5 Variations To Stay Away from (2019)

5 Variations To Stay Away from (2019)

Thank the Baby Jesus that the ballet competition season is over. If the 2017-2018 season was the year of “Satanella,” then the 2018-2019 was the year of “Dulcinea.” While I have appreciated that people have listened to the first article, published back in 2015, about
5 Variations to Stay Away From, people have searched high and low for the replacements to these five- and they have found them.

While the original list consisted of:
Kitri ACT I
Esmeralda
Sugar Plum Fairy
Grand Pas Classique
and White/Black Swan

People have found their counterparts… While there will always be the crowd favorites like Esmeralda, how many Esmeralda variations can we watch? Especially, since Madison Penney demolished that variation and turned it into a show-stopping, trick-filled, pirouette perfection. We also have the standards that will never go away: like Aurora Act III (which is probably the textbook perfect definition of classical of ballet), Coppélia, Paquita Etoile Variation, and Giselle ACT I. But somehow we have replaced Kitri ACT I with the Variation from Laurencia.

Don’t get me wrong; I staged this for ABE COVER GIRL from Master Ballet Academy Tegan Chou last season for her ADC IBC performance. But now it seems that every jazz comp dancer is taking this variation on. And I can see their reasoning, they get to wear a long skirt like Kitri ACT 1, and has the same jeté in attitude. Jazz comp girls think they can get away with their bent knees because of the long skirt, and they can whack everything. In reality, you just look crazy. This is one of the problems with competition and the mindset of, “Well she won with it, so I should do it.” A Ballet Variation is much harder than just the tricks within the variation, and it takes a lot of coaching.

Tegan Chou, age 11, of Master Ballet Academy, ADC IBC.

The very talented Regina Montgomery at her 2012 YAGP Semi-Final from the Rock School for Dance Education. Miss Montgomery is now a demi-soloist at Tulsa Ballet.

We still revisit Esmeralda because we think the tambourine is cool. And now that Masters has modified the variation, we all are modifying the variation and adding as many pirouettes as possible and as many crazy tricks as we can. At this pointe, the variation shouldn’t even have the diagonal of fondu developpés, and we should just do tilt turns on pointe. YAAAAAAAS!

We should take a moment relive Madison Penney’s Amazing win at the Youth American Grand Pri at age 12.

We should also look at Sumina Sasaki’s 2019 Prix win where the commentator rudely says, “Just get on with it.”

Sugar Plum Fairy has somehow been replaced with Dulcinea. While these two variations have the same delicate features, they are both built to be extremely delicate with a coda built into the variation. Mostly it is another ridiculously long variation, and somehow we have slowed down the music even more and made it more painstaking to watch. While I understand we are kids trying to do this variation, so the slower tempo is needed, dear god, it is so painful to sit through… Especially if you are too weak, or too athletic to do this variation. Now that Ava Arbuckle has placed with this variation… let it be.

Elite Classical Coaching’s Ava Arbuckle at her 2019 Semi-Final in Dallas.

San Francisco Ballet’s Natasha Sheehan, age 14, at YAGP Finals in 2014.

Grand Pas Classique has been replaced with Satanella. While we have seen less and less of Grand Pas, thank you. It has been replaced with the two-minute variation from Carnival of Venice- Satanella. While the variation is cute and flirty, it is long; like really, really long. Just like Grand Pas, and people do these variations because they think that the longer it is, the better. Fortunately, that is not true. By the midpoint of Satanella, everyone is ready to jab their eyes out. You would think that it should end before the menage of ballonés, but no, it keeps going… and going… and then just when you think it is done, it still isn’t done. And truth, after Elisabeth Beyer’s performance and Lincoln Center… Can you really follow that up?

We should tall take a moment to relive this magical moment. Elisabeth Beyer of Ellison Ballet at NYC Finals 2018.

Satanella Variation to tempo by Evgenia Obraztsova.

And White/Black Swan has been replaced with Raymonda Dream Variation/Harlequinade. While  White Swan is about style, Raymonda’s Dream Variation is about control and constraint. The quality is similar in both variations, but white swan has more stylistic features like exaggerated port de bras. But, they both have painstaking developpés, and truthfully, the extensions in Raymonda are harder as they are done en dedans and in the middle of the variation instead of the beginning. While the drama of the variation is nice, I am always confused when people do this variation as she is dreaming to “escape” a rape. Not the best variation to be teaching young girls, but then again, what ballet variation sets up a strong good role model for young girls? Anyways, this brings me to the painstakingly long variation of Harlequinade. Originally,  Whitney Jensen, former Principal of Boston Ballet and now Norwegian National Ballet, brought this variation back to popularity at Varna in 2008 where she brilliantly won the highest honor, the Special Distinction. If you don’t know what that is, it is an award that has been rarely given out. In the entire competition it has been given out a total of  6 times (2018 Antonio Casalinho, 2014 Soo Bin Lee, 2012 He Taiyu, 2002 Lu Meng, 1998 Rolando Sarabia and technically in 1964 Vladimir Vasiliev won the Grand Prix, the top prize the first year Varna was established). But, it seems that Remi Goins set the trend a few years ago by pulling off some ridiculously hard turns at a very young age and now, everyone is going for it: juniors, seniors, pre-comp, Everyone. Here is the problem is the variation from Harlequinade. While it is cute, and it seems relatable for young kids, if you want to show off turns why not do the Medora Variation or Odalisque Variation from Le Corsaire?

Remi Goins at YAGP 2017 at age 12 winning the Shelley King Award for Excellence.

Whitney Jensen doing it big at Varna in 2008.

Here are some other mistakes I have seen this season at the YAGP. I get that the YAGP has expanded and more and more kids are coming into the semi-finals… but if you are a jazz comp school… and you are entering your kids into the ballet category, do them a solid… Find them a better ballet teacher. And secondly, don’t buy a costume from Revolution for 15 dollars, attempt to alter it and add rhinestones and glitter. It doesn’t work. Go and find a seamstress and put the work in or optionally buy a blank performance tutu from Grishko for 400 dollars and spiff it up yourself. Or even better, there is a new costume company that is making blank tutus for reasonable pricing. Also, stop going to more than two semi-finals.

I know that a lot of you are going to as many as you can so the talented kids are weeded out, and you finally place and get an invite to NYC. After the second attempt at a semi-final… if you don’t place… you don’t place. There is no reason to go to a third, and fourth, and this year I saw it… a fifth… Just don’t go… This isn’t Nuvo or Break the Floor, and you are trying to prove you have improved, etc, etc, etc… this isn’t that, it isn’t a circuit, this is a ballet competition that is looking for the best of the best. The whole rule of not being able to place twice was put into place to discourage people from doing more than one. So, please… just stop.

Also, you don’t need to enter FOUR contemporary solos. We get it… you can do contemporary. On average most kids bring two classical variations and one contemporary. If you are an overachiever and your parents want to see you on stage more since they are paying the participation fee, then you might have two and two. But really? Do you need more than that… absolutely not.

This year, I am not going to preparing anyone for the YAGP or Lausanne (or at least not to my knowledge), so I am going to do all of you searching a solid and walk you through the variation-selection process. Subscribe and Stay Tuned to get all the competition info you need.

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David King

David King

David King is the founder of A Ballet Education

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Winners of the YAGP 2019

Congratulations to the winners of the male-dominated year at the Youth America Grand Prix. While the past three years of the Youth America Grand Prix have been intense, this year seemed to be even more exhausting with the new rule changes. If you don’t know about the rules change that had everyone upset, it basically stated that regardless of the score, the invitation to New York Finals would be based on the discretion of the judges. While we shouldn’t downplay this year’s winners, there was a lot of criticism over YAGP’s 20th season. The Big Winners of the Youth America Grand Prix are:

The Grand Prix was awarded to Gabriel Figueredo (18) from the John Cranko School in Germany. If you don’t follow him, he just won a prize at the Prix De Lausanne. He also won the Dance Europe Award. The senior category seemed to be dominated by Spanish speaking countries and dancers. The winners in the senior category included dancers from Portugal, Argentina, Cuba, Peru, Switzerland, and Australia. No one from the United States placed in seniors including seniors who placed last year. The competition has become extremely stiff as the influx of European Dancers has come through.

The Youth Grand Prix was given to Darrion Sellman (14) from Southern California. He is also a finalist for the California Spotlight Awards. His win places him over Rebecca Alexandria Hadibroto (12) who won first in pre-comp last year from Indonesia, Ava Arbuckle (14) from Elite Classical Coaching and who just had a win at ADC IBC, Madison Brown (13), Misha Broderick (13), Andrew Jesus (13) of Brazil, and Seungmin (14) Lee of South Korea.

The Hope Award went to Corbin Holloway of City Dance. The Pre-Competitive Division this year was filled with talent but the following three places were all dancers from Europe. Martha Savin of Romania, Kseniya Kosava of Belarus, and Natasha Furman who is from the US, but is of European descent. It once again reinforces the “ideals” of ballet body types and how genetics plays the most significant role in whether or not one might become a dancer.

The Pas De Deux went to Youth Grand Prix Winners Madison Penney (2017) and Antonio Casalinho (2018). This win makes Madison’s second big win at the YAGP and Antonio’s third. They won with Grand Pas Classique.

The other big wins at the YAGP this year included:
The Shelley King Award for Excellence: Sumer Duvyestyn (12) from Classical Coaching, Australia
The Grishko Model Search Award: Elite Classical Coaching’s Ava Arbuckle (14)
The Natalia Makanrova Award for Artistry: Anastasia Poltnikova (17), Bolshoi Ballet Academy, Russia
The Mary Day Award for Artistry: Joao Vitor da Silva (15), Brazil’s Ballet Vortice

The Outstanding Choreographer Award went to Make Miyauchi and Christina Bucci of Yarita You Ballet Studio of Japan.

The Outstanding Teacher Award went to Mariaelena Ruiz of Cary Ballet Conservatory.

Whether or not you like the YAGP, or agree with it, the YAGP is an excellent opportunity for young dancers who are aspiring to make it in the world of dance. But again, winning isn’t everything, and you shouldn’t be discouraged if you didn’t place at New York Finals. While Ballet in popularity is growing, this once again means that the pool of talent to pull from is even more significant than ever, and makes it even harder to separate yourself from the politics of body type and prestigious schools. This is just another need and emphasis to find GOOD TRAINING and GOOD COACHING.

Personally, I didn’t go to YAGP Finals this year; Mostly because my students have already been accepted into their year round schools on scholarship at Royal Ballet Upper School, San Francisco Ballet School, and the School of American Ballet so they didn’t really need to go and take away a scholarship spot from another potential dancer. But, everyone asked why I didn’t attend the YAGP as press. This year, I have been beyond exhausted and have been battling depression so I needed time to clear my head and be away from ballet. And there is no better time than YAGP Finals as everyone in Ballet is in NYC, so I can be alone in California and not have to be around it. People are asking if I am going to be focused on YAGP next year, and the answer in truth is I don’t know.

Photos courtesy of VAM PRODUCTIONS