Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

A visit to the Rock School after a young dancer's death

I looked both ways three or four times Tuesday afternoon before I crossed Broad Street at Ellsworth, en route to the Rock School for Dance Education. That's the corner where, on March 18, Polina Kadiyska, 22, was fatally struck in an early morning hit-and-run as she left a Chinese restaurant. Kadiyska, from Bulgaria, was a student at the Rock School, on the brink of a ballet career.

A visit to the Rock School after a young dancer's death

I looked both ways three or four times Tuesday afternoon before I crossed Broad Street at Ellsworth, en route to the Rock School for Dance Education.

That's the corner where, on March 18, Polina Kadiyska, 22, was fatally struck in an early morning hit-and-run as she left a Chinese restaurant. Kadiyska, from Bulgaria, was a student at the Rock School, on the brink of a ballet career.

My visit was to see the young dancers - Kadiyska's peers - in a practice performance. Some were preparing for the finals of Youth America Grand Prix, a prestigious competition. A large group danced the mambo scene from "West Side Story," which they'll be performing with the Curtis Symphony Orchestra in May at the Mann.

The dancing was impressive, the mood subdued.

On another visit, I might have seen Kadiyska perform. Indeed, I was supposed to go to the Rock a few weeks ago, but a work conflict obliged me to reschedule.

Katerina Kamerchuk, a composition student at the Curtis Institute of Music, was there on Tuesday. She was commissioned to write an original piece of music on which choreographer Justin Allen is setting a ballet for the school's annual spring benefit performance at the Independence Seaport Museum.

Fragrant purple flowers, Kadiyska's favorite color, adorned memorial altars in the Rock's lobby and outside a fifth-floor dance studio. Directors Bojan Spassoff and Stephanie Wolf Spassoff, and community relations director Susan Rock smiled and chatted and managed to hold it together.

This was the first time the school needed to provide grief counseling to so many students, Bojan Spassoff said, many of whom spend hours a day together in ballet classes and rehearsals, and more still hours doing schoolwork through the Rock Academic Program Alliance. Many live in residences across the street. They cross Broad many times a day.

I didn't ask if Kadiyska was supposed to dance in the Kamerchuk-Allen ballet. (Bojan Spassoff later said Kadiyska was supposed to dance that ballet, but that no one would be filling her role. Allen was close to Kadiyska and didn't want to see anyone else dance her part, so he re-choreographed that section.)

I didn't ask if she had a spot in "West Side Story," Jerome Robbins' well-known retelling of "Romeo & Juliet."

It's a story of star-crossed young people who meet untimely ends.

About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.


Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.


Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.


Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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