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The Russian Back


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Poll: Do you like the "Russian back"? (40 member(s) have cast votes)

Do you like the "Russian back"?

  1. Yes, I think it looks beautiful, graceful, and sensuous. (38 votes [95.00%])

    Percentage of vote: 95.00%

  2. No, I think it looks kind of weird. (2 votes [5.00%])

    Percentage of vote: 5.00%

Vote

#1 canbelto

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Posted 14 January 2006 - 04:34 PM

Maya Plisetskaya might have been the first, but now it's almost like an imprint. If you are Russian-trained, you have a super-flexible, strongly curved back that almost looks like a perfect crescent moon. What do y'all think? Do you like it? Or do you think it looks somewhat grotesque?

Some pictures of what I'm talking about:

Diana Vishneva

Maya Plisetskaya

Svetlana Zakharova

Alina Cojocaru

And not Russian trained, but a super-flexible back nonetheless:

Margot Fonteyn

#2 drb

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Posted 14 January 2006 - 07:35 PM

And Natalia Makarova!

Here as Odette:
http://www.nypl.org/...e/dance2_07.gif

Here in Robbins "Other Dances":
http://www.masters-o...other_full.html

(A vote "FOR")

#3 canbelto

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Posted 14 January 2006 - 07:54 PM

I've found some more good examples:

Nina Aniashvilli

Altynai Asylmuratova

Irina Dvorovenko

More Zakharova

And to compare perhaps *the* iconic image of ballet of Odette, here's a contrast of the "Russian" posture:

Cynthia Gregory

with

Asylmuratova again

#4 carbro

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Posted 14 January 2006 - 08:24 PM

As the Bayadere photo of Ananiashvili shows, there's more to flexibility than the ability to touch your head to your tutu. Martine van Hamel had one of the great backs of the past 30 years. She had the deeply arched backbend, as well as the lateral flexibility for beautiful epaulement, and a deep cambre, as well. On top of all that, she had something that has been missing in many dancers (but may be coming back), i.e., strength.

Obviously, one wants a dancer to be able to call on the widest range of expressive options. Again, just because you can doesn't mean you must.

Voted "Yes," but that's assuming that this discussion is limited to women.

#5 Marga

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Posted 14 January 2006 - 08:26 PM

And for further comparison, the uber-flexible Lucia Lacarra (note the plumb line from her elbow to her heel!):

Lucia Lacarra Odette

#6 carbro

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Posted 14 January 2006 - 08:34 PM

Here's one of Allegra Kent. Note the verticality of her pelvis, compared to many of these other shots. That's flexibility!

Here's one deserving of a "No" vote, but not necessarily for this picture (scroll to mid-page). Remember Harriet Hoctor's little solo in "Shall We Dance,"* where she boureed over the stage, all the while bent over completely upside-down? Riveting number, but not for the right reasons!


*Or was it "Swing Time"?

#7 Cliff

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Posted 14 January 2006 - 10:06 PM

There should be more examples of the non-russian back for contrast. I think curving the back is like high extension. Impressive, until it crosses a theshold and then becomes disturbing.

#8 Hans

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Posted 14 January 2006 - 11:07 PM

I voted "yes," but it has little to do with flexibility. My preference is for the strength of the Vaganova (not all Russians are Vaganova) back, which is the strongest and most thoroughly and effectively used in all ballet, IMO.

#9 canbelto

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Posted 15 January 2006 - 07:38 AM

There should be more examples of the non-russian back for contrast.  I think curving the back is like high extension.  Impressive, until it crosses a theshold and then becomes disturbing.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Ok I found some French-trained etoiles, and I think the difference is fascinating, because I think it highlights differences in training:

Loudieres
Note her perfectly erect back.

For a more striking contrast, here's a picture of Ms. Hyperflexibility, Sylvie Guillem. Guillem's legs might be very flexible, but her back is rather erect and 'classical':

Sylvie Guillem

Aurelia Dupont

Isabel Guerin

Elisabeth Platel

And here's another comparison. Somewhat same positions, but look at the back:

Alina Cojocaru

Monica Mason

#10 nysusan

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Posted 15 January 2006 - 08:42 AM

I love it, it's so expressive. It's one of the things I really miss in most U.S. trained dancers. But it can be taken from the sublime to the ridiculous, as in that Hoctor solo:

Here's one of Allegra Kent.  Note the verticality of her pelvis, compared to many of these other shots.  That's flexibility!

Here's one deserving of a "No" vote, but not necessarily for this picture (scroll to mid-page).  Remember Harriet Hoctor's little solo in "Shall We Dance,"* where she boureed over the stage, all the while bent over completely upside-down?  Riveting number, but not for the right reasons!


*Or was it "Swing Time"?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

It was in Shall we Dance, and it gives me the creeps every time I see it. Kind of like the worst representation of "toe dancing" from that era.

BTW - love that photo of Kent. In fact all of these photos have gone a long way to illustrate the the differrences in the use of the back - thanks to all the posters for providing them!

#11 canbelto

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Posted 15 January 2006 - 09:00 AM

More examples of an erect back arabesque:

Fonteyn

However, Fonteyn's back was also extremely pliant, as the first post demonstrates.

Personally, I love the crescent moon back. In fact, I think in some roles (Nikya, Odette) I strongly favor such a back. However, I do think that the back would look odd in some roles where the choreography emphasizes angular positions. Agon, for example.

Speaking of which:

Here is a picture of Wendy Whelan which I think is a good contrast to the Russian backs. Wendy is extremely flexible also, but notice how her back doesn't have that crescent moon curve.

Wendy Whelan

#12 richard53dog

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Posted 15 January 2006 - 09:17 AM

  I think curving the back is like high extension.  Impressive, until it crosses a theshold and then becomes disturbing.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>



Yes , that's my thought. It's a lovely expressive device that can be overused. And it also depends what rep it is used in.

Richard

#13 canbelto

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Posted 15 January 2006 - 09:22 AM

Here's why I generally adore the back: I think ballet tends to produce a body shape that is rather pole-like. There are of course exceptions (Veronika Part). But the arched back IMO makes the entire body look more curvaceous and feminine.

#14 carbro

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Posted 15 January 2006 - 11:37 AM

The arched back draws attention to the throat and heart areas, making the dancer more vulnerable, both emotionally and physically. It is the same posture that dogs use to show submission. All you dog lovers know what I mean. It seems to be one of those hard-wired signals that humans share with other creatures.

:wink: Off to Bouder's SL! See you later!

#15 bart

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Posted 15 January 2006 - 03:41 PM

These are wonderful photos. And thank you, canbelto, for instigating all this marvellous use of illustration to help us visualize the topic.

I have a question about the following:

Here is a picture of Wendy Whelan which I think is a good contrast to the Russian backs. Wendy is extremely flexible also, but notice how her back doesn't have that crescent moon curve.
Wendy Whelan


I can see differences between this and some of the other photos (Asylmuratova, etc.) But can someone describe more precisely the nature of the "contrast" that canbelto mentions? I simply don't have the experience to conceptualize this.


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