By Beth Schatz-Kaylor
Russian-born Victoria Luchkina, who danced the role of swan princess Odette (in “Swan Lake”), performed in a way that was anything but human…. She was poignantly beautiful from the moment she bounded onto the stage. Dressed in a white tutu adorned with feathers, Ms. Luchkina used her round, soulful eyes to her advantage – it was with a look of heart-stopping sadness, as if she had given herself to the fate of being a swan for all eternity, that she glided around the lake scene…” – Santa Barbara News-Press, October 14, 2008.
Victoria Luchkina, owner of Moscow Bar in Mandan, walks in the bar with her arms full of papers. A tiny wisp of a woman with large doe eyes filling her small face, she smiles brightly and is eager to tell me about herself and how she arrived in North Dakota. “These papers will help me tell my story,” she explains in a soft voice with a thick Russian accent, spreading out articles, posters and pictures from the ballet. As we sat down on one of the leather couches in the bar, sipping coffee, little did I know that not only was I talking to the owner of Moscow Bar; I was also sitting next to a prima ballerina.
Moscow Bar is Mandan’s newest nightspot, located on Main Street and drawing a young crowd with its techno dubstep music and fruit concoctions such as strawberry shots and drinks served in pineapples. “We tried coconuts too, but they were a pain to open,” says Luchkina’s partner and bartender Tema Bold, laughing. The walls are lined with a brick-like façade to represent the walls of the Kremlin in Moscow’s Red Square and a dance floor by the DJ booth invites guests to let loose.
Opened in March 2011, Moscow Bar is Luchkina’s first venture into the bar business. “If I do something, I don’t just do it 100 percent; I do it 200 percent,” she says. “I like to make people happy. I’m just trying to do the best I can, do the maximum good.”
Her determination to always do her best is rooted in her disciplined childhood. Born in Kazakhstan in what was then part of the Soviet Union, Luchkina’s mother sent her away to ballet school at the age of 9. “My mother didn’t want me to work in a factory,” says Luchkina. “She wanted something better for me and sent me to be a ballerina.” Her training in ballet was strict and intense, starting each day at 8 am and sometimes not ending until 8 pm. “The school was hard and sometimes I didn’t want to do it,” Luchkina admits. “But my mom encouraged me to keep going.”
She became the principal dancer with the Grigorovich Theatre Ballet in Russia, under director Yuri Grigorovich, former director of the celebrated Bolshoi Ballet. “I love ballet. I love the culture of ballet, the classical music. It’s where my heart is,” she says. Luchkina made her way to North Dakota via California, where she danced with the State Street Ballet in Santa Barbara. There she met Tema Bold, also a professional, classically-trained ballet dancer who had spent time teaching at Let’s Dance Studio in Bismarck. When Bold got an offer to return to Bismarck to teach, he asked Luchkina to come with. “He told me North Dakota is a nice place with good families who have lots and lots of kids. I wanted to have a family too!” she says with a big smile. “The people here make this place beautiful.”
After opening and later closing Victoria’s Dance Studio in Hazen, Luchkina decided to open Moscow Bar. “I think this work will make me stronger,” she says thoughtfully. “It is hard work, and sometimes you feel like…” Here Victoria struggles to come up with the word in English and speaks to Tema in Russian, asking for a translation. “…sometimes you feel like a blind kitten, that’s it, but life and time are the best teachers. I’m very, very grateful for all the people that have helped me here.”
Ballet will always be a major part of Luchkina’s life, as she feels the dance has given her so much, and she dreams of someday opening a beautiful theater or producing a full-scale professional ballet in North Dakota. “I want to do something for the (ballet) culture in return,” she says.