Always a controversy when it come to “lost” ballets, or ballets that are not performed every season and easily handed down from one generation to the next. One of those ballets is the full length Fairy Doll. Originally, premiered at the Vienna Court on October 4th 1888 as Die Puppenfee, this ballet is also based on E.T.A Hoffman’s 1815 story of the Sandman. He is the author of the Nutcracker, if your forgot, with music by Josef Bayer choreographed by Joseph Hassreiter, and then the pas de trois by Legat.
Eventually, in somewhere in the 1920’s Anna Pavlova danced her version (the variation we now know at competition as the “big bow on the head”) by adding the music from Drigo’s “Halrequinade” and “serenade pas de trois”. When this happened Diaghilev commissioned Leonide Massine to create “La Boutique Fantasque” to an arranged score of Rossini, which obviously hasn’t survived…but in turn was the inspiration for Balanchine’s Harlequinade.
So, the story line is simple in this two act ballet. In a toy shop a farmer and a noble come in with their families. The puppeteer shows the mechanical dancing dolls: Chinese, Japanese, Harelquin, Austrian, Baby Doll, Moor, Drumming Bunny Doll (which is given a nod in Balanchine’s Nutcracker), Spanish, Hungarian, Poet and the lovely Fairy Doll. Obviously the rich family wants the fairy doll and pays. The farmer buys the Harelquin and Austrian. The shop then closes, but when the clock strikes midnight, like in all fairy tales, the toys come to life. Not only do all the dolls come to life but the chess pieces, a cello, a hammer, bowling pin, bunny doll. They all dance, where the queen of the toys… the fairy doll and her two harlequins dance the very technical pas de trois.
Then as the night ends, all the dolls incircle the fairy doll just as the shopkeeper comes in and is mesmerized at the magic of the dolls. Easy enough. It is actually the perfect ballet if you are at one of those schools where EVERYONE insists on having a solo. Also, the variations are great to take to the YAGP as well… Not just the lead variation… but the other variations as well. It is actually why I am posting this… a lot of the competitors from Korea and Europe brought the variations of Chinese Doll, Austrian Doll, Spanish Doll and Japanese Doll… which actually sparked this post…
Below is the student performance from Vaganova Ballet Academy. I would love to give credit to whoever posted this but no name, just the same person who posts the exams… and I can’t translate the names to give credit to the dancers, but they are superb.
Don’t forget to sign up for my MAY 5 & 6 workshop in Atlanta!!
Known for the impressive pirouette diagonal, this variation is a favorite among young dancers at competition. This variation comes the ballet Le Corsaire, and from the Odalisque Pas de Trois. The actual pas de trois’ music comes from Adolphe Adams but the variations come Cesare Pugni. So, lets start breaking down this variation.
Some call it the “turning girl” variation, but this variation opens up with extremely hard grand assemblés in ecarté. The combination is glissade, grand assemblé ecarté, relevé to attitude front, allonge, tombé relevé attitude, roll down. This combination might even be harder than the prirouette diagonal simply because of the rotation/ turnout, timing and control factors.
Okay… so glissade for me is always done as flat as possible… relaxing into the plié is really going to help the take off of the grand assemblé. Meaning the first leg that brushes, keep directly side, as you close stay en face as much as you can, but over cross it because you are going to need it to travel.
Remember, you should always bring the supporting leg to the working leg in assemblé, and hold fifth in the air as long as you can, or the music tells you. If you choose to beat it, great, but for me… I just like seeing a nice, high, clean fifth position in the air. Did I mention you have to jump… you can’t do these weenie assemblés that don’t higher than 3 inches off the ground.
From here, YOU HAVE to land in a solid fifth position to get into the attitude front. Don’t do some random assemblé into attitude front… that’s not a thing. Be super turned out! While perfectly balanced, you need to allongé first, then cleanly roll down from pointe before transfering to the attitude back. Make sure when you tombé that heel is super far forward, or flatten it to the audience, and then over cross the attitude back. Ideally, your working foot should be seen on the other side your tutu, and ideally above the shoulder. You get three sets of this horrible, but super beautiful combination.
Some waltzes happen… then the famous diagonal… chassé to relevé arabesque, stepping through to fourth, and pirouettes… The hard part about this combination is obviously the turn… but it is really rolling down cleanly and closing into that fifth front to get into the chassé that kills everyone. (Check out notes on pirouettes) It is okay to do doubles, but really… after the age of thirteen… you really need to be doing triples. We can all thank Gillian Murphy for setting this standard. Make sure the last one closes fifth back so you can get into a beautiful sous-sus/sus-sous. Or you could be a baller like Natalisa Osipova and just do double tours.
As you open the back leg, cleanly roll down, heel forward. A big traveling chassé and a good grand jeté throws you as far over stage right as possible, followed by a jeté… turn it out, point your feet. The bourrés, keep your legs crossed.. at all times.. the back leg has to do the traveling.
Finally, the last diagonal of step-overs, lame ducks comes into the play. For me… I prefer lame ducks to come cleanly from fifth, meaning travel on the first step and cross tightly over with the second, and quickly replace the legs. Add the doubles, change the port de bras. Do whatever artstically makes you happy, as long as you are clean.
Character Notes: By defintion, an odalisque is a female slave or concubine in a harem. Which is wonderful that we are giving these roles to young girls. There is a lot of sex appeal to this variation, which at thirteen is mighy questionable if you ask me. But, I am not your parent, or your coach… But I wouldn’t be putting a thirteen year old in a crop top, and ask them to pretend sell their body out. You could take the sad approach, that you are sad you are being sold into slavery. Gillian Murphy did that, I think.
What does a young person en pointe look like in this variation? The problem with this variation, as I have seen in competition… and online is that most everyone… even primaries and pre-comp on flat still look terrible. But, there are many exceptions to that rule that I have seen in the glassroom and in real life… But this young girl looked pretty decent, and showed a lot of potential within this variation. I think in this video she is 13…
But even for prix de lausanne she took a different variation… Maybe because the stage is raked? Or maybe she was tired of that variation… who knows. But the difference and growth shows a lot.
And again, Odalisque… just not a variation you should be taking to competition unless you trunly are ready for that. Just because you can do some wonky turns doesn’t mean you should be taking a turning variation. Remember, these competitions are to showcase your potential, not messy technique. At the end of the day, classical ballet is about constraint, control and finessed technique.
Known for those insane sissones with that insane cambré back and attitude position or as contemporary dancers call them firebirds, Kitri Act I was made for the “jumping girl”. Commonly used at competition, this show-off, bravura variation gets the audience going. The reason? First, it is one of the few bravura variations for women (meaning its all turns and jumps), and secondly because the impressiveness of the technique. What most people forget, that as impressive as the jump is, or the turns, none of it matters if you aren’t turned out. Secondly, this variation has to have a lot of power, with control or else you will just look like a bull in a china shop. Thirdly, you have to embrace the spiciness of the character, which allows the port de bras to not be in classical positions… meaning style trumps classicism in the upper body.
Okay, so lets begin breaking down this variation. The opening… the castanets call for quickly turned out runs. Personally, I like it when the runs are in side profile back, so the audience sees your back and then the slightest face and smirk, and then on the jump in second, give a little spice and attack.
The opening step involves a pas de chat, a battement, and either a step over or fouetté, clean precisicions and a strong jeté in attitude, or not, or even an italian/grand pas de chat. This combination is not only fast, but it has to be precise and dead on with the music.
-In the pas de chat, make sure we see the full diamond at the height of the jump. Don’t turn in the second leg to compensate for the battement.
-Turn out the working leg in grand battement and make sure you are as flat to the audience as possible to give your body the longest line. Keep the shoulders down and head inclined slightly back to keep with the Spanish style.
-Control the come down of the working leg.
-If you are going to do a step-over make sure you turn out completely side profile/ de côte to show your heel. If you are going to do the fouetté, turn out the tombé completely in croisé and give yourself a port de bras that allows you to really get a good clean whip.
-For the runs en pointe, TRAVEL and pick your knees up, it makes it spicy.
The next sequence of steps involves that crazy sissone, and to achieve accuracy in the position, you want to make sure you get a good pop at the top. If you are going to do the double rond de jambe, make sure you are in effacé, and really get the accent out. If you are going to the attitudes, make sure each step in between is turned out.
-To get a good jump, relax your heels on the ground and build the energy from the bottom of the plié through the back of your leg.
-Make sure you don’t bend into attitude too soon, wait till you are the highest point to fold into the position.
-Land fully turned out…
The final section of this variations is the diagonal of traveling pirouettes from fifth. Make them spicy, and I prefer the accent up… and stay up. I also like it when you start with a double lame duck to give yourself momentum. This is where you can add doubles, port de bras and many other “tricks” to make the variation more exciting. The most important thing is that you hit a clean, relaxed and turnout position every time. PET PEEVE: don’t had fouettés….
Finally for the ending, you usually do an attitude and hold it… then run off… I like the attitude and then step through and take a knee. This is better for competition so you can bow.
For the more advance student: Besides the turnout being most important… make sure you you understand what lines look best on your body. In this variation, because of the quickness, the lines has to be so clear and so precise… if not, you look like you are flailing around. Another thing you need to pay attention to- eye contact with the audience without compromising the neckline. A lot of dancers interpret spicy as chin down and eyes up… making them have double chin…
For everyone: Because of the speed you have to have quick and strong footwork. You should never sickle, and your feet should point like daggers.
COSTUMING… okay be tasteful… Don’t order the revolution costume… If you want to save money, just do the variation in a red rehearsal skirt and black leotard. Don’t have this huge puffy twenty layer skirt… it is not flattering whatsoever. It is actually pretty tacky. Finally, remember the more layers you add to the skirt, the heavier it is and harder to control. Don’t make this into a can can either… I’m all for playing with the skirt… buuuut so many people turn it into the can can… which brings me to the under garment. YOU HAVE TO ATTACH the panty to the costume! You can just put on a pair of black spanks. When you turn… and move.. you see the line and your stomach…
a vacation… haha just kidding, no really they do, myself included… But who has time these days to go on vacation?
Now for the real post…
As a ballet teacher, I always find it hard to find good ballet music. Sure, there are a lot of great CDs out there, but sometimes the quality is not that great, the tracks aren’t long enough for longer combinations, the tempos don’t make a lot of sense, or they are just structured kind of funny. The reality is, it would be nice to have a pianist that can play by ear and understand how to play with music in correlation to the steps, but if the budget isn’t there it isn’t there. For the past couple years, I have been mixing and matching CDs together and creating my own playlists of different CDs. Some of my favorite accompanists include (Charles Matthews, Alessio De Franzoni, David Plumpton, Nate Fifield and Gill Civil) All of these accompanists are brilliant for ballet class and all for different reasons. But, my newest, and latest and greatest discovery is for VARIATIONS class. This is a must have for every ballet teacher out there. UK basedCharles Matthews recently created a collection of CDs that are rehearsal versions of variations for men and women. The collection spans 8 discs but covers literally every variation you will ever need. Specifically, there is a great rehearsal version of Laurencia and his rehearsal version for Talisman. These discs are affordable through his website, and a little more expensive on iTunes, but available. The sound quality is great, and are set at great tempos for all levels of dancing. For beginners it lets the dancers focus on the steps and technique. For the intermediate dancer it allows for the dancer to explore phrasing within the melody. And for for the advance dancer, it allows for artistic exploration within all of the notes he captures from the orchestrated versions.
Another great set of music he created are his ballet class discs as a lot of the music is ballet repertory music, so it helps familiarize students with music from the ballet. It also helps them learn how to recognize music from different ballet scores. It is definitely something worth the purchase, and a great teaching tool. It is also a great companion to the Guide to 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 adoreabout 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.
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… )
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:
The Academy Awards have the craziest rules… It judges an entire acting performance for excellence, achievement and the craft. Unfortunately, in ballet we don’t really have that… We have the Prix Benois de la Danse and the Princess Grace awards for achievements within the art form, but nothing on the scale that judges a single performance. Ironically, as a student, we have the YAGP, Prix de Lausanne, and IBC. Granted, every competition has the disclaimer of judging for potential and excellence, but it isn’t really the same. And as we are all scrolling through Facebook watching the results for the YAGP come in… I thought I would take the time out of my drive to talk about variations… Variations are real stuff.
What is a variation you may ask? It is actually pretty funny. Originally in music, a variation was part of a score where the the score was altered in harmony, melody, rhythm, or counterpoints… Hence why Balanchine’s Theme and Variations is so brilliant, I think. So, when composers create a score for a ballet, they leave room for Primas, Soloists and such. A prime example is the Sleeping Beauty… SOOOO MANY MANY VARIATIONS. The scores are broken down like:
Pas De Sixs: Entrance
1. Variation 1
2. Variation 2
Within the score, the variation of music is usually reserved as a solo. For some ballets, the entire ballet revolves around that one solo. Example: NUTCRACKER’s Sugar Plum Fairy Variation.
Now, at ballet competitions you are asked to prepare two classical variations. There are tons of ballet variations out there, and at each competition the rules may vary in what can be performed, what choreography can slightly change, or what can be altered to fit the dancer’s strengths (tempo, turns, jumps etc). So, as everyone at the YAGP is stressing over their 1 minute chance of becoming a ballet somebody, the rest of the ballet world is like…. UMMMM no. This is because a variation doesn’t grade an artist, even if you are Ashley Boulder… A ballet dancer, a real ballet dancer must be able to carry an entire ballet. A principal, must be able to carry an entire ballet in a single performance. For some, this is quite impossible… For others, it is extremely easy: Yuan Yuan Tan from SFB… she knows how to carry a ballet, is extremely musical, and every step, breath and movement is carefully thought out with intention, emotion, and musicality…
You see, ballet competitions have created this subculture of ballet tricks and ridiculous turns. Which has now translated into “star quality”… *side eye* At these competitions kids are expected to turn, jump and have leg up, as markers to grade potential. Because of this… young dancers have defaulted to specific variations… Here are 5 variations to stay away from… and the reasons why…
5 FEMALE VARIATIONS TO STAY AWAY FROM:
1. Kitri, ACT I: In the ballet DON Q, Kitri has a three variations, and each variation is spectacular for different reasons. ACT 1 though is known for two things: The sissones en attitude, which if you aren’t Natalia Osipova, you shouldn’t do to begin with… and the pirouettes in fifth traveling on the diagonal. Dancers now who are overly flexible with no ballon can make the sissones look crazy cool without getting height… And for those girls who are on their legs or wear Gaynors can add doubles, triples a crazy lame duck at the end… It’s old. Even if you add the castanets to be more musical… It doesn’t make up for the tricks… Also, it is the easier character to pull off in Don Q as you are just a playful Spanish girl running a muck, against her father’s wishes… and teenagers can relate.
1 and a half. Kitri, ACT 3: Again, from DON Q, the third act variation is usually performed by girls with banging turn out and beautiful feet… aka Paloma Herrera in ABT’s Variety and Virtuosity. The hops on pointe, and echeppes in the variation allow for everyone to see how great your feet are. The fun part? You get to dance with a fan, be flirty and coy, and have a HAH I outsmarted my parents and got to marry the poor guitar player!
2. Esmeralda: From La Esmerlada/ The Hunchback of Notre Dame, a ballet that I think only Paris Opera might perform, is a variation in which is laid out for the girls who are extremely whacked out. Plus side? Tamborine… Downside… Natalia Osipova at 17 did it, Yuan Yuan Tan did it, and now Mikko Fogarty won the IBC with it. All three women, around the same age nailed the variation to perfection. Most females who take this on are really in it for the tambourine or they are whacked out.
3. Sugar Plum Fairy: from ACT 2 of the Nutcracker… Just don’t. (I shouldn’t even have to list it… but here it is) It is bad enough we have to hear it from August to January… Do yourself the favor, and the rest of the world and just don’t do it. Professional dancers cringe at the music, despite it being one of the most unique scores of music for a ballet variation.
4. Grand Pas Classique… So, I recently was watching a bazillion variations, and I think that Grand Pas Classique is probably one of the hardest female variations… ever. Reason number one why you shouldn’t do it? Sylvie Guilliem. Done. Okay just kidding, so grand pas classic is a variation in which you can’t hide anything because of the moving on the angles the variation requires. There are no big jumps, but instead it requires perfect technique, perfect turnout and it helps if you have beautifully arched feet. Below is Patricia Zhou at YAGP Paris in 2010 (First Place in Classical Category in Senior Division). Coached by Mr. Anton Korsakov, Mme. Ludmila Morkovina, and Mr. Viktor Kabaniaev
5. Black Swan/ White Swan… From Swan Lake. So many dancers, or their parents take on Swan Lake for one reason… It’s Swan Lake. The problem? White swan you have to be ridiculously mature, and can take a really long time to develop the emotion behind the extension, and even just the face expression. Black swan you have to have really experienced life. It requires a since of maturity that comes from flirting at a bar, deceiving someone, and a sensuality no 14 year old should possess…