Photo credit: Eiji Koto

An Important New Performance Opportunity: The NBS Variations Presentations

Last year, NBS introduced an exciting new performance opportunity for its students. Twice a year, each student from Grade 10 to PSP now has an opportunity to present a classical ballet variation before the artistic faculty and the entire student body.

Usually drawn from within a larger structured dance, a classical ballet variation is a short solo dance designed to showcase a dancer’s technical virtuosity. Built on the vocabulary and grammar of classical ballet, it demands of a dancer not only technical mastery but also musical sensitivity and artistry.

One of the teachers preparing students for the Variations Presentation held on June 12th was Vera Timashova. Vera began teaching at NBS following a long and celebrated career as a principal dancer in the former Soviet Union. She is thrilled that the students now have the opportunity to prepare and present classical variations.

“You know, the young dancer learns so much more than just the steps. They learn about the ballets the variations are from; they learn to recognize that there are different approaches to the technique, differences in style and even emotion; and by learning the variations themselves, they also develop a more sensitive and sophisticated eye when watching the performances of others.”

While the benefits of mastering a classical variation may seem obvious, according to Vera it is even more important to have an opportunity to present the variation on stage before an audience.

“You can’t become a good dancer just from doing ballet class every day. Ballet dancing is supposed to be done on stage. You have to go on stage, often, to learn what it feels like to be alone on stage and to gain strength and courage. The more they have a chance to go on stage, the more fun they will have there and the more they will learn to find the joy in their dancing.”

Grade 12 student, Michael Rinderle, has presented four variations since the introduction of the Variations Presentation. He recently reflected on the value of these presentations:

“I was very nervous at first, for I had never done competitions or really any variations at all previous to last year. The variations are also quite short in nature, so there is a higher pressure to make no mistakes on stage, contrary to a longer evaluation class where you are surrounded by others and there is time to redeem yourself. The variation presentations have taught me a lot about having confidence while being alone on stage, or at least acting it well, and this has directly translated to group work as well. When you are on stage you need to be present and own the space around you, and the variation presentations have allowed me the opportunity to practice those much needed skills. Having done these presentations a few times now, I feel much more confident.”

The value of the variations presentation was borne out in the experience of Hannah Galway, an apprentice at the National Ballet of Canada who graduated last year and so was part of the cohort that first had this new performance opportunity. Commenting on the challenge of the Variations Presentation in which she had to step onstage alone, in a practice tutu, without the benefit of sets or costumes or any of the other theatrical supports present when a solo is performed within a ballet, she said:

“Because it is a solo…and is performed out of context, it forces the dancer to look beyond the steps. It demands the dancer to do research –to look at the story of the ballet that it came from and listen to the rest of the music. This way it doesn’t matter that you’re not in costume or that there are no sets, you are the one who is in charge of creating the story. I think the most exciting part was that after you had learned the piece, rehearsed and been coached by your teachers, ultimately it was up to you alone to make something happen.”

Hannah credits the Variations Presentation experience for preparing her for her work in the company.

As important as solo work is for the senior students, ensemble work is also important to the formation of a professional dancer and so each Variations Presentation opens with an ensemble piece performed by the Grade 9 students, giving them an additional opportunity to develop the important skills of spatial awareness and cooperation that are critical to successful corps de ballet work.

Who else benefits from this new opportunity? The entire school body that makes up the audience. Vera speaks enthusiastically about the benefits, especially for the younger students who get to watch.

“I see it when they come back to the studio afterwards. They are so excited and willing to work harder. They see the reason for what they are working on in class. It helps them understand what we are asking of them in class and they are inspired.”