Elisabeth Beyer on Moscow and YAGP Ballet Competitions

Ellison Ballet student Elisabeth Beyer has had a great year in ballet competitions. As a 15-year old, she took 1st place at the prestigious International Ballet Competition and Contest of Choreographers (better known as the Moscow International Ballet Competition) in the Girl’s Solo Division last June. She followed up in April by winning 1st place in the Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP) Senior Women’s Division (ages 15-18) at age 15. Update: Elisabeth won the gold medal at the USA International Ballet Competition at Jackson, Mississippi Women’s Junior Division in June after the original publication of this article. 

Winning Moscow is a big deal. Previous medal winners at Moscow have gone on to illustrious careers including Mikhail Baryshnikov (1969); Alexander Godunov (1973); Amanda McKerrow, Andris Liepa (1981); Julio Bocca, Vladimir Malakhov (1985); Nikolai Tsiskaridze, Herman Cornejo (1997); Polina Semionova, Leonid Sarafanov, Thiago Soares (2001); Christine Shevchenko, Ivan Vasiliev, Anastasia Matvienko, Yevgenia Obraztsova (2005); Angelina Vorontosova, Vladimir Shklyarov (2009).

The Moscow competition has three main rounds. In the first round, competitors perform two classical variations, one variation chosen from the required list and one variation of choice. In the second round, dancers performed one contemporary variation and one classical variation of the dancers’ choice, similar to the final round where dancers perform two classical variations of their choice. Elisabeth’s repertoire included classical variations from Le Corsaire, Harlequinade, Satanella, La Bayadere, La Esmeralda, and Beat (contemporary solo) choreographed by Joshua Beamish. “Each round was challenging, but the first round was probably the toughest. The first round was just so intimidating and it all felt so overwhelming. It was the first time most of us had been on the Bolshoi Theatre stage and it was the first time I had ever performed on a raked stage (a raked stage is on an angle that slopes upward and away from the front of the stage). The first round also had the variations that I was the least comfortable performing. I was so scared the first time I went on the stage but by the end of the competition I did not want to leave the stage!” Elisabeth says.

Elisabeth’s advice to young dancers in competitions: “Try to perform your variations instead of competing with them. It is much more fun this way and allows you to enjoy yourself more.”

The Moscow competition takes place at the storied Bolshoi Theatre. What sets the Bolshoi apart from other theaters is that it plays an important part in the country’s history as it was the birthplace of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was born in the theater in 1922 with the ratification of the Soviet constitution. Lenin made dozens of speeches there and Stalin appeared before cowed Communist Party officials. Over the years, the theater hosted world leaders from Ronald Reagan to Fidel Castro, entertained by the Bolshoi Ballet.

The video below shows Elisabeth in the Esmeralda Variation at the Bolshoi Theatre. She shows her ample extension at the beginning of her solo, with her leg extended near her head. She demonstrates her great turning capabilities with quad pirouettes at 0:42 and 1:10. Triple pirouettes on pointe are difficult, but four pirouettes with control is very rare, even among elite dancers. At 1:40, she playfully bangs the tambourine with her foot as she completes a single turn. Her solo demonstrates great maturity and technique and suggests great possibilities in the future.

Just turning 16, Elisabeth is a veteran of ballet competitions. She participated in the YAGP for the past seven years, each year qualifying for the New York City finals. In 2018, at age 15, she took 1st place in the Senior Age Division and was awarded the Grand Prix Award at the New York City semi-finals. In 2017, at age 14, she placed 1st in the Junior category of the Toronto semi-finals, 1st in the Ensembles category for her duet at the Boston semi-finals, and placed in the top 12 in the New York finals in April, where she was awarded the Natalia Makarova Award for Artistry. In 2016 at age 13, she was awarded the Youth Grand Prix at the Boston semi-finals. That same year, she placed in the top 12 in the New York Finals. In 2015 at age 12, she placed 2nd in the Junior category of both the Paris semi-finals and the Boston semi-finals (info from her Moscow competition bio). She will compete in the USA IBC at Jackson, Mississippi later in June.

Elisabeth says that ballet competitions are an important part of her development as a dancer. “Ballet competitions can be most helpful in the preparation. I really enjoy this process as it gives me something to work towards each time I compete. There is a lot of focus on technique and artistry in the process. I believe that working one-on-one with a teacher has been extremely beneficial to my development as a dancer and artist. It’s always fun to learn new variations and try to understand the character or the history behind the ballet. The competitions have also given me a chance to be on stage and perform!”

In addition, competitions give dancers the opportunity to meet heads of ballet companies, a sort of networking forum. “Sometimes you have the opportunity to meet ballet masters and company directors while at the competitions, which is really a great experience.”

Her advice to young dancers in competitions: “Try to perform your variations instead of competing with them. It is much more fun this way and allows you to enjoy yourself more. Also, try to get to know the other dancers backstage. It’s so nice making friends from other schools!”

Training for a Professional Career

Training for a professional career requires a single-minded focus for young dancers; it is not an afterschool activity. Ellison dancers start their day with 10:30 am class followed by three other classes including technique, pointe, pas de deux, contemporary, music, and workshops. The Ellison Ballet day ends at 4:30 pm, but students often have private coaching sessions afterward, sometimes ending late at night due to studio availability.

Elisabeth takes high school classes on-line; “It is definitely a balancing act trying to fit in all of my academics and all of my ballet training. I try to do my academic work in the free time that I have: on the way to ballet (if I don’t fall asleep), on the way home, on the evenings and the weekends.”

On her training for competitions, her primary teacher is Jolanta Valeikaite, who is also Elisabeth’s primary teacher for daily classes. Edward Ellison oversees all of the students’ training. Edward often steps in and provides coaching on variations and gives students private sessions as needed. “Both Ms. Valeikaite and Mr. Ellison bring a tremendous amount of passion and dedication to their teaching. Together they are the dream team!” (see my interview with Edward for more information on his teaching approach).

Elisabeth Beyer, Ellison Ballet

Elisabeth Beyer, Sleeping Beauty, Ellison Ballet, May 18, 2018. Click for more photos of Ellison Ballet performances.

Like most dancers with high aspirations, Elisabeth works hard in the summer, training in Summer Intensives. “Summer intensives can be a more relaxed way to focus on technique. Even though the hours can be long, they are often less stressful than full year training and there is a lot of focus on technique. I have spent the last three summers at the Ellison Ballet Summer Intensive as well as the Irina and Max Summer Intensive (run by former American Ballet Theatre Principal Dancers Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Beloserkovsky).” This summer, Elisabeth will train at the San Francisco Ballet summer intensive.

Elisabeth started ballet at the age of three “…but it was mostly recreational. I loved ballet from the beginning, but it was a slow build to more serious ballet. When I was little, I loved dancing around the house in little tutus and crowns and not much has changed.” Elisabeth started at age 7 at the Greenwich Ballet Academy under the direction of Yuri Vodologa. In 2015 at the age of 13, Elisabeth was invited to join the Professional Training Program at Ellison Ballet.

With all of the work that Elisabeth puts in, her dream is to become a Principal Dancer with one of the world’s leading classical ballet companies. Dancers she admires and hope to follow include Evgenia Obratsova, Svetlana Zakharova, Uliana Lopatkina, Sarah Lamb, Irina Dvorovenko, and Jolanta Valeikaite.