MAKING IT PERFECT: The first American female Bolshoi ballerina Joy Womack, puts on her hand-made tiara before practicing the Grand das de Deux with her dance partner Evan Swenson in preparation for Womack’s role as the Sugar Plum Fairy. (Photo by Brandon Wise)

STEWART ST — Joy Womack is used to headlines.

As the first American woman accepted to the prestigious Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow at the age of 17, she’s certainly made enough of them.

This weekend, however, newspapers across Los Angeles are telling not of Womack’s shining career in Russia, but of her return to her roots.

She and Erin Rivera-Brennand will alternate in the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Westside Ballet of Santa Monica’s production of “The Nutcracker,” a classic Christmas story of a young girl named Clara who defeats a terrible monster and finds her prince.

The role was a last request of Yvonne Mounsey, one of the original founders of the school and Womack’s mentor before she passed away earlier this year. The weekend run has been dedicated to her.

“I had to do it. Without her influence and example, I wouldn’t be there today,” Womack, 18, said.

Mounsey was a force of nature, a South African woman who was “a dancer in the time of greats,” Womack said.

In her time, Mounsey was the New York City Ballet’s principal dancer, known best for her role in the 1950s as the Siren in George Balanchine’s ballet called “The Prodigal Son.”

She carried from her experience a sense of artistry difficult to find, picking out the slightest details in a performance that turned a dancer from a skilled practitioner to a work of art.

“She was one of those very rare people who could see it. There are very few of those people in the world,” Womack said.

Womack credits her early experience with Mounsey as a push that led her to her historic work with the Bolshoi Academy.

Mounsey herself had performed with a Russian troupe, and once told Womack to make sure she found a Russian teacher when she left Santa Monica for Austin, Texas, with her family when she was 12 years old.

“When I did see her, before she passed, we had this moment where we were completing the circle,” Womack said. “She had come from this Russian dance troupe, and one of her students was going back.”

Womack lives full-time in Moscow, a place that’s steeped in culture and history but also hamstrung by corruption.

There are aspects to living in the United States that Womack appreciates now that she’s returned for a visit, like the accessibility of relatively inexpensive organic food and medical care.

Still, Moscow is now home base, she said.

Womack dances between eight and 10 hours a day, Tuesday through Sunday. Mondays she has “off,” which means she’s often practicing anyway, or keeping up with her many social media accounts which she uses to connect with aspiring ballerinas all over the world.

Her reading, largely histories or historical fiction, gets done on public transportation and, as Womack puts it, she’s one of the few people who loves international travel because it gives her a chance to get caught up on movies.

Taking time out of that pressing schedule to perform as the Sugar Plum Fairy may be challenging, but a promise is a promise. Womack travels to the Westside Ballet of Santa Monica each day by taxi — she cannot drive legally here — to take classes and, more often now, do interviews with local press.

As she follows her dream, she hopes to inspire young women all over the world to pursue theirs.

“I always wanted to be an example for younger students,” she said.

Womack had her share of role models. When the Los Angeles Ballet first arrived on the scene in 2004, her family took three or four of their dancers in and let them live at their home in Santa Monica.

It created an artistic atmosphere in her backyard, and gave the young Womack an insight into the life of the professional ballerina.

Now, Womack has grown from the child that pestered all of the older girls with questions about the craft into the icon at the center of attention.

She’s establishing an Internet presence to give “the look behind the curtain” of the profession, and working on a line of ballet shoes and possibly clothing.

By putting herself out there for the world to see, Womack hopes to teach an important lesson.

“It’s possible to break barriers,” she said.

 

 

ashley@smdp.com