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Tall vs. short ballerinas


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#1 canbelto

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Posted 31 January 2005 - 03:07 PM

Does anyone have a definite preference for tall vs. petite ballerinas? For me, I have this insurmountable (it seems) prejudice against tall ballerinas. Pace Mr. B. For me, they arent able to create the illusion of weightlessness and "floating" nearly as well as the tiny ballerinas, like Natalia Makarova or Gelsey Kirkland or, today, Alina Cojocaru and Alessandra Ferri. Having such long arms and legs also makes it harder for me to focus on the face, and I think the face of the ballerina is the most important thing. I stare endlessly at Maya Plisetskaya's flashing, glamorous red hair, Irina Dvorovenko's mishevious flirty smirk, Altynai Asylmuratova's shy smile and Oriental eyes, etc etc. These ladies are all short or medium height. But with the tall ballerinas, I'm so busy looking at their legs or arms and being short myself I can sometimes barely see their heads in performances.
I recently just realized this. Why I could admire Svetlana Zakharova, Darcey Bussell, Michele Wiles, Olga Chenchikova, Maria Kowrowski, and all the other very tall ballerinas, but I couldnt love them. I want to be blown away by their incredible extensions, their majesty, but I can't.

#2 BalletNut

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Posted 31 January 2005 - 03:17 PM

Oddly enough, I'm short myself, but I prefer tall ballerinas. I like when dancers "take up space," and a tall ballerina takes up more physical space than a short one (duh). However, I also like it when a short dancer "dances big" and makes me forget she's tiny. A prime example of this is Tina LeBlanc, who's maybe 5'0 or 5'1, but makes you forget about her height (or lack thereof) with her confidence, technique, and dramatic presence.

#3 Daniil

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Posted 01 February 2005 - 03:21 AM

Well, I don't mind if a ballerina is not big. I love when ballerinas dance effortless and very fluently. Because of this some of the "big" ballerinas are not my favourites. My favourite is still Sylvie Guillem, who even with her length, dances "like a small one". I mean she doesn't give me the feeling: Look at me, I'm tall.

#4 fandeballet

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Posted 01 February 2005 - 05:51 AM

Tall or short, as long as they dance beautifully, it does not matter to me.
Mariana Terkassi(ABT), Martine Van Hamel, Markarova, Cynthia Gregory, Tamara Rojo, Darcey Bussel, Aliyadee Correno(Cuban Ballet),
Eva Edmokimiva, Heather Watts, Jenni Semogi, Marcia Haydee, Kyra Nichols..........All great, tall or short. Whew!!!!!!!!! :yahoo: :dunno:

#5 Fraildove

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Posted 01 February 2005 - 02:08 PM

What do you all consider short/ tall? For me any dancer under 5'5" is petite... anyone else have a cut off?

Rachel

#6 BalletNut

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Posted 01 February 2005 - 02:35 PM

Good question, Rachel. I seem to remember someone--was it on Ballet Talk?--referring to an NYCB dancer as "short" who, according to a Discount Dance bio, was 5'5; and someone else--was it on ballet.co?--refer to a Royal Ballet dancer as "tallish" who was also 5'5. :) I think each company has its own average height, so it is entirely possible that, relatively speaking, 5'5 is short at NYCB and tall (or "tallish") at the Royal.

#7 carbro

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Posted 01 February 2005 - 02:52 PM

It can even change over time in the same company.

When Judy Fugate was a young (but full-grown) corps dancer at City Ballet, she was one of the Rubies girls -- a "short" role. A few years after Balanchine's death, as Peter Martins hired fewer tall women and more short ones, Judy (by then a soloist) was one of the company's tall women.

My tastes are eclectic. I'm generally drawn more to what the dancer does than the packaging she comes in.

#8 Marga

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Posted 01 February 2005 - 07:27 PM

Oh, how I love this thread! Thank you, canbelto, for starting it -- and for your wonderful opinions with which I totally agree!

My interest is more than general because my own daughter who started dancing professionally at the age of 17 two years ago is 5'1" tall. She is a beautiful, lyrical, Vaganova-trained ballet dancer who grew up in a studio that clearly favored the tall dancer, but where she was very highly regarded for her strong technique and lovely presentation. So it is that for years I have been comparing tall and short dancers (with a very vested interest) from the past and present.

I have also read on BA how some don't care for bigger heads, preferring the Balanchine pinhead that has taken over ballet in the head-size category. I find it hard to find the face, much less focus on it, in some small head-boned dancers (of which my beautiful daughter is not one, either!). Even ballerinas like Larissa Lezhnina have been "accused" of having too big a head!

My prejudice is not insurmountable, like yours, canbelto, for I was a besotted fan of Suzanne Farrell and truly like long legs and long arms and long feet and tapered fingers -- but not to the exclusion of the petite ballerina with her delicate appeal masking the strength of her limbs and torso. I was completely enamored of Melissa Hayden and her spritely, yet rock solid, performances, and of Suki Shorer's quintessential soubrette interpretations. (I also adored both D'Amboise and Villella, to name a couple of male counterparts).

I want to "love" the tall ballerinas more, but find it hard to as well (and this feeling probably includes a huge helping of the personal prejudice we've been faced with as my daughter makes her way in the world of ballet, which is already so highly competitive that to succeed in spite of one's height is a huge accomplishment in itself). Too much height can weigh a dancer down, make her look silly in some tutus and ridiculous in some roles (Volochkova as Giselle comes to mind). I mean, imagine the incredible Gloria Govrin -- or someone like her -- as Aurora, for example. Yet, shorter dancers are not even wanted at some company auditions if they aren't least 5'3" -- no matter their skill or potential to become full ballerinas. (European companies who more often state their height requirements in their audition ads seldom want to see those shorter than 165 cm. Let's see -- that would leave out the likes of Ulanova, Dudinskaja, Fonteyn, Suki Shorer, Tina LeBlanc, Jennifer Gelfand, Tamara Rojo, Alina Cojocaru, Daniela Severian, Rut Miro, Lucia Lacarra and Xiomara Reyes!)

Space is relative. "Taking up space" is a confusing concept to me. There are, for instance, those who believe that the bigger the car, the more space it takes up on the road. While I have never driven a big car, I know that this is not true. Cars are usually in a state of constant movement and each one enters and leaves the "space" vacated by the car in front of it, with neither one "taking" up any more space than its predecessor.

It is the same with dancers. I don't think there is a need to make one forget that a dancer is "tiny", as if there were something wrong with being shorter than the next dancer. I would never go see a company whose dancers were all amazons -- how boring! My observations over 50 years of watching dance, much to my dismay and bewilderment, have led me to the conclusion that many people would welcome such a thing today.

Dancers who stand inches lower than their colleagues are often described in reviews as dancing stellarly despite their short stature. And, indeed, it seems that you must always bring something extra to the table of ballet today if you happen to be the perfect height of the dancer of 100 years ago -- that your dancing will forever be judged with your height "handicap" as a criterion.

I am so happy to read the responses to this thread so far -- all so positive! Maybe there's hope yet for ballet.....

#9 canbelto

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Posted 02 February 2005 - 07:52 AM

I dont want to make it seem as if I dont like ANY tall ballerinas. And some tiny ballerinas can have ill-fitting proportions that are just as distracting (for instance, Paloma Herrera or Miyako Yoshida both have long torsos and short extremely thin legs). Overall I like long-legged, long-armed ballerinas. Alina Cojocaru, Natalia Makarova, et al were short but had very long limbs.
Mostly I just like the feeling of absolute weightlessness, of being a "bird" as it were, that tiny ballerinas can create. I love their elevation. I often feel as if taller ballerinas have to use their bodies instrumentally, whereas the petite weightless bodies can "sing". I often also feel that petite ballerinas can play the minx/siren better -- for instance, Kitri waving her fan. It was just wonderful to see the slight Irina Dvorovenko waving her fan and looking as if she'd eat all the corps girls for lunch.
Of course if the ballerina is special enough I love her too -- Sofiane Sylve is an example. But generally, my "favorites" I've noticed have all been short or medium height. For instance, when looking at the NYCB historical footage I fell instantly in love with Patricia McBride and Violette Verdy :)

#10 Cygnet

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Posted 02 February 2005 - 10:30 AM

. . . I love when ballerinas dance effortless and very fluently.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


I agree; tall or short is OK by me if they can achieve the above.

#11 Marga

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Posted 02 February 2005 - 12:41 PM

I often also feel that petite ballerinas can play the minx/siren better -- for instance, Kitri waving her fan. It was just wonderful to see the slight Irina Dvorovenko waving her fan and looking as if she'd eat all the corps girls for lunch.

Actually, although very flat/tiny-torsoed and slim-legged and with a finely-boned head and face (due to her birdlike skeleton!), Irina Dvorovenko is not short at all. I've stood next to her and spoken with her backstage (I'm 5'4") and would gauge her height to be about 5'6".
I guess that might indeed be considered "medium" height these days!

#12 andycrawford

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Posted 02 February 2005 - 05:13 PM

Well, I don't mind if a ballerina is not big. I love when ballerinas dance effortless and very fluently. Because of this some of the "big" ballerinas are not my favourites. My favourite is still Sylvie Guillem, who even with her length, dances "like a small one". I mean she doesn't give me the feeling: Look at me, I'm tall.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Sylvie Guillem is AMAZING...I swear she's from another planet

#13 andycrawford

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Posted 02 February 2005 - 05:14 PM

. . . I love when ballerinas dance effortless and very fluently.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


I agree; tall or short is OK by me if they can achieve the above.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


you hit the nail on the head with that comment

#14 Premabalrina

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Posted 02 February 2005 - 08:41 PM

I think when the average nondancer hears the word "ballerina" they think of a short, petite girl. However, in the ballet world, a dancer shorter than 5'4" will have an awfully hard time finding a corp de ballet job. If he/she is exceptionally talented, a soloist or principal job may be possible. BUt how can you improve without the corp experience...
Personally, I favor small dancers, being one myself. Taller dancers can sometimes look awkward dancing in certain roles. ( I think someone used the Giselle example in a previous reply.) Taller dancers (girls at least) seem to have more trouble with the tricky petite allegro roles that require a lot of quick, short jumping. I guess this might be due to the length of their bodies. Tall dancers do have some advantages though, don't get me wrong. Anything adagio always looks better on a tall, leggy girl to me for some reason.
Height shouldn't matter, rather the quality of the dancing. Unfortunately it does. And america is only getting taller...

#15 Paul Parish

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Posted 02 February 2005 - 11:43 PM

adagio generally looks best on leggy dancers, whether they're short or tall -- proportions are much more important than actual size, but even more important han that is the quality of hte dancer's imagination (and /or ability to take tcoaching) A dancer with short legs can make the dance look like it's about hte back and arms if she inflects it that way, and her lines will go on forever if she's truly musical.

There are so many qualities a dancer could embody -- one who can dance sstaccato when that's called for, legato when THAT's called for, big when that's called for, "small" at the times that's called for (like "Rossignol") -- even heavy when that's called for, luscious, gooey, crisp, oozy, smoky, pell-mell, apparitional....

Plisetskaya was good at ALL these.... I got her autograph once, after waiting an hour a nd a half -- I was shocked to find that evenb in high heels she was so tiny, She had seemed to control the entire stage, all that space was charged with her energy.


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