Congratulations to the August Cover Model Search Editors' Choice video winner, Reina Stamm of Master Ballet Academy! Catch her solo, Spring's Awakening, choreographed by Harrison Stevenson, below, and enter the Cover Model Search here!
Kenedy Kallas is the complete package. Drool-worthy feet? Check. Effortless extension? Check. Work ethic and humility? Check and check. Naturally, the 15-year-old dancer's list of career accomplishments is sparkling. In 2015 alone, Kallas was 1st runner-up in the Teen Female division at The Dance Awards in NYC, and performed at the “Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow" gala at the Youth America Grand Prix.
Thirteen-year-old Aviva Gelfer-Mundl has it all: picture-perfect lines, polished pointe work and a delicate port de bras that conveys maturity beyond her years. So it's no surprise she was the 2014 Youth America Grand Prix junior gold medalist. What is a surprise is the fact that Aviva has only been dancing for three years. Before that, she was busy being a two-time national champion in rhythmic gymnastics. In 2012, just seven months after making the switch to ballet, Aviva placed in the Top 12 at YAGP Regionals in L.A., and the following year, she took home the Hope Award at YAGP in San Diego. This fall, after spending the summer on scholarship at the San Francisco Ballet School, Aviva moved from her hometown in Tustin, CA, to Toronto to continue her training at Canada's prestigious National Ballet School.
"People say I become a different person onstage. The moment I make my
entrance from the wings, I feel like I'm in a new magical world. I'm home."
Birthday: April 13, 2001
Favorite Dancer: Lucia Lacarra of Bavarian State Ballet
Favorite barre exercise: “I love fondu combinations, especially when there are a lot of balances."
Favorite food: apples and cinnamon
Dream dance role: The lead in Giselle. “I even named my cat after her!"
Nondance hobby: “I like to listen to classical music."
The best advice she's ever received: “Never hold back, because you might not get a second chance."
It seems like these days, if you wanted to spend all of your free time watching dance on TV, you probably could—not that we recommend it (everything in moderation, right?). But think about it: Just this spring/summer, we've welcomed Teen Vogue's "Strictly Ballet," Hulu's "The Next Step" and Ovation's "Young Marvels" to the dance TV family. Not to mention, we've blocked off our Wednesday evenings for a glorious two-hour feast of "So You Think You Can Dance."
(L to R) Madison, Lex, Sage and Andrea (photo via danceon.com)
Whelp, "SYT" executive producer Nigel Lythoe knows a thing or two about fans of dance TV—namely, they just can't get enough of it. That's why he's introducing two new web series this year, starting with "Dance School Diaries." This docu-series will follow four young ballet dancers—Andrea, Lex, Sage and Madison—as they prepare to compete in the prestigious Youth America Grand Prix. We're not quite sure what to expect. Will the promised drama be juicy or over-the-top? Will it be reality TV or "reality" TV? Normally, I'd say we'll just have to wait and see, but this time we don't have to wait—the series premieres today! There will be 14 episodes in total, airing on YouTube each Friday until mid-September.
Check out the trailer below, then make your way over to YouTube to watch the first episode. And let us know what you think in the comments!
Ballet West principal Beckanne Sisk as Kitri (photo by Luke Isley, courtesy Ballet West)
One of the great hallmarks of ballet is its reverence for the classics—which means generation after generation of ballerinas has performed the same iconic variations. A quick YouTube search for “Giselle Act I variation” or “Kitri Act III variation” will bring up clips of brilliant professional performances by stars like Alina Cojocaru and Natalia Osipova. And that’s in addition to the thousands of results showing dazzling performances by students at ballet competitions.
If you’re dancing Esmeralda’s variation, how can you make your interpretation stand out from that huge, intimidating crowd? The keys to a one-of-a-kind performance are more tangible than you’d think. We asked the experts to weigh in on how to make a famous variation your own.
Do Your Research
When a ballerina performs a variation during a full-length production, she uses it to show the audience what the character is feeling and thinking at that point in the ballet—and you should try to do the same, even if you’re dancing the variation out of context. “You have to do your research, not just about the character, but about the entire ballet and all of the characters,” says Monique Meunier, co-director of the Academy of Nevada Ballet Theatre and a Youth America Grand Prix judge. “When you walk onstage to do an Aurora third-act variation, you need to dance as if you’ve lived through the first and the second act; you need to know where she’s at.” Read the book, if there is one, and try to see the full production in person if you can.
A winning interpretation of any variation also shows deference to and knowledge of the original intent of the choreography, especially when it comes to style. Valentina Kozlova, founder of the Valentina Kozlova International Ballet Competition, is often frustrated to see dancers lift their legs to their ears while dancing variations from Giselle, for example. “In my time, that was not allowed,” she says, “because it’s a very classical romantic ballet”—and the romantic style emphasizes modest, well-placed legwork rather than high extensions. Similarly, you’d need to learn about August Bournonville’s style before dancing the variation from his Flower Festival in Genzano, or study George Balanchine’s technique before attempting the solo from his Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux.
Your costume can also reveal if you’ve done your research. Xiomara Reyes, head of The Washington School of Ballet and a former American Ballet Theatre principal, dislikes seeing dancers wearing glittery dresses to perform Giselle’s Act I variation, for example. “Giselle was a peasant,” she says. “What does it mean to be a peasant? It means you don’t have glitter on your dress.”
Before she was a principal with Ballet West, Beckanne Sisk made it to YAGP’s NYC finals several times. One of the ways she stood out was by slightly altering the choreography
of her variations to suit her strengths, at the direction of her coach. “My coach would
Thays Golz at YAGP (photo by VAM, courtesy YAGP)
modify the variation so that instead of doing, say, an attitude turn, I’d do a regular pirouette,” she recalls. “Especially with in-between steps, there’s some room for change. Not everyone has to do a sous-sus—you might do a soutenu instead.”
According to Kozlova, this is where having a qualified coach is most important. While she trains all her students to dance variations by the book when they’re learning them in class, once you prepare for the stage, there’s no need to be a mannequin. “You can change steps—just not fundamental steps,” she says. “A coach knowledgeable in the classics knows what can be changed and what cannot.” If you don’t have the opportunity to work with an experienced coach, Reyes suggests sticking to a version of the variation that’s performed by one of the major ballet companies. If you do make small changes to the arms or transitional steps to flatter your body, just make sure they remain true to the style of the variation. “Don’t add arms from Don Quixote to Diana and Actaeon,” she says.
It’s tempting to change choreography to fit in your own tricks—but avoid the impulse. “We’ve seen four pirouettes, we’ve seen high legs,” Reyes says. “What we want to see is quality and control.” Meunier says that if you have the ability, you can add an extra rotation to a turn, but make sure you’re not compromising your musicality to do so. “Give me a performance,” she says, “don’t just give me tricks.”
Use Video for Inspiration, Not Imitation
Today, clips of hundreds of dancers performing popular variations are just a click away. That’s a remarkable resource—but use it wisely. “You’ll see many good dancers, but the things that suit one particular dancer may not suit you,” Kozlova warns.
“Watch for technique,” Meunier says. “Look at the port de bras, the épaulement, how they use their plié, technical things.” Don’t try to imitate the specific nuances of an established ballerina’s artistry. “It takes years to become an artist, and as a student you’re just starting to develop your voice,” Meunier says. “If you go out there and try to be Julie Kent, it’s going to look fake.”
Focus on What Matters
So how can you tap into your own artistry? Think about the unique strengths you bring to the table, and how you can apply them to your variation’s particular challenges. Pay close attention to the tiny details—your épaulement, the in-between steps—rather than worrying about the tricks. Kozlova remembers one VKIBC dancer who had “nothing that people now are looking for in competitions, no enormous arches, no extensions or split jumps up to her ears,” she says. Instead, the dancer emphasized the precision of her technique. “The way she did everything correctly was so beautiful you just didn’t want to see anything else.”
It can feel like you need to dance everything at high volume to impress an audience, or a judging panel, in your two short minutes onstage. But sometimes subtlety makes a bigger impact. “Don’t give me fierce face when you’re dancing ballet,” Meunier says. “In ballet there’s always more of a simmer, even if it’s a bravura role.”
That’s a lesson that translates into professional life, too. As a principal, Sisk frequently performs full-length ballets that include variations she was known for in competition. “I was so used to punching the variations for competitions—I wanted to give it everything in those two and a half minutes,” she says. Once she had to sustain a full ballet, though, Sisk was forced to hold back a little—and that actually improved her performance. “You learn where to breathe,” she says. “You learn how to really find the character, so you can completely lose yourself in it.”
You might have seen 16-year-old Leili posing in a Discount Dance Supply ad, or competing at the 2015 Youth America Grand Prix finals in NYC. But this super-focused aspiring ballerina spends most of her time away from the spotlight, training at the San Francisco Ballet School. In fact, Leili first fell in love with the stage after studying traditional Chinese dance as a way to honor her heritage.
NYC is bursting with promising ballet dancers this week, thanks to the Youth America Grand Prix finals held at Lincoln Center's Koch Theater. To all the competitors (at YAGP and beyond), we're shouting a big "Merde!!" your way.
We can't wait to see what amazing things these kids will do next. Don't believe us? Just take a look at these teens competing in the '90s and early '00s. They sure turned out (more than) OK.
Before she was New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns, she was simply the amazingly talented 15-year-old Sara Mearns, competing at YAGP:
Recognize this guy? It's none other than the dreamiest of all American Ballet Theatre principals, Marcelo Gomes, competing at the Prix de Lausanne in 1996.
Here's international ballet superstar Alina Cojocaru at the Prix de Lausanne in 1997:
No surprises here: ABT soloist Sarah Lane's port de bras was just as glorious in 2002!
And San Francisco Ballet soloist Simone Messmer was just as regal at 16, competing at YAGP regional finals in 2001:
It's hard to imagine Diana Vishneva before she was a start of the Mariinsky Ballet and ABT. Nevertheless, here she is in 1994, competing at the Prix de Lausanne:
And finally, here's a special treat: Alex Wong in leopard booty shorts at the Prix de Lausanne in 2004. Go ahead, watch it sixteen times. We have.
In a pair of pointe shoes, she’s effortlessly regal—but take those pointe shoes off, and Jasmine Cruz will show you her spunky side. The 12-year-old’s solid technique and infectious personality helped her snag a gold medal at the World Ballet Competition in 2012, and earn first place in both classical and contemporary for the pre-competitive age division at 2013’s Youth America Grand Prix Semi-Finals. Last year, Jasmine also won New York City Dance Alliance’s National Mini Female Outstanding Dancer title.
"While I enjoy dancing variations, I love learning contemporary choreography. For me, the best part has always been getting to see the journey of a new dance."
(Photo by Allison Schultz/New York City Dance Alliance)
Birthday: January 31, 2002
Hometown: San Francisco, CA
Studio: Westlake School for the Performing Arts
Favorite dancer of all time: American Ballet Theatre soloist Misty Copeland
Favorite food: frozen yogurt
Dance idol: San Francisco Ballet principal Maria Kochetkova. “She’s petite like me, and she’s broken a lot of boundaries in the dance world.”
Favorite dance movie: First Position
Dream dance role: Kitri in Don Quixote or Swanilda in Coppélia