here. She takes class.”

“The school and the company are separate,” Ruby interjects, jumping to "Nutcracker."  “But for 'The Nutcracker' we always invite the children to perform with us. And we have dancers in the company who have come from the school.”

“I hope, if the fit is good, that dancers from the school stay here to dance,” Issaev says. “They know me, my style, and are comfortable on the stage.”

Saaya Okada and Remina Tanaka as the Sugarplum Fairy and her Cavalier.


Saaya Okada and Remina Tanaka as the Sugarplum Fairy and her Cavalier.

One example of a dancer who has transitioned from the school to the company and beyond is Lusian Hernandez . Hernandez, who had an affinity for contemporary work, now does contemporary choreography for the company, which augments Issaev’s work. She also serves as ballet master along with veteran ballerina, Mary Carmen Catoya.

Following our discussion, was a rehearsal showing of Act II of “The Nutcracker.” The first act party scene and battle, which includes the children, is not rehearsed until the afternoon when the children are out of school.

The company is 22 dancers strong and is comprised of dancers from Canada, China, England, Japan, Mexico, Venezuela, and Florida. It’s an energetic and technical group, especially the men. Finding strong classical men in ballet remains a challenge. The dancers have a vibrant and youthful joy that is infectious. It is easy to see that Issaev and Ruby are proud of the dancers.

Spanish Dance with Moegi Matsuzawa.


Spanish Dance with Moegi Matsuzawa.

Ruby concludes with comments about “The Nutcracker.”

“One of the things that I constantly hear about Vladimir’s Nutcracker is that people feel like they are a part of it. It touches their hearts, touches their soul.”

Arts Ballet Theater of Florida presents “The Nutcracker”

Silver Anniversary Celebration | Aventura Arts & Cultural Center
3385 NE 188th Street Aventura
Thursday, Dec. 8, 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $100 (VIP) and $50

Sensory Inclusive Performance | Aventura Arts & Cultural Center
3385 NE 188th Street Aventura
Saturday, December 10, 11 a.m. 
Tickets: $20.00 (A shorted and adapted version for audiences under the spectrum)

Season Performances | Aventura Arts & Cultural Center
3385 NE 188th Street Aventura
Friday and Saturday, Dec. 9 and 10, 7 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 11, 3 p.m. Tickets: $50

Season Performances | Lillian S. Wells at The Parker
707 NE 8th St, Fort Lauderdale
Friday and Saturday, Dec.16 and 17, 7 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 18, 3 p.m.
Tickets start at $25

For ticketing and additional information, please visit the website, or contact by phone at (305) 948 4777.

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