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Ballerina The Movie


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#16 Catherine

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Posted 24 April 2009 - 06:02 AM

No kidding. I was interested to see how infrequently the dancer asks questions, or even acknowledges the comments of the coach. If I remember correctly, only Vishneva seemed to have much to say in the process. The rest felt very silent.


I'm currently doing research on Russian pedagogy, but I can say this much: The position of a student in Russia is not to argue with the authority (her coach) but to take the comments and incorporate them. There is the utmost respect for these coaches, many of whom, at least in the older generation, worked with Vaganova themselves. In another 30 years, we aren't going to have her (Vaganova's) direct students around coaching others anymore...

That said, I have seen some principal dancers here who talk back to their coaches and have done some very irrespectable things to them. Not everyone respects authority inside the theatre...

Is it just me, or are there some awkwardnesses in the narration? I know he lived into the 20th century, but Petipa is not usually referred to as a 20th century choreographer. And does the Kirov refer to all their female principals as Prima Ballerina? (that term gets bandied around here pretty casually, and it always makes me cringe)


They've used the term "ballerina" liberally and for the understanding (as i see it), of Western ears -- it's not used here (in Russia) typically to refer to just any female dancers.

Finally, just a note to say I reviewed the film for the May issue of "Dance Europe" magazine, which includes short interviews with 3 of the 5 "ballerinas', in case anyone is interested. In terms of being a "look backstage" -- this film doesnt provide that at all, in my opinion.

#17 Amy Reusch

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Posted 24 April 2009 - 05:55 PM

QUOTE (sandik @ Feb 28 2009, 07:46 PM)
.....That seemed very contrived to me as well. Was she just looking for a different manufacturer altogether? I thought that by the time you get to her level, you've got people inside the company that you work with.....

Not really. I've been to that particular Grishko store when leading dancers of the Mariinsky and Maly troupes come in to buy gear as well as to ask for shoes from their favorite makers or shoes with certain features that they seek. Ditto the Grishko store in Mosco


I don't understand. The dancers aren't supplied with shoes from the company? Or do they try things on in the store and then tell them what to order? It still seems strange to me. I understand coming in to buy leotards, etc... but shoes? Is it a different system and the dancers are expected to supply their own shoes?

#18 leonid17

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Posted 24 April 2009 - 07:10 PM

No kidding. I was interested to see how infrequently the dancer asks questions, or even acknowledges the comments of the coach. If I remember correctly, only Vishneva seemed to have much to say in the process. The rest felt very silent.


I'm currently doing research on Russian pedagogy, but I can say this much: The position of a student in Russia is not to argue with the authority (her coach) but to take the comments and incorporate them. There is the utmost respect for these coaches, many of whom, at least in the older generation, worked with Vaganova themselves. In another 30 years, we aren't going to have her (Vaganova's) direct students around coaching others anymore...


I have been watching the Kirov Ballet since 1961 and have seen the Vaganova aesthetic change to such a degree perhaps influenced by the Vaganova Academy (I hope not) and the personal coaching by Vaganova's former pupils. I for one will not be sorry to see the last of some of the older teachers who had no taste in their performing and who exhibited such vulgarity, I find it hard to believe they have anything to pass on except technical tricks. I would also say that the artistic direction also needs to be questioned during the Kirov's recent history that has allowed such extraordinary distortions of choreography by senior performers.

If I go back to when the principal dancers and senior soloists included Inna Zubkovskaya, Irina Kolpakova, Alla Osipenko, Gabriella Komleva, Alla Sizova, Yelena Evteyeva etc and then see the debasing of that earlier aesthetic by the likes of Mezentseva, Zakharova, Lopatkina and Somova et al, I doubt if there is much of worth to see in any modern film on the Kirov, other than the commitment of dancers to sustain the discipline handed down to them.

The products of the Vaganova Academy in St. Petersburg at its best, are sublime technicians with a fully integrated artististic ethos. Regrettably today we are witnessing a progressive artistic dissolution of a once great company whose other acts of Philistinism is the rejection of the reconstruction of their 19th century repertoire heritage. These two aspects of the Kirov Ballet reflect errors of artistic judgement and are a combination of vulgar influences which the dancers have been led to by their artistic direction. It seems hard to believe in a country that flaunts magnificent museums which are presented with great taste, which sadly has not been extended to the Kirov Ballet

#19 Catherine

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Posted 25 April 2009 - 06:18 AM

I have been watching the Kirov Ballet since 1961 and have seen the Vaganova aesthetic change to such a degree perhaps influenced by the Vaganova Academy (I hope not) and the personal coaching by Vaganova's former pupils. I for one will not be sorry to see the last of some of the older teachers who had no taste in their performing and who exhibited such vulgarity, I find it hard to believe they have anything to pass on except technical tricks. I would also say that the artistic direction also needs to be questioned during the Kirov's recent history that has allowed such extraordinary distortions of choreography by senior performers.

If I go back to when the principal dancers and senior soloists included Inna Zubkovskaya, Irina Kolpakova, Alla Osipenko, Gabriella Komleva, Alla Sizova, Yelena Evteyeva etc and then see the debasing of that earlier aesthetic by the likes of Mezentseva, Zakharova, Lopatkina and Somova et al, I doubt if there is much of worth to see in any modern film on the Kirov, other than the commitment of dancers to sustain the discipline handed down to them.

The products of the Vaganova Academy in St. Petersburg at its best, are sublime technicians with a fully integrated artististic ethos. Regrettably today we are witnessing a progressive artistic dissolution of a once great company whose other acts of Philistinism is the rejection of the reconstruction of their 19th century repertoire heritage. These two aspects of the Kirov Ballet reflect errors of artistic judgement and are a combination of vulgar influences which the dancers have been led to by their artistic direction. It seems hard to believe in a country that flaunts magnificent museums which are presented with great taste, which sadly has not been extended to the Kirov Ballet


Leonid, given your comments, you will be extremely interested to read the results of my many interviews and research when they are published. I will be sure to loop back here and let you know.

I am curious, how many live performances of the individuals you mention have you seen in recent years?

In the meantime, I have only been following the troupe since I first saw them as a teenager in 1990, therefore you have 30+ years on me. I have however seen the company perform here in Petersburg year-round for the past five years as a resident of Russia. And having done that, I can speak to the overall quality of the troupe and of individual dancers, not just how they may appear in a single performance abroad.

Thus, I have to interrupt you on one very important point. I believe any similarly "frequent" spectator of today's Mariinsky would NEVER lop Somova in with Lopatkina into the same category either technically, dramatically or aesthetically speaking. At least none of the Russians who have been following this troupe their entire lives, and have far more knowledge, in my experience, than any Westerner could ever hope for (from my observation), would even consider such a statement. Nor would they ever categorize Lopatkina together with Zakharova --- the two are far too drastically different as dancers. Or Mezentseva with the other three. Somova is the administration's "new Zakharova project" and as such can be set apart from the others into another universe. (I believe I saw Mezentseva dance only once, so I can only comment on her from film, which I don't think is the best measure of comparison with other live performances, so I will leave her out of the discussion for now).

Lopatkina doesnt have the uber flexinastic ability and vulgarity you speak of. And in fact many people bemoan this point, saying she isn't "good enough", which is absolutely silly. She does not distort line at the expense of level hips or proper technique. Her leg cannot reach 190 degrees in a la seconde -- whether you think that is good or bad, she physically cannot do it, she isn't built that way in her pelvis. Zakharova and Somova are. Lopatkina, however, is the purist representative of Vaganova technique in the list you mention, and she has a unique adherence to proper port de bras, epaulement and step execution at all times. I have watched the precision and attention to detail she brings to her roles onstage here, as well to her rehearsals. You would be ill-pressed to find someone who represents pure Vaganova style, accurate (usually flawless) execution, (and is still dancing) in the company today more than she does.

Somova and Zakharova are flexnastic girls, the former following in the footsteps of the latter. Unfortunately, given the Western audiences' overwhelming enthusiasm for circus tricks, the physique that Zakharova (and Guillem, in France) offered has become very popular. Somova is just the next generation of this. The administration and the impresarios bill based on audience reaction -- on what sells tickets. And so until the audience reacts to her in the way that, in my opinion, they should -- that this is not a circus, it is the ART of ballet-- until then we will continue to see her given top billing on foreign tours along with the more Balanchinean, but still "closer-to-Vaganova" technicians such as Tereshkina who at least also adhere to the basics of clean execution.

I found and spoke to many pedagogues who decry this abomination of technique (I agree with you in the specific case of Somova -- despite being slender as a colt, her port de bras and epaulement is completely absent; her legwork is sloppy at best). I was pleased to hear this resounding commentary from individuals who studied under Vaganova herself, and am anxious to finish the manuscript and get it out into print. I emphasize this because this issue is NOT with the pedagogues in all cases (as you noted). In the case of who gets on stage, the pedagogues dont have any say in that, those decisions are made much higher up.

I do agree that the administration is somewhat to blame -- but the pedagogues I spoke to are doing their darndest to instill the Vaganova tradition.

There is much more to say but if I type it all here, I won't have a manuscript left :-)

I appreciate your knowledgeable feedback and always enjoy the intellectual discussions that arise often on this board.

-C.

#20 Sacto1654

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Posted 25 April 2009 - 06:20 PM

Lopatkina, in my opinion, is probably one of the few Mariinsky Ballet dancers that have a strong deference to the legacy of Natalia Dudinskaya (Lopatkina being among the last students directly trained by her), arguably the greatest ballet instructor in the history of the Vaganova Academy after 1950. After all, Dudinskaya was trained directly by Agrippina Vaganova herself in the 1920's and had a pretty distinguished dancing career herself, which unfortunately was cut short due to Dudinskaya's physical fraility.

It will be very interesting to see what Lopatkina will do in the future. Will she become a pedagogue and eventually lead the Vaganova Academy? Or are her ambitions a bit higher, possibly becoming the Director of Ballet at the Mariinsky Theatre? Based on seeing the movie Ballerina and what I've read from some of the interviews she gave at her 35th birthday in October 2008, I have my doubts Lopatkina wants to do teaching work--I see her wanting to preserve the "Kirov" legacy that her late instructor (and Dudinskaya's husband, Konstantin Sergeyev) left behind, because Lopatkina knows what Sergeyev and Dudinskaya left behind artistically is almost as important historically as what Marius Petipa left behind a century earlier.

#21 chrisk217

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Posted 28 April 2009 - 07:13 AM

QUOTE (sandik @ Feb 28 2009, 07:46 PM)
.....That seemed very contrived to me as well. Was she just looking for a different manufacturer altogether? I thought that by the time you get to her level, you've got people inside the company that you work with.....

Not really. I've been to that particular Grishko store when leading dancers of the Mariinsky and Maly troupes come in to buy gear as well as to ask for shoes from their favorite makers or shoes with certain features that they seek. Ditto the Grishko store in Mosco


I don't understand. The dancers aren't supplied with shoes from the company? Or do they try things on in the store and then tell them what to order? It still seems strange to me. I understand coming in to buy leotards, etc... but shoes? Is it a different system and the dancers are expected to supply their own shoes?

For many years now Vishneva's guest performances with companies around the world easily outnumber the ones with the Mariinsky. In recent years she even had her own touring ensemble. It's not inconceivable that a dancer who spends so much time away guesting, travelling and moving around might have to buy her own shoes at some point.

#22 abatt

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Posted 23 July 2009 - 05:27 AM

Ballerina is now available on DVD. I rented it through Netflix. It was well worth watching. It made me realize how ultra-competitive it is to advance to the top of a major international company. Somova looked like a totally different person than she is now. I know that Valery Gergiev is the head of the Kirov Maryinsky, but I don't really understand why he believes he has expertise in judging ballet dancers. His authority in music and opera are unquestionable, but not ballet. I hope Obratsova makes it the next U.S. tour. I've never seen her dance.

#23 richard53dog

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Posted 23 July 2009 - 06:18 AM

. I know that Valery Gergiev is the head of the Kirov Maryinsky, .... His authority in music and opera are unquestionable,


I wouldn't go that far. At the Met we have had to go through many cluelessly conducted performances of non Russian opera. Dutchman, Parsifal, Traviata (ugh), Salome , etc. I think his talents are far more specialized than his overated reputation (IMO) describes.

He does have a greater affinity for Russian opera I'll admit. For a while he also had administrative influence at the Met Opera too which also wasn't a particularly great thing in my eyes. The one exception to this is the expansion of the Met rep to include many Russian operas new to New York which I'll give him credit for. That was maybe the one big plus of his presence in NY.

Like a number of other big , starry, names in Opera and Ballet adminstration, his greatest talent is for his own self promotion. I'm glad the title he held at the Met Opera in the 90s; Principle Guest Conductor, or something like that, seems to has been disolved.

#24 Helene

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Posted 23 July 2009 - 06:53 AM

While I mostly agree with you, richard53dog, I think he may have saved the Kirov/Mariinsky after the fall of the Soviet Union with his energy and willingness to raise private money when the bottom dropped out of state subsidies, and I also heard an excellent "Tristan und Isolde" from him in Paris. I didn't get to see the "Ring" the company brought to NYC a couple of summers ago; I got sick on a plane returning from India the day before it started and couldn't risk coughing through it.

#25 Dale

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Posted 23 July 2009 - 07:16 AM

re: Gergiev. I find him very inconsistent. When he's good, it's amazing (his Sleeping Beauty score at Carnegie Hall a few years ago is a great example), but sometimes it's just...eh. Like at the Stravinsky triple bill at the Met a few years ago. I went to hear his Rite of Spring, but that was just OK. The Oedipus Rex blew me away (The stagings helped. The choreography for the Rite was boring and the staging for OR was arresting). I did think that he whipped the City Ballet orchestra into shape when he guest conducted a mixed program of Circus Polka, Jeux de Cartes, Walpurgisnacht Ballet and Firebird. The excitement spread to the dancers and it was one of the most complete pleasurable performances I've been to.

Regarding this film. I first saw it off French TV, so it's pretty cool to actually understand more of what the dancers are saying (I understand one in every seven words in Russian -- I kept on hearing the word "hard" as in ballet is a hard life.). I think it's a nice look at a crop of dancers that needs to be recorded. I loved, in the beginning, how it is shown that to be a ballerina in Russia is a very high calling. Different from here. It also shows the road the Mariinsky is going down. The tests on young applicants shown in the beginning... Flexibility seemingly is the be all and end all. I hope we missed the children being looked at for other qualities. To think that Diana Adams suggested Farrell come audition in New York because she had a special quality of movement - not that she was the most flexible (although we know, she was plenty flexible). Would a Somova have risen so quickly if these other qualities were more important? This film was also shown pre-Zakharova's defection to the Bolshoi, where I think she's matured as an artist. Obratzsova seems to be a wonderful anomaly.

#26 Helene

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Posted 23 July 2009 - 07:41 AM

The tests on young applicants shown in the beginning... Flexibility seemingly is the be all and end all. I hope we missed the children being looked at for other qualities. To think that Diana Adams suggested Farrell come audition in New York because she had a special quality of movement - not that she was the most flexible (although we know, she was plenty flexible). Would a Somova have risen so quickly if these other qualities were more important.

A friend rented a condo on the beach in West Seattle, and not having a TV at home, I immediately turned on his TV and channel surfed. Luckily, the "Four Seasons" section from what I think was the 1957 TV version of the Ashton "Cinderella" was being played on the Classic Arts Showcase. As I was watching the seasons dance, what struck me most was how strong their center was, no limbs reaching only out into space. I think Ashton is doomed without dancers with that kind of center from which the limbs move naturally.

#27 leonid17

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Posted 23 July 2009 - 08:28 AM

While I mostly agree with you, richard53dog, I think he may have saved the Kirov/Mariinsky after the fall of the Soviet Union with his energy and willingness to raise private money when the bottom dropped out of state subsidies,...


There is no doubt that he saved the Kirov/Maryiinsky.
It also helped that he has a close personal relationship with Vladimir Putin.

See http://www.nytimes.c...5gergiev-t.html

#28 abatt

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Posted 23 July 2009 - 08:44 AM

Gergiev also had a close relationship with Alberto Villar, who during the boom years of the 90s donated substantial amounts to various cultural institutions, including the Kirov. As you may recall, Villar was convicted of federal securities fraud and is now serving time in prison here in the U.S. I recall reading that Gergiev helped Villar post his bail when he was arrested.

#29 Sacto1654

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Posted 26 July 2009 - 08:27 AM

I just finished seeing the film on DVD and I find it fascinating the extraordinary competitiveness for various dancers to get various dancing roles. You can tell that Ulyana Lopatkina--who had just come back from a serious ankle injury during the film's production--had a lot of clout with the Mariinsky Theatre management. I can really see Lopatkina becoming Director of Ballet at the Mariinsky after her dancing career ends--that's how influential she has become.

However, I am hoping that Normand does a sequel documentary, because right now I would love to see more into the newer, fast rising stars at the Mariinsky: Ekaterina Kondaurova and Viktoria Tereshkina, both of which (in my humble opinion! :D ) are heading for the type of super-stardom in ballet that Lopatkina now enjoys.

#30 Helene

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Posted 26 July 2009 - 11:08 AM

The first time I saw this, it was mostly in French and Russian with Japanese subtitles, and I could understand only Gergiev and the gist of what Legris was saying. While I was happy to see it with English and narration and subtitles, it's amazing how much of the dialogue came across by body language and tone of voice.

The "Scheherezade" clip is one of the few times I've liked Lopatkina's dancing. The contrast between Zakharova on stage and in interviews is striking; here the dialogue explains it. Overall, it is still Obratzova's dancing that comes across to me most clearly and vividly, and I hope to see her live one day.


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