Fantastic Five: 5 Really Great Male Variations

In the world of ballet, variations define a dancer’s career. As artists a variation is the one moment where technique, artistry and years of daunting rehearsals finally meet. A 2-3 Act ballet is carried by the principals, and the defining moment for them are their variations. For a female in the role(s) Odette/Odile, she is first pushed emotionally, and technically as Odette. Then in a ferocious breath she seductively attacks with stamina, the role of Odile. Then, she has to turn back int Odette, and die. Exhausting. I mean not only does the prima have to act, change roles, act some more, she also has to do two full on PDDs and do an epic 4th act finale. Pretty impressive.

When it comes to the men in ballet, their variations are always kind of bland. It is usually two jumping passes, followed by two pirouette combinations, executed by flawless double tours or entrechat sixs, and then some have a quality menage added in. Either way, these variations have turned into like… the most redundant yet insanely tricked out performances. Like Roberto Bolle cranking out 40 Entrechat six in Giselle… Or Daniil Simkin’s insane turning combos for Corsaire… Or Osiel Gounod in … like every variation. (If you don’t know who he is… youtube that $h!t… it’s like insane.)

Now, there are a lot of male variations that are actually super musical, and super beautiful that are overlooked. Granted… Most of them are either Balanchine, or specific to a company’s repertory. BUUUUT… Regardless… We should take a look at these fantastic five variations for men.

1. “Name of Prince” Variation in ACT II… Paris Opera’s – Nureyev version gives the male two super beautiful variations in the second act. The first uses the music that Balanchine’s Nutcracker uses to bridge party and battle scene. It is a very long variation (7 minutes), but super gorgeous, and demonstrates that boys have arabesques too. It could be that Nureyev really reinvented the male, and as a male ballet dancer he was able to create roles for other men within the confinements of classical ballet. The second variation is from the music sometimes used in ACT III of sleeping beauty for one of the jewels. It is very classical as well but has really gorgeous enveloppe moments. Then, Royal Ballet also gives a super luscious, kind of sensual variation in the second act as well. As sensual as fairytale princes get.

2. Balanchine’s Apollo. Besides the fact that this is probably one of the only ballets with a male name as the title and has the title/leading role… With music by Stravinsky, Apollo never leaves the stage but has two brilliant variations. One is really raw, and the other is really refined. Balanchine cut the first variation and birthing, but people since have put both back in. Both variations are incredibly musical, one of the things that I adore about Balanchine. I think for a lot of male dancers who were trained in the Balanchine aesthetic, and for men in Balanchine companies, this ballet is used to really define their presence in the company. I think NYCB currently has Chase Finlay as the face of Apollo, and prior to him was Nilas Martins (both blonde… kind of suspicious) but, both made names for themselves in the role. David’s Dream Casting: Alexandre Hammoudi (aka Baby Daddy) in Apollo.

Edward Villella, retired artistic director of The Miami City Ballet, as Apollo in the 1950s at New York City Ballet. Photo by Martha Swope.
Edward Villella, retired artistic director of The Miami City Ballet, as Apollo in the 1950s at New York City Ballet. Photo by Martha Swope.

3. The Male Variation(s) from Sylvia. Besides the fact that the Delibes’ score is super danceable and kind of cute… (FUN FACT: the original production of Sylvia was created to open the Palais Garnier for Paris Opera, and the costumes were designed by Lacoste) In the Balanchine PDD, the male is variation is structured like a classical variation, but has really beautiful nuances added in. And like a lot of the classical-like Balanchine male variations (Tchai Pas, Theme and Variations), each one was modified so the steps vary by who dances/staged it. In the Ashton version of Sylvia, Aminta has numerous gorgeous variations. I actually think that the Ashton Version is only danced at American Ballet Theatre, and Royal Ballet. Paris Opera has a version of Sylvia, but it is more contemporary or modern, so it doesn’t count for this list. If we counted that… Then we would have to count numerous other new ballets like Chroma, In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, every ballet created by Complexions, Cedar Lake and LINES, and the Cranko Ballets… Though… I really should count the Cranko Ballets… )

Roberto Bolle in Ashton's Sylvia. Royal Ballet. Screen shot off youtube. #boom
Roberto Bolle in Ashton’s Sylvia. Royal Ballet. Screen shot of youtube. #boom leg up.

4. The male variations in John Cranko’s Onegin are like beyond roles and somehow have combined real life and ballet. The music used for the male variations aren’t awfully heavy, and scary sounding. The variations also create this beautiful emotional prism for a male ballet dancer. All of the Cranko characters are always so dynamic. I’ve never seen it live, but have watched the full length on Youtube on five different companies. It is incredible. When I was a student, I never really wanted to dance Onegin, but now in retrospect it is so beautiful to me and I am like -_____-  (that is my Snorlax face)… Not that I was ever good enough, or would ever have been cast in Onegin… but still… a boy can dream.

5. The Liza Variation, from Balanchine’s Who Cares? Music by Gershwin. Probably one of the younger variations as it was choreographed in 1937, but it is super fun. Kind of jazzy, okay, super jazzy but really fun dancing. Seriously. If you ever have the chance to preform it, it is one of the must enjoyable variations to get through. It isn’t like trying to get through the male variation in Theme and Variations or random crazy turns from Corsaire. Did I mention, it really is just plain fun? And Baryshnikov in a Balanchine ballet = love. (Click Here = https://youtu.be/GnWxmELOcBI)

The Male Variation in the Satanella Pas De Deux from the Carnival of Venice tied with the male variation for Harlequinade for variations in classical ballet that aren’t dance enough. Both are obviously classical variations, but I feel like these two ballets are underused. Plus… I think the music is kind of cute. I also think these two male variations are more age appropriate for boys (11-16) competing at competitions. I mean what 11 year old boy should be doing Swan Lake? Then, because I love Balanchine, there are the roles that don’t really have variations but are gorgeous: the male lead in Rubies or Diamonds, the male in the walking pas de trois from Emeralds. I think all the male leads in Symphony in C or Palais Cristal, the male leads in Western Symphony, the pas de deux from Agon.)

Finally, I would like to take the time to talk about Lady of the Camellias, music by Chopin, and choreographed by John Neumeier is another “newer” classic work. It premiered in 1978 with Marcia Haydee, and is a super beautiful full length with male variations… The downside is that even though the story is the same, Val Caniparoli used the same music and redid it, maybe even better … But in this version, the male variations are great but they really  aren’t as dynamic as the females. Lucia Lacarra slayed this for the ballet gods.

To see the 5 variations, watch them on our YOUTUBE channel’s playlist:

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLdVNSG-GEpYve4cBxruz2mXPT0MV0vPVa

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Manly Ballet… Part Two

MANLY BALLET MEN IN TIGHTS BALLET BOYS

So, you have a beard, you drink independent craft beers, and on the weekends you are hiking, rock climbing or making funny Youtube Videos. What does this all mean? You might just be a ballet dancer, or you might just be one of the thousands of men who are embracing the lumbersexual trend. If you are into this trend, you might be one of the male dancers who drinks overpriced, but luxurious hand crafted espresso, or you might own some top of the line cool bike. Sounds about the majority of the younger male ballet dance population. While in a recent articles of beards and facial hair, a conclusion was drawn that as facial hair is an extremely popular trend, men are now more than ever overcompensating for masculinity (Esquire, Details, GQ, and NYT Style). How does this translate into ballet? It really doesn’t, because most of the time, you have to be clean shaven in performances.

Now, if you aren’t at this point of coolness, and you are still training, or you are a mom/dad reading this trying to prepare your son for ballet… Well, here we go again… MANLYBALLET

The Dance Belt: Things to Know about Dance Belts

While pro athletes use cups and jock straps, ballet dancers have the feared dance belt. Mostly feared because of it’s thong back, a dance belt offers support and protection for male genitals. Reasoning for the thong back? Because tights, booty shorts and other male ballet costumes are so tight, the avoidance of lines is necessary. Also, dance belts create a smooth clean line in front, so the audience isn’t distracted by lumps and bumps. The Great Debate: Besides Gaynor Mindens, a controversial topic in ballet is how to wear a dance belt. The debate is somewhat like the toilet paper over or under debate. While some men prefer things to face down, others prefer everything to point up. Preference of comfort? Or what actually protects the goods?

What is the purpose of a male ballet dancer?

It seems that the glory always goes to the ballerinas of ballet, but men seem to be the ones who gain notoriety and make a place in history for themselves. Why is this? While balletcompanies need a lavish number of females to stage productions like Swan Lake, and Balanchine glorified ballet as woman… The majority of the population sees female ballet dancers are the epitome of grace and elegance. Male ballet dancers are recognized as athletic and powerful.

It can be argued that male ballet dancers are there to support, lift and partner a woman, but if you took out men from ballet… You have nothing. Even though most ballets are female driven, the male ballet dancer plays a crucial role: The Hero. While feminists who have written in say that this blog is ______(insert any number of words)____, the reality is ballet, as an art form, is the one who is sexist. So, recently, I saw a Southern California, crappy school production of La Slyphide with zero men… I was so confused. Seriously… What if you were to do Swan Lake and take out the men… Who would save Odette? There would be no need for Black Swan, or any other act. Literally we would just be left with a prologue… Wait, not even that. No one would turn her into a swan. I guess we could argue maybe if there were no men in the world, there would no drama? Haha Just kidding.

While new choreographers have utilized men in outstanding ways, and have created vibrant roles for men, the male ballet dancer is still shrouded by mystery.

We know male ballet dancers are just as athletic as any sportsman.

We know that male ballet dancers are just as graceful and musical as any ballerina.

We know that male ballet dancers have some of the most beautiful bodies in art.

Myth: There are more jobs for men and the women in ballet.

Well older ballet teachers say that there are more jobs for men than women in ballet that would be a lie.

There have always been jobs for both men and women in ballet, but unfortunately there are more female students training in ballet making female jobs more competitive. This has slightly shifted. In the 70’s there were more women studying ballet than men. This has shifted due to amazing men, the progression of society and social norms, and brilliant men who weren’t afraid to push the boundaries.

The first generation of super start male ballet dancers included men like Rudolf Nureyev, Edward Villela, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Jacques D’Amboise and Fernando Bujones. They made ballet more accessible and relatable and presented ballet as athletic, powerful and regal. These men ushered in the powerhouse male ballet dancer. This brought us the golden age of ABT: Ethan Stiefal, Angel Corella, Jose Manuel Carreno; Paris Opera’s Manuel Legris and Jose Martinez. Royal’s Carlos Acosta. The tail end of this generation of powerhouses are: Roberto Bolle, Marcelo Gomes, David Hallberg,  Steven McCrae etc…

Now there is a new generation of male ballet dancers that have surpassed the technical abilities of everyone previous and have created a new vocabulary of movement, quality, and choreography. This generation we have Daniil Simkin, Jeffery Cirio, Justin Peck, and other really young stars. Most ballet super stars are still in training right now. This gives credit to social media like IG, VINE and YouTube. America is becoming a lot like the Vaganova school in a sense, by prepping superstars at the school level and publicizing them greatly before they even have a job.