“Choosing the right ballet variation is like choosing a dress. Sometimes a beautiful dress may look very good on one person, and not on another.” —Larissa Saveliev, founder/artistic director of Youth America Grand Prix
Ages 9–11: Princess Florine from The Sleeping Beauty (Act III) (or any of The Sleeping Beauty fairies), the Peasant pas de deux from Giselle (Act I) or Cupid from Paquita
Ages 12–14: Friends of Kitri from Don Quixote (Act I), Fairy Doll, Harlequinade, Odalisques from Le Corsaire (Act I), Flames of Paris or the pas de trois from Swan Lake (Act I)
Ages 15–17: Kitri’s variations from Don Quixote (Act I), Diana and Acteon or Medora’s variation from Le Corsaire (Act II)
* Be very careful about deciding that dancers are ready to perform on pointe. And pay attention to how mature the piece’s content is, both technically and emotionally. The Black Swan variation from Swan Lake (Act III) or Gamzatti from La Bayadère (Act III) is not a good idea for someone too young.
* Decide what you want to feature, but also what might be best to hide. If a student has a nice jump, find something that showcases her allegro. If she has a problem with straightening her knees, choose a variation with a longer costume instead of a pancake tutu. Often, there are versions of the same variation that highlight different skills. If a student has a nice à la seconde extension, choose the Princess Florine variation that showcases développés, instead of the version that features more arabesques.
* No matter how good a dancer is at fouettés, it is never a good idea to change a variation’s choreography to seem more impressive. It’s understandable that students like to show off, but in the end, the first thing they have to master is the style of a ballet. When the variation is not as it was originally choreographed, they can’t learn this lesson.
* It’s better to choose a simple variation and execute it very well than to choose something very technically advanced and do it with more mistakes. Remember that there’s nothing wrong with repeating the same variations that the younger girls are doing. Teachers and students often forget that this choreography was designed for professional dancers in major companies, so teenagers are never too old to dance them.
Photo: The Swanhilda variation from Coppélia can be danced in a tutu (Martina Prefontaine, 9) or a dress depending on age. (photo by Siggul/Visual Arts Masters, courtesy of YAGP)