A lot of people asked me why I chose La Vivandière for my student this year. The ballet has practically died in America and frankly, it is almost impossible to do well with at a ballet competition. Part of me wanted to be like Cary Ballet’s Mariaelana Ruiz who brought Laurencia back to popularity in the United States Ballet competition scene in 2012 with Regina Montgomery who is now a demi-soloist at Tulsa Ballet. You know, bring something back, make it known again, be a part of something, all of that good stuff, but the reality, La Vivandière is one of my favorite variations for a female. I first saw the variation in 2003, when I saw The Company, you know, the variation in which the dancer snaps her Achilles. But even then it was mesmerizing. Seeing a variation for a female that commands so much airtime, and must have the most ferocious jump ever makes me love ballet even more.
Enter Evelyn Lyman. Evelyn has always been a good jumper. In fact, she is one of the best jumpers I have seen in a long time. I knew from the moment she joined my school that this was going to be her variation, and my chance to have someone compete with a variation from La Vivandière. I knew I had to be extra careful, so we never really did the variation full out while learning it, always in parts, and always made sure she was extra warm and had leg warmers on.
As I started working on the variation with her, I knew that everything had to be perfect, but like a lot of coaches out there, I also wanted to make sure I put my take or my staging together. I actually needed a lot of help from Ashley Baker, making sure I was true to the choreography and keeping the steps intact.
For Evelyn, it paid off. She made it YAGP final round, and even though she didn’t win, she walked away with numerous scholarships and most importantly, she walked away with job at 17 years old.
So now, La Vivandière or Markitenka as it is called in Russia is a 1 Act ballet by Arthur Saint-Léon and Fanny Cerrito with music by Cesare Pugni and Jean-Baptiste Nadaud. The ballet was first presented on May 23, 1844, by the Ballet of Her Majesty’s Theatre in London. The principal Dancers were Fanny Cerrito (as Kathi or the Vivandière, and Arthur Saint-Léon as Hans. If you didn’t know, at one time Saint-Léon and Cerritos were married for a time and we owe A LOT of ballet this glorious pair.
Petipa revived the ballet in 1881 at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre.
La Vivandière Pas De Six has survived because of Saint-Léon’s La Stenographie notation. So, basically, the ballet as a whole was not so hot. But what did survive was the original pas de quatre that was very popular and often used in galas. But, when the production went to Paris, Saint-Leon expanded the foursome into a six and made it into a two-act ballet. Because of the success from the pas de six, Sain-Léon fully noted it and published it in his book La Stenographie.
It then made its way into more current times through the reconstruction by dance notation expert Ann Hutchinson-Guest and Pierre Lacotte, ballet genius, and master of all, for the Joffrey Ballet in 1975. In 1978 Lacotte staged the piece for Mariinsky. Now the Pas De Six has been staged all over the world because of how danceable it is, and the fact you only need one male dancer. Even then, lack of men. Maybe not so much anymore, but you get the idea. You can read more about the ballet in Ann Hutchinson-Guest’s book available on Amazon.
Okay, onto the notes about this variation.
This variation is ferocious. It isn’t your typical 5 part variation female principal variation. In fact, this variation is 50 seconds of pure jumping. It is a mix of petit allegro, moderato, and grand allegro all finished with extremely fast pointe work.
What is a Vivandière? She is a woman attached to military regiments as canteen keepers or selling wine. Not your typical ballet fairy-princess-sylph-waify role.
I think the most important part of this variation is making sure that the dancer can jump, travel, and can move well. One of the biggest mistakes I think dancers or coaches make when it comes to this variation is to make it look Bournonville, and I get it. The dress, the jump, and all of that. But, does that always make for good dancing? Probably not.
Ok. So the first part of this variation, traveling the opening Bournonville jeté is crucial as it sets up the rest of the variation. The assemblés should assemble quickly in the air to make for a clean fifth position. Something that my dear Evelyn had to be reminded of constantly. If she is reading this, she knows… And her defense, who likes doing things in écarté derriere. You know, it’s just not flattering…. ever.
Then comes the super long diagonal of sissone failles and assemblés. We chose to make the assemblés in effacé because I think it is more flattering for any dancer, but again preference. We also chose to cut the last sissone so she could have more character and artistry. Also, it’s a good chance to breathe before the feared part.
Okay, so the next part is the section of gargouillades, which is arguably one of the hardest steps in ballet. Arguably, Margaret Tracey has the best gargouillade ever. Watch it in Balanchine’s Nutcracker in Marzipan. Normally, you are supposed to do the gargouillade to attitude back and then emboîte, but that is one difficult, two ugly, and three it is ugly. For me, it was all about the accent of the second leg in the gargouillade and then a super clean transition with leg up, show off your flexibility.
The ending diagonal is hard because it is all about turnout! Making sure you travel appropriately (meaning super far) and getting over your box quickly. When doing the precipités, make sure the second leg is turned out to the audience. Then it ends with super fast beats, make sure you don’t over cross, just a super clean position so it shows the control of the footwork and that you aren’t just flinging the foot around. Most people end the variation with a temps de flesh, buuuuut, it’s competition and I wanted to show that she could also turn, not just jump. Also, whatever you do…. DO NOT SLOW DOWN THE MUSIC.
I think one of the biggest things with this variation is bringing personality to the steps because the steps alone are just not good enough. Even if the steps are super difficult, it doesn’t make for good dancing. Good dancing has to come from the dancer, the connection to the role, the music, and the interpretation of the steps.
-When performing use extremely soft pointe shoes, break them, cut the shanks, do whatever you need to do to make the foot look as pointed as possible in the air.
-We opted not for the Frau low bun, nor the French twist but the milk braids.
-We opted to rhinestone, because we rhinestone everything, and who doesn’t love a little bling.
Here are some videos to watch:
For more information on La Vivandiere: