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Varna 2008

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Who knows for sure WHY SAB forms any sort of policy about anything? As a general sort of rule, I would imagine that they don't want their students frittering away valuable time preparing competition material. Varna would be a highly prestigious venue, but the woods are full of lesser lights in the competition field, and a student could potentially waste a great deal of time and effort (which would better be used for classes) on work which would not serve a useful purpose in their education. Rather than try to keep the aspirations lofty, and still cut out the Miss Euphrosyne Whipsnade Memorial Theatrical Dancing Grand Prix and Boiler Works, best to discourage them all. At least, I think that might be what's on their minds. :)

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Who knows for sure WHY SAB forms any sort of policy about anything? As a general sort of rule, I would imagine that they don't want their students frittering away valuable time preparing competition material. Varna would be a highly prestigious venue, but the woods are full of lesser lights in the competition field, and a student could potentially waste a great deal of time and effort (which would better be used for classes) on work which would not serve a useful purpose in their education. Rather than try to keep the aspirations lofty, and still cut out the Miss Euphrosyne Whipsnade Memorial Theatrical Dancing Grand Prix and Boiler Works, best to discourage them all. At least, I think that might be what's on their minds. :dunno:

Here, Here!!!!! :):clapping::clapping::clapping:

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"...and a student could potentially waste a great deal of time and effort (which would better be used for classes) on work which would not serve a useful purpose in their education. Rather than try to keep the aspirations lofty, ...best to discourage them all. At least, I think that might be what's on their minds. :)

Mel, I wonder how many of the winners of medals who have gone on to make distinguished or famous careers would agree with your above posit in this discussion? I am sure it was their lofty aspirations that separated them from other students and I feel sorry for students who are not encouraged to succeed at highest level. Surely teaching ballet at the higher level should not just be about numbers in classes to fund the employment of teachers or used as some elegant finishing school for young ladies? (Not your suggestion)

SAB has its reasons as you say, but so I would think, does the heart of some aspiring young dancers.

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I don't know what happens in the UK with regard to competitions, but in the US, you can spend the entire school year, and sometimes well into the summer, going from this competition to that competition, all across the country. When you're dealing with Varna or Lausanne, that's one thing. When you're dealing with Bumpass, Virginia, (and yes, there is such a place) that's another. Competitors who enter Varna and Lausanne are usually already gainfully employed with a ballet company, or perhaps as apprentices, which count as employed, but not gainful. The benefits of the first-rank competitions are real and valuable, the other ranks, less so.

Let me tell you, as a teacher, what happens when students come back from a student solo competition: Some other competitor will have a stock trick that looks astonishing, got a lot of applause, and all the kids want to imitate it. What they've seen is usually in Bad Taste (yes, so bad it deserves capitalization), took up all of this other whiz kid's time to perfect, and is Academically Incorrect in any system of classical ballet in the world. When the kids from that competition get back to the home studio, they've been trying to reproduce this slam-bang razzmatazz for at least 48 hours before a teacher can get a moderating hand on them. Then starts about six months of rehabilitation as you try to train what they've seen somebody else get praised for out of them, and it doesn't always work. Ballet has a sort of entropy built into it; absolute rubbish drives out ordinary rubbish. There is a contagion at work, too. As soon as it's stamped out of one student, somebody else will have started trying to learn how to do it.

Most of this tricksterism and gymnastic excess results not only in defiled tastes, but very often in damage and injury to the student. I'm with Artur Rubinstein, who said "Competitions are for horses."

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SAB students indeed are encouraged to succeed at the highest level, but winning a competition is not viewed as that. Indeed, I believe Mel have hit the nail on the head...preparing for a competition involves the relentless pursuit of practicing and refining the same 2 minute bit of choreography over and over and over....that's not to say it doesn't have value in terms of training and technique, but if SAB believes its curriculum and training program is rigorous and comprehensive (I didn't say perfect, yes we are all aware from this board of what they do very well and what they do not so well), then where oh where would a dancer get the extra hours in the day to train for competition? And would this be the best most efficient use of training time and resources? I can tell you that my DD, after 8-9 classes per week at SAB, an academic school schedule, and the additional rehearsal schedule she has for performance with NYCB, could not possibly fit in another minute to train for any competition, yet she is being inspired to succeed at the highest level on a consistent basis, and has no lack of wonderful scholarship offers and training opportunities despite the fact that she has never entered a ballet competition. There are many roads that lead to Rome.....

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Getting back to the dancer in question, Whitney Jensen, it seems that competition as such was her motivation to study ballet. From a September 7th interview in Utah's Deseret News she explains why--as a little girl studying tap, jazz, and ballet--ballet took over:

"I began moving towards ballet because I developed a goal to do ballet competitions," Jensen said during an interview at the Deseret News. "I wanted to compete and live in Europe."

A bit of googling shows she has entered YAGP in '05 (Junior Gold at age 12), '06, and '07 (Junior Silver); WBC Orlando '07 (Junior Gold); Seoul '07 (Gold); Varna '06, '08 (Special Distinction, above Junior Gold). She has surely been active! Yet there are Vladimir Vasiliev's words:

I never expected from an American student such mastery of the Russian school, even more such beautiful hands and posture-- she danced so purely!

Surely this will be an interesting career (if she choses to have one) to follow...

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As far as Miss Jensen, bully for her, say I, but for the vast majority of students, intensive solo competition is not a good route to achieving technical perfection, or as near to it as we may expect our students to come. The competition tradition as practiced in Europe and Asia is not the same in the US. Free speech is a wonderful thing, but under its aegis, all sorts of inferior competitions have sprung up, and lots and lots of kids and their parents drop exorbitant sums of money in order to compete for prizes of little value, often a potmetal trophy with yellow lacquer on it to make it look as if it were gilded. No, in America, the majority of competitions are vulgar craters for the mixing of all sorts of unwholesome mischief. And no, I will not be specific.

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Since Jensen wanted to compete and perform in Europe, she took a path of competitions that built very much like athletic competition, from junior to senior, building up to one of the most prestigious, with an influential jury. Varna is highly regarded in Europe, and I'm sure she got the exposure she wanted from it. From Vasiliev's description, she wasn't trying to show big tricks, but dancing.

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Yes, for her to pursue a career on a European model is fine for her, but as a teacher I must reiterate my many misgivings about young dancers (particularly those not yet employed) basing a curriculum to the goal of competition! Since competitions in the US have become such a high-frequency occurence, I have noted more than a few, and I hope that they aren't the tip of some iceberg, "competition dancers" who are only suited to solo work. They do not fit into ensembles, they do not become team players in a company, and seem to go from one to another like Broadway Gypsies because they never have had to be a part of an "us". They are all highly proficient dancers, but they do not seem to establish a company "home" when their talents can mature in a group setting, enriching both them and it. Young professionals who are already in a company do receive on-the-job training in how to be a company member. The Continental model has not yet successfully adapted to the realities of the American market, or if it has, it has sought to address it at a very low level. Again, there are exceptions, and again, I'm not going to be specific.

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Isn't Whitney Jensen the "American Somova"? I am thinking about a tall, hyper-extended, somewhat-vulgar (my opinion) blonde teen-ager who butchered Lacotte's choreography for Pharaoh's Daughter at the 2007 YAGP finals? Tricks over substance and style.

Sorry but she totally made me think about Somova while watching her in the finals.

Varna used to have higher standards...if I'm thinking about the same person.

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Wow, I really want to stay out of this one. But really. Whether you are a fan of competition or not, whether you are a fan of Whitney's or not, isn't it a little too much to be calling a 16-year old girl who has obviously worked very hard "somewhat vulgar?" These are kids we are talking about.

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Isn't Whitney Jensen the "American Somova"? I am thinking about a tall, hyper-extended, somewhat-vulgar (my opinion) blonde teen-ager who butchered Lacotte's choreography for Pharaoh's Daughter at the 2007 YAGP finals? Tricks over substance and style.

Sorry but she totally made me think about Somova while watching her in the finals.

Varna used to have higher standards...if I'm thinking about the same person.

She is blonde. I would not call her hyper extended, however. Her extensions to the side are high, but not out of the (currently) ordinary, and from the clips I've seen her arabesque is perhaps a bit on the low side. Nor have I seen evidence of Somova's extreme distortion of line.

I'm guessing from the blonde, however, that this is who you are talking about.

I have no objection to calling a 16 year old vulgar as did another poster, if you put yourself in this sort of competition you are asking to be judged. I do, however, think it in rather poor taste to do so without doing the leg work to confirm that you are in fact discussing the dancer you think you are. There are clips of her on youtube and I'm sure you could google her to confirm if she did indeed perform Pharoah's Daughter at 2007 YAGP.

If you are going to assess a dancer negatively I think it behooves you to make sure you are talking about the right person.

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That's why I won't get specific! :devil:

Indeed, there are roles where the somewhat vulgar is almost de riguer, like Act I Kitri. I must confess ignorance of the roles in Pharoah's Daughter, as it hasn't had a long time to circulate yet. My problem is that the students see somebody kick the back of her head in a bravura demi-caractere role, then try to interpolate it into Giselle. It doesn't work. My favorite discussion over characterization has been:

"Can you do a developpé à la seconde above 120°?"

"Sure!!!"

"Good for you. Now don't you dare. This is "Les Sylphides"."

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In the 2007 YAGP finalists montage on YouTube, the only dancers in classical or neoclassical roles with huge extensions were dark-haired.

One of the posters in the thread thought that the blue tutu was the costume for "Pharoah's Daughter", and the dancer wearing that costume was blond, but there was nothing exaggerated in that short clip.

There are a number of clips that indicate that Ms. Jensen certainly knows where 90 degrees is.

(I very much like her partner, Albert Davydov, in the other four clips from the "Harlekinad" pas de deux. Here's his solo clip:

I would think if she were going to dance in an exaggerated manner, it would be in pieces like "Le Corsaire" or "Black Swan Pas de Deux", but I don't see that in her clips:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNgVfStktbs

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L4qzNmxXvcQ

Her developpes in second weren't any higher than Lopatkina's as Odile, or Vishneva's as Aurora in live performance in which I saw her.

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In the 2007 YAGP finalists montage on YouTube, the only dancers in classical or neoclassical roles with huge extensions were dark-haired.

One of the posters in the thread thought that the blue tutu was the costume for "Pharoah's Daughter", and the dancer wearing that costume was blond, but there was nothing exaggerated in that short clip.

that tutu is inded from "Pharoah's Daughter," and that dancer is Jensen. And as Helene says--nothing exaggerated.

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that tutu is inded from "Pharoah's Daughter," and that dancer is Jensen. And as Helene says--nothing exaggerated.

From the little I've seen of Jensen she seem to me to be a very well trained & coached dancer who has a tremendous amount of facility. From what I've seen not tasteless. I'm actually going to see her in Nutcracker tomorrow.

I do see the danger of taking the competition route as so well expressed by Mel. On the other hand Zhong-Jing Fang and Sarah Lane both went through the competition gauntlet to be noticed. Both have fans and detractors but I think we can all agree that they are tasteful, intelligent dancers,

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I very much enjoyed the clips. Having just attended a truly excellent student performance at Harid Conservatory -- where the teachers are very classically-minded -- I appreciated how much effort these young dancers must put in in order to to control their bodies, honor the choreography, and add that mysterious ingredient, stage presence.

"Nothing exagererated" is indeed an achievement, but only if combined with liveliness of movement and the ability to hold the eye. Ms. Jensen, the dancer in question definitely had both, it seems to me.

On the other hand, the first two dancers (on Helene's first Link) typify tendencies that are becoming great ballet cliches of our era. You have to worry about the coaching they have received.

(a) The first, in the modern choreography, has opted for choreography featuring those endless, random side-to-side torso jerks, with the awful squared port de bras over the head. I prefer hip hop to this; at least it has thrust and logic to it.

(b) The second, a perfect example of wet noodle or jelly-fish tentacle port de bras -- aimless flexibility without inner strength. Is this supposed to suggest grace or willowiness or what?

These qualities in a lot of student competition work are as distracting as exagererated extensions.

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Wow, I really want to stay out of this one. But really. Whether you are a fan of competition or not, whether you are a fan of Whitney's or not, isn't it a little too much to be calling a 16-year old girl who has obviously worked very hard "somewhat vulgar?" These are kids we are talking about.

Well, the thing is-(and this is with all due respect to every poster and opinion)-that vulgar mannerisms have no age, talk about ballet or anything else. Sometimes I see hip hop kids competitions on TV where the little girls are all made up, wearing sexy clothes and jewelry and doing some provocative pelvic movements imitating adults, and people seems to love it. Sometimes I think ballet is not that far from this. In many of ballet competitions we see little girls all made up, portraying older women characters which require sexy movements and showing off of their bodies. At the end that is also the mantra that JonBenet Ramsey (RIP) was following at the time of her death. I do too find all that stuff in youngsters vulgar and shocking. Still, one could, argue that 16 is not an age to be called a kid anymore-(in Cuba 16 marks actually the starting point of legal age for everything, from driving to baring total responsibility in a sexual relationship , unlike US, where this point goes two years further). Bottom line...i agree with Natalia here.

http://www.atlantamagazine.com/uploadedIma..._9a902d015b.jpg

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On the other hand, the first two dancers (on Helene's first Link) typify tendencies that are becoming great ballet cliches of our era. You have to worry about the coaching they have received.

.......

(b) The second, a perfect example of wet noodle or jelly-fish tentacle port de bras -- aimless flexibility without inner strength. Is this supposed to suggest grace or willowiness or what?

These qualities in a lot of student competition work are as distracting as exagererated extensions.

The second dancer is Sara Michelle Murawski, 17, who has been extremely well-trained at the Rock School and by private coaches such as Galina Panova, Martine Van Hamel and Diana White. She really has a lot of inner strength. Take a look at this compilation of her work (see below). It shows her performing short clips of most of the common major variations in ballet, from Nutcracker to Swan Lake to Sleeping Beauty to Giselle to Le Corsaire and beyond. I think she is extremely strong, although she does tend to exhibit her amazing extension in an undiscriminating fashion. Since she's still young, it's possible that in time she'll develop more discernment. I remember a whole photo shoot that ballet photographer Gene Schiavone did of her earlier this year.

Sara Michelle Murawski ballet montage

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I've watched the Murawski montage twice, and neither time did I see anything that would make me want to see her dance live while those are the choices she presents, regardless of her training pedigree.

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I have since confirmed that that was indeed Whitney Jensen at the 2007 YAGP Gala, performing Pharaoh's Daughter. I went back to my notes joted inthe playbill during the final gala - next to her name I scribbled "No! American Somova!" I also wrote: "Minimal finesse. Floppy arms. Smug looks at audience. During 'Guadalqivir River' solo, substituted multi-position pirouette in place of Lacotte's lovely taquette steps...also in Coda, in spot where both dancers supposed to perform quick taquette steps, she does a long multi-position piroutte, whipped so quickly that she could not control; skids and finishes facing left wing." Inother words, lack of control for the sake of the 'wow factor' and garnering more wooo-hoo-hoos from audience. For her partner, Reineris Reyes, I wrote "He much better than she. Dances with finesse and professionalism. Elegant."

Happy to read that she has improved so much in only one year. I was writing only about her 2007 performance in New York's YAGP in which she won the silver medal in the Jr Division. Some folks DO improve tremendously in one year.

At that gala, the only dancer who was (to me) even more vulgar was a gal who performed a 'bedroom solo' that best belongs in some gentleman's club on the outskirts of a city. BUT at least that dancer was not dancing a classical solo at that gala. I give her that credit.

Finally, to accentuate the positive:

That same YAGP 2007 Gala also included a gorgeous, tastefully-performed DON Q Dryad Queen variation by the competition's G-P winner, Melissa Hamilton of Greece, who is now an Artist of the Royal Ballet. Brava! Also technically amazing, yet musical and tasteful: Jim Nowakowski of NY (now Houston Ballet) in the ACTEON solo. Bravo to him! Finally, a third example of 'how it should be done': tiny Kiril Kulish, then-12-yrs-old winner of the top Junior-division prize at YAGP '07, in an elegant and tasteful rendition of the CORSAIRE Pas d'Esclave male solo. So youth is no excuse for lapse of taste in performance and/or coaching. Bravo to him!

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For her partner, Reineris Reyes, I wrote "He much better than she. Dances with finesse and professionalism. Elegant."

Reineris Reyes. Humm...Natalia, by any chance do you have more info on this dancer...? (I just don't want to be mistaken with THE R.R that I know...)

Thanks!

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For her partner, Reineris Reyes, I wrote "He much better than she. Dances with finesse and professionalism. Elegant."

Reineris Reyes. Humm...Natalia, by any chance do you have more info on this dancer...? (I just don't want to be mistaken with THE R.R that I know...)

Thanks!

It is the Reyneris Reyes you know that danced with her that year. Of course he would appear much better than she - he is a professional dancer who most recently danced with Boston Ballet.

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For her partner, Reineris Reyes, I wrote "He much better than she. Dances with finesse and professionalism. Elegant."

Reineris Reyes. Humm...Natalia, by any chance do you have more info on this dancer...? (I just don't want to be mistaken with THE R.R that I know...)

Thanks!

It is the Reyneris Reyes you know that danced with her that year. Of course he would appear much better than she - he is a professional dancer who most recently danced with Boston Ballet.

Thanks mom! :) Yes, Reyneris has danced with both the Winnipeg Ballet ofCanada and Boston Ballet. Back in ballet school in Havana he was very promising. I just got to see him dancing a couple of times because he defected right away.(Isn't he a little older for this kind of competitions...?)

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Christian: He was a non-competing partner for Whitney that year. He is not dancing with a company right now, just guesting and teaching. Hoping that he settles somewhere because I believe he still has a lot to give. His ex-wife is one of my son's coaches, and most recently coached Misa Kuranaga and Daniel Sarabia for Jackson 2006, where Misa won the gold medal.

I also just wanted to clarify my earlier response about the "somewhat vulgar" comment. I agree that choreography or the dancing of a classical variation incorrectly can be "somewhat vulgar." I really blame the coaches in a situation like that - where these young kids do competitions and bigger, better and more is the goal. But, I think I was speaking semantics here. I just don't think we should call the kids "somewhat vulgar." Maybe their variations or choice of choreography, not them.

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