Alexandra

Who are the great male dancers of the day?

47 posts in this topic

Well, I was afraid if I wrote "ballerinos" people would think it's a typo!

This is this week's Question of the Week, and it's the brother of last week's ballerina question (which you may feel free to answer until the shores are bare of sand.)

Who are the great ballerinos of the day? Five star generals, the ones that will get in when they write the "Great Male Dancers of the 20th Century" book?

My nominees? This is harder, in a way, beause we're in an age of the male dancer and there are so many good dancers. I have several favorites (Peter Boal, Alexei Fadayechev, Yuri Possokhov) that are very good, but I'm not sure are quite, quite, quite at that head table level. Maybe four-star generals.

I think I'd nominate Manuel Legris. He's gt the technique and the style, and an incredible range. There are other French and Russian men that perhaps should be included, but I just haven't seen them enough to know.

There are also several young dancers (Angel Corella, Ethan Stiefel) who may be great, but as yet, for me, are just promising.

Hmmm. Anyone more decisive out there?

alexandra

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Hum!... The fact that my answer is less spontaneous than for women dancers should tell a lot... Nevertheless my choice has to be with Patrick Dupond of the Ballet de l'Opéra National de Paris (which unfortunately he left not too long ago). Yes Manuel Legris has it all: the technique, the line, the poise, but... in my opinion, what he does not have, is stage presence. He is almost too perfect, and even if the idea is to make it look easy, he makes it look almost too easy. There is no drama when he is on stage. While when Patrick Dupond hits the stage, he fills it with his presence, you can barely take yours eyes off of him. He catches your attention and will not let go. He turns like a madman and he can even make you laugh. I feel he uses technique to get to another level, and that is where I want ballet dancers to take me. Is that too much to ask?

Margot

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I'd like to limit this to dancers who are still dancing. Is Dupond? I thought he had retired, or quasi-retired. The last time I saw him was in D.C. with POB at least five years ago, and he was quite heavy then and his jump had lost its spring. (When he was young, he had the highest jump I've ever seen.)

I'd also like to take issue with Margot about stage presence. This is mostly a matter of taste (meaning it can't be proven and no one is right or wrong) but there are some dancers who call attention to themselves at the expense of everyone else (including the ballet) and dancers who dance in the service of the art, and I have a marked preference for the latter. I've only seen Legris and Dupond in one ballet in common that I can think of offhand -- Petit's "L'Arlsienne," hardly a great work, but one that can produce great performances. Dupond was very exciting in that, and I enjoyed his performance, but Legris's was on another level. The characterization had much more depth (the jumps, for example, were tight and low to the ground rather than excuses for showing off his jump becuase that was part of the desperation and confusion of his character), the tension and conflict with his partner (Guerin, also superb) very clear; you knew what they were thinking every minute, while Dupond might have been dancing a solo for all the attention he paid what's-her-name.

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If he meets Alexandra's criterion of 'still dancing', I'd have to vote for Baryshnikov. the last time I saw him with White Oak he did a Jose Limon solo which I though was one of the greatest things I'd ever seen onstage - a true portrait of nobility.

If not, it's more difficult. Mukhamedov, for instance, is unarguably past his best, and from what I've seen so far of Zelensky I wouldn't rate him up with the greatest - not yet, anyway. I don't think there's anyone else today to be mentioned in the same sentence as Bruhn or Nureyev, the two greatest in my experience.

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It is difficult. Perhaps it's because we're between generations. There are so many talented young men coming up, but it's risky to bestow a "greatest" title on anyone under 30. I hadn't thought about Baryshnikov in this context, since he's dancing modern dance these days.

I also can't resist adding, since you brought up Nureyev and Bruhn, that if you're going to have that as a basis of comparison, I have to mention Henning Kronstam. Not as well known outside of dancer circles (rather like Beriosova), but just as highly regarded within them.

As some of you know all too well, I'm writing Kronstam's biography, and have done dozens of interviews with dancers, Danish and non-Danish, who invariably compare him to those two, nearly always along the lines of, "Well, he had just as pure a technique as Bruhn's, but of course, a much broader range," and "He was a far better actor than Nureyev." And this, without prodding from me, I hasten to add. Yet, I've always wondered if I went up to them in a crowd and started interviewing them just about dancers and dancing in general, if he would turn up at the top of the list -- the difference between greatness and fame is an interesting one that should make a good question of the week some day.

Another thought -- for Dale, if you're reading, whose very astute comment on the "great ballerina of the day" thread about the role of artistic directors in creating a favorable climate for dancers to develop I've been meaning to second -- is that also happening with the young men, do you think? Or are they developing more or less on their own?

alexandra

[This message has been edited by alexandra (edited 11-13-98).]

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To answer Alexandra's question, the male dancer (I think) seems to be developing on their own. But I also believe that many contemporary choreographers don't appear to be comfortable working with women on point, such as Duato's two works for ABT and Parsons' for NYCB (and others). This, of course, hurts the women instead of the men. They are unable to stretch or even use their full technique.

About great men, the climate is different from the time that Baryshnikov and Nureyev defected. The Cold War is over, Russians are a dime a dozen. But I put forth these dancers: Igor Zelensky, Peter Boal, Yuri Possokhov, Vladimir Malakhov, Damian Woetzel, Farouk Ruzamatov and Irek Mukamedov (sp?). Maybe Julio Bocca. I can't add the Paris dancers because I haven't seen enough of them. Possokhov really impressed me when I saw the San Francisco Ballet. Zelensky is much more than a cavalier par excellent, he just isn't given the chance (I saw him do a fabulous Four Temperments -- 3rd mvt. I always thought he'd be good in Agon). In a few more years I'd add Jose Manuel Carreno, he has it all. Angel Corrella needs to gain a little more emotional depth (but I still love him) and Ethan Stiefel needs to become a better partner. ABT and NYCB have tried to pair him with everybody but he just seems dance better by himself.

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Interesting list, Dale, but do you really think Damian Woetzel is a Nureyev? (To your list, I would add Nikolaj Hubbe, and not only because he's Danish; he's a fine artist, though a much-injured one). But if, from your list, Woetzel and Peter Boal (a dancer I admire greatly) and Julio Bocca make the All Time All Stars, why not Amanda McKerrow, Susan Jaffe, Darcey Bussell, Julie Kent, et al.?

I think you're right that Russians are a dime a dozen -- but not necessarily great Russians. To the Twenty Years Ago Great Male Dancers list, I'd add Vladimir Vasiliev, Anthony Dowell, two slots for Paris Opera dancers I never saw (Denard? who else?). I don't see any of the young men at that level. Maybe it is that lack of balletmasters and choreographers -- and that the new ballets being created by the Kylians, Forsythes, not to forget Nacho Duatos and Val Caniparolis, don't seem to want stars, nor have the vaguest idea with how to deal with one. Dunno.

The generational question is interesting, because there hasn't been this much of a change in level before, at least not since the late 20s and early 20s when, I'm sure, people were saying there would never be another Nijinsky or Pavlova. (I'm writing from an insular, American-British perspective, of course. France, Denmark and Russia had an unbroken line of stars.)

But after Danilova and Markova came Fonteyn and Ulanova and Plisetskaya and Semyonova, etc. etc.; same for the men. But to me anyway, it's different now, even for Russians. I've enjoyed Mukhamedov and Ruzimatov performances, but they don't match their predecessors. (Compare Mukhamedov with Vasiliev in Spartacus. He does two or three spectacular technical tricks and the body is more taut, but I don't think he comes close in performance.) And Ruzimatov, despite his best efforts, remains a character dancer, the line just not classical enough.

I've probably said to much, but I am curious as to why you have a different perception of today's men than today's women.

[This message has been edited by alexandra (edited 11-15-98).]

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I totally agree with Alexandra on the subject of stage presence. It certainly is not synonymous of being able to do all the tricks. I have to admit my choice of Patrick Dupond was based on one performance I saw in Paris in spring 1995 when he danced a pas de deux called "Grand Pas - Rhythm of the Saints" to the Paul Simon music. Twyla Tharp made the choreography especially for Dupond and Isabelle Guérin in 1991 and she exploited exactly that side of Dupond's personality... For example while Isabelle Guérin is in arabesque on pointe without support and stays and stays and stays... he start looking at his watch... And she has a tantrum when he jumps and turns and takes no notice of her... I really felt like there was complicity between the two of them during that pas de deux; I also felt the sarcasm in it all and I think he had the intelligence to be able to use it and laugh about himself with us. I might be completely wrong, but I really fell for it.

If you extend the choice to "The Twenty Years Ago Great Male Dancers List" I would suggest Cyrill Atanassoff. I saw him dance a few times in Montréal with Sylvie Guillem, Monique Loudières and Yannick Stephant and he was always great, totally into his role, very attentive to his partner. My most vivid memory of him is in "Notre Dame de Paris" where he almost made you think he was crippled...

[This message has been edited by Margot (edited 11-14-98).]

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Another potential great male dancer to watch, IMHO in the same category as Corella and Carreno, is the young Carlos Acosta of the Houston Ballet, now dancing with the Royal Ballet, and Houston as a guest artist. I have watched him over the past couple of years and he has the technique of Baryishnikov, the magnetism of Nureyev, the charm and joy in dancing of Corella, and appears to be maturing into a fine partner as well as a dancer of more depth and dramatic ability. A few more years and he just might make the list of greats!

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First, to Margot -- you're welcome to like Patrick D. My only objection really was that he wasn't still dancing (I think; I'm ready to be corrected on this). I think he's defnitely an etoile; to me, he lacked discipline. This conversation has prodded me to start a new thread that I'll call Measuring Sticks; I think it would be interesting for all of us to list our standards, what we're looking for in a Great dancer.

As for Cyril Atanasoff, I only saw him in a character role (Death) in Petit's "Les Rendez-vous" and I thought he was sublime. I remember reading a story about him from the early '70s, that he was on one of those traveling groups of stars headed by Nureyev somewhere in Europe (I hope you all appreciate the firm grip I have on the details here). Nureyev was injured -- very badly injured -- and felt he could not perform classical pas de deux -- Sleeping Beauty, I believe -- and Atanasoff went on for him, to be greeted by such caterwauling and booing that Nureyev had to dance. Another story for greatness versus fame; it's not the audience's fault, it's the PR. If you've been led to think you're going to see the Great One and a collection of warm up acts and fillers, that's what you'll see.

Margot, if you love French ballet, there are three sites listed on our Links page you might want to try. (The Links link is on the lefthand panel of all the regular pages of this site). Estelle Souche's Dance Pages has a great section of information on French dancers (and much else). Culturekiosque is a trilingual magazine that has regular features and interviews with French dancers. And www.ladanse.com -- well, three guesses.

alexandra

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Well, I'd have to nominate Roberto Bolle of La Scala, purely because as a prince I can't take my eyes off him (and it's not just his looks!) He was a disappointing Romeo but a heartbreaking Siegfried, but hopefully (very hopefully), his acting will improve. Also, Paul Liburd of Rambert Dance Company - he seems capable of anything, although Rambert are now a contemporary company. Bruce Sansom of the Royal Ballet is a very English dancer and totally unflashy, but the more I see of him, the more he impresses me.

Fairly or unfairly, I think male dancers have to be rated on their virtues as a partner, in which case I definitely include Jonathan Cope of the Royal Ballet. In the partners category (maybe a future category, alexandra?), I'd also add Christopher Saunders, a character artist with the same company, who is the one of the steadiest partners I've ever seen.

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Reading through an old magazine today, I remembered a very good young male dancer I'd forgotten to include in the very good category -- at least. Haven't seen him recently to know how he's doing -- and that's Melnikov, dancing in Berlin, I think?

Can anyone who's had more luck than I have in seeing recent Kirov and/or Bolshoi performances add some of their young men?

alexandra

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Alexandra -- I guess I could include Hubbe as a dancer who one day be considered great but the fact that he is injured so often hurts him. As far as my list, I listed those dancers who, by the time they finish their careers, possibly could be considered on the same level as those you mentioned. But it's such a different time now. Dancers just aren't the big personalities that they were in the past. When was the last time a ballet dancer was on the cover of a non-dance magazine? Nureyev and Baryshnikov were two of the greatest dancers ever but they were also international celebrities. Nureyev, with his ambigious sexuality, partied at Regine's with Princess Caroline, collected fine art and lived life in a grand manner. Baryshnikov dated and fathered a child with a movie star, and appeared in films and TV. They also defected during the Cold War. When I said Russians are a dime a dozen, what I meant was that if a Russian leaves his homeland, big deal. It's not an international incident. -- Dale

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I would have to nominate Faruk from the Kirov. He is just amazing. His fire when he dances is femnominal. I couldn't believe it. I saw him do La Corsaire. He was incredible as the leading male. The pas de deux at the end was incredible. The way he made it look as though he was really in love with the prima. Also his extension is unbelievable. His Jumps, his feet. Gosh everything about him. I definitly think Faruk from the Kirov is one of the best guy ballet dancers that I have ever seen. But I do have to agree with a lot of them...Angel Corella is wonderful. WOW. I see him dance at least once a year. And as soon as I come home from a performance, I can't wait until the next. His love for dance shows so much when he is on stage. His jumps and turns are amazing. Plus he is just adorable and cute.

I think the top two would have to be Faruk and Angel Corella.

Hollyberry

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Dear Margot and Alexandra,

it was interesting to read what you wrote

about Dupond/ Legris/ Atanassof, because

every time I realized that one of you had

written what I had intented to reply...

I agree about Legris' great qualities in Petit's "L'Arlesienne" (Alexandra, did you

see it in Paris last year when Robert G.

was there?) He also was impressive in John Neumeier's "Sylvia" with Monique Loudieres.

I wish I could have seen them together in "Giselle" or in "Les Mirages"! I think that perhaps Legris was too likely to be cast in roles of "cute princes" with technical difficulties but little personality, but now

he seems to be interested in getting a wider

range of roles.

Dupond sometimes was a bit too much playing his "wonderkid" character, but I also saw him in some more "mature" roles (for example in

Petit's "Camera Obscura" in 1994, or as the

Phlegmatic in "The Four Temperaments). And Tharp's pas de deux really was so well suited to him! By the way, does anybody know what

he's doing now? I haven't heard about him since he left the POB...

Kader Belarbi (also a POB dancer- well, I'm afraid I haven't seen other companies often enough...) doesn't seem to have a great technique, but sometimes his stage presence is impressive (and sometimes he looks just absent); for example in Paul Taylor's "Speaking in tongues" everything changed as soon as he appeared on stage...

Nicolas Le Riche is still young, but already has had a rich career, and I'd be ready to bet on him...

They don't really qualify as "ballet dancers", but I'd also like to mention Kenneth Topping of the Graham company,

and Yvan Auzely of the Cullberg Ballet.

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This has been posted for Margot, moved from the old site:

Dear Estelle,<br> <br>I am so glad you joined us. About two years ago I went to a "café internet" in Montréal where you pay by the hour to go on the internet. My first research was "Ballet" and just like Alexandra, your site was the first one I found and I thought they were all like that... Now I know better!<br>Thank you for your input!<br>

Margot

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Dear Alexandra,

about the young dancer you found in an old magazine: I suppose you mean Kyrill Melnikov, who is not dancing in Berlin, but in Munich at the Bavarian State Ballet and who is not that young any more. In fact I joined this Bulletin Board to tell you he is one of the most dull dancers I have ever seen on a stage - with a good technique (but far from brilliant), and with absolutely no stage presence at all. The top male dancer in Berlin, and surely one of the best partners in the world, is Oliver Matz, who would be my favourite for the greatest male dancer, if not for his tendency to exaggerate constantly in his acting. But his turns are definitely the most elegant, the most breathtaking you can find in Europe.

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Thanks, Angela -

Melnikov wasn't at all dull when he was with the Kirov -- he was very classical, i.e., he didn't throw his hair around, or grin, or make faces to show he was feeling the music. I saw him nearly ten years ago, so I suppose he would be in his early thirties now? And, of course, he could have changed.

alexandra

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I'm sorry, Alexandra – I guess my harsh remarks about Melnikov must have sounded quite offending to you. But I just couldn't believe it that anybody who had seen Legris, Baryshnikov or Ruzimatov would count Kyrill Melnikov among the best dancers of today! Still, when I read the reviews about the recent tour of the Stuttgart Ballet to New York, Anna Kisselgoff also remembered him in quite positive words (she saw him in New York with the Munich Ballet in 1993) – well, I suppose there must have been a time when he was quite good. In my eyes he is the typical example of a dancer who just stopped learning and developping at a certain point in his career, who just stood still.

The problem may also be that you have quite different standards of judging good dance than we have in Europe, or better: here in Germany (I can't speak for the rest of Europe...). Whenever I saw a dancer who came here from the US and continued to dance the way he danced there, he was never very successful. He would be admired, yes, but he was not loved. Perfect technique and an elegant line is mostly not enough for the audiences here, who want to see personality, who want to see heart and absolute dedication to a role. So what makes a real "great" dancer - the technique or the dedication?

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Oh, no, Angela, I wasn't at all offended. Sorry to have given that impression.

You pose an interesting question, and one that will probably pop up here often. For me, the short answer is both: both technique and dedication -- and artistry.

Personally, I don't prefer technicians over artists, and if Melnikov has stopped developing, that's a shame, because he danced beautifully in Sleeping Beauty and Esmeralda when I saw him.

I do think that it's difficult to judge dedication of a dancer from performance. I've seen dancers who look as though they could care less when they're on stage, and then seen them in class and they're the hardest workers there. (And I don't mean that dedication backstage is an excuse for poor performance onstage, just that it's hard to tell.)

I agree that there are often differences between what American and European audiences appreciate, but, like everything else, it's not across the board, and it depends on the sophistication (I wish I could think of a more neutral word) of the audience/audience member. The general American audience (and maybe those elsewhere as well) like dancers who grin and have obvious "personality" and find dancers who don't "jump into the lap of the audience," as Violette Verdy once said in an interview, to be cold and unfeeling. It's often the quiet Prince who's upstaged by the bounding Jester, and I usually prefer the Princes.

alexandra

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I hate that kind of dancer, who grins and flirts shamelessly with the audience. If a smile is the result of the joy they feel, that's fine, but if it's plastered on their face regardless of what they're performing, it's very annoying.

About dancers growing: Just because a classisist doesn't turn into a dancer who throws himself around emoting, doesn't mean he hasn't grown. He might be growing by refining his technique, going deeper in his roles.

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I guess my German side controls my ballet watching, agreeing with Angela, that dancers should emote and express personal feeling. I may be responding more like an "American audience" as Alexandra says, but I DON'T wish to see a constant grin on every dancer's face.

As someone trying to understand WHAT is considered "classical" in the way that dancers perform, I have to admit I am a bit confused. In the ballets labeled as "classical" that I have seen I recall most all the dancers expressing themselves through their facial emotion. The dancers I most immediately connect with are those who seem to sense the audience.

My tendency is to want to see a connection between the dancer and the audience, a contact that shows emotion in the face (I'm not saying eye contact, but something saying the dancer is HERE with us). I think a dancer must look happy in dancing a happy role, must NOT be smiling when dancing a sad role, etc. In the few modern dance programs I've seen (what I would describe as abstract) the dancers often gave me a sense of remoteness if their expressions were not related to the emotion the movement seemed to be portraying. If classical ballet is also supposed to be danced in this way I confess I may never really understand what good classical ballet is supposed to look like.

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Paul,

I sympathize. I don't think there is very much first-rate classical dancing around these days, and what there is, well, it depends on where one lives! Since you're into videos, I'd recommend watching some Kirov Sleeping Beauties, or the Paris Opera in classical ballets.

As for the smiling, it's not that they're supposed to look grim, but they're not supposed to look like they're in a musical comedy, either. There's a story I got in Denmark about Ashton, when he was setting Romeo and Juliet in 1956. At that time, the Danes had been through a 30-year demicaractere period, where grinning was encouraged. Ashton did not want this for Romeo and told them, "Smile with your eyes, because when you do that, your whole face lifts -- but don't give me any grin."

I think the idea for a classical or neoclassical ballet is to have a pleasant, relaxed look about the face, show emotion where appropriate, but, as in acting, do not overemote. As absurd as it sounds, since classical dancing is as artificial as one can get, a dancer is supposed to look natural.

Make any sense?

alexandra

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Alexandra, a while ago you asked for some new men from the Kirov Ballet. Well, here goes.

Somebody to look out for is Andrei Batalov. He is a phenomenal technician, has a huge jump and an incredible ballon, but... he is also quite small, which is unfortunate in a company dominated by tall girls. Still, try to see him now.

Promising is also young Andrian Fadeyev. Blond, with boyish good looks, more prince-like than Batalov, clear footwork, a good jump, and a nice legato-quality in his dancing. Might develop in a first-rate artist.

Quite a spectacular dancer is Vyacheslav Samodurov. He is about the opposite of Fadeyev. Where everything with Fadeyev is crystal clear and well-structured, with Samodurov it looks like improvised and even sometimes chaotic. Samodurov is also rather small and doesn't have the presence of a true danseur noble.

An interesting new face in the Kirov Ballet is Ilya Kuznetsov. He is tall, powerful and convinces as prince or nobleman. The Kirov hasn't been giving him a lot of opportunities so far, still Kuznetsov is better than many others.

I also like to mention Islom Baimuradov, who is mainly a spectacular character dancer (Espada in Don Quixote, Nurali in the Fountain of Bakhchisarai).

Finally, there is Yevgeni Ivanchenko, one of the dullest faces you ever come to see on a stage, yet loved by the ballerinas for his reliability as a partner. Very tall, strong, but unable to show any emotion in front of an audience. But, yes, he is still very young.

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My interest for ballet is based on fascination and passion, not on professional knowledge, but still I feel I have to add my opinion to the Board.

I discovered ballet just a couple of months ago when I moved to Warsaw from Sweden. Out of curiosity I went to see the Swan Lake - I was amazed and have seen almost every ballet performance given here ever since. I love it. Well, since the only dancers I've seen live are the Polish ones, I cannot say who's the best ballerino of today - but maybe somebody of you have seen those guys and can affirm I'm right when i nominate my three Polish favourites.

The first Siegfried I saw was Aleksander Rulkiewicz, and I fell in love with him at first sight. First of all, he's incredibly good-looking, and makes a gorgeous prince, but he's also a great dancer. What almost drove me crazy that first time, is the way that he dances with a girl. For me, a great pair-dancer is the one that makes you wish you were there on stage dancing with him. He may not be the best solo-dancer, but I would still like to nominate him because of his devotion, passion, and presence on stage with a girl.

However, the no doubt most impressive dancer of the Polish National Ballet, is Marek Andrzej Stasiewicz. The guy is technical to the very maximum (those 15-turn pivots makes me want to scream) and is additionally as much of an actor as a ballerino. This guy is born to dance the Joker.

The third nominate is maybe the most promising one - the young Maksim Wojtiul is in some way feminine in his dancing - he is enormously graceful and jumps like a true ballerina. It's mainly because of his leaps(or is it "jumps" in english?) that he is awarded the nomination, cause I've never seen a guy jump like that - he's airborne.

If anyone knows anything about Polish ballet and dancers I'd be happy to learn about it.

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