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canbelto

The Russian Back

Do you like the "Russian back"?   40 members have voted

  1. 1. Do you like the "Russian back"?

    • Yes, I think it looks beautiful, graceful, and sensuous.
      38
    • No, I think it looks kind of weird.
      2

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45 posts in this topic

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

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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.

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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"?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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"?

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!

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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

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

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

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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.

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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!

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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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With Whelan's photo, you can see that she has bent backwards at a rather sharp angle, but that her actual spine is straight.

Contrast this with Irina Dvorovenko, whose also bent backwards at an extremely sharp angle. But her entire spine is curved. This is what I'm talking about -- most ballerinas have a supple back, but the Russian-trained ballerinas have that curved spine that, as I said, resembles a crescent moon.

More comparisons of the same position:

Darcey Bussell

with

Sylvie Guillem

with

Olesia Novikova

All similar positions, but you can see how Bussell and Guillem essentially keep their spines straight, while Novikova's has a strong arch.

And carbro, my dog certainly adopts that posture, along with huge sad eyes, that scream, "I love you, I adore you, and I'd love you that much more if you gave me a bite of that steak." :wink:

Don't believe me. Look here.

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vs. Gelsey Kirkland. In all fairness, Novikova's photographer did not ask her to face the camera and smile.
And carbro, my dog certainly adopts that posture, along with huge sad eyes, that scream, "I love you, I adore you, and I'd love you that much more if you gave me a bite of that steak."  :wink:

Don't believe me. Look here.

Darling doggie, canbelto! I was referring meant the dog flat on the back, paws relaxed close in to the torso. I'll add a link if I can find such a photo.

Editing to add links: Voici!. Et viola! Obviously, the dogs' backs are not arched, but their tender undersides are exposed. That was the analogy I was trying to draw.

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Part of the mystique comes from the Russian training of the back at the barre. The cambré must first lift up and then back, over an imaginary bar or plank (sometimes imagery helps). Of course, you must be lifted well up off your legs as well. The ribcage protrusion that you see in some dancers as they do this is more a result of their particular anatomy, I think, rather than lack of strength. Here's an example of that:

Uliana Lopatkina

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Here is an example of differences in training. The first picture is of my own daughter when she was 13 (she's the one in front, but this was a pretty standard achievement for all the students) and at the Kirov Academy of Ballet summer intensive. Her cambré deepened even more over the next several years.

The second picture is one I found by googling "cambré" in Google Images. It's from a dance school's website somewhere in the U.S. These girls look to be at least 13 -14, too. The difference is not only in the backbend but in the fifth position. By that age, for students who aspire to dance professionally, the fifth position should be tightly closed and fully turned out. Perhaps these dancers are recreational. I am not judging them, only comparing training techniques. Also, none of these girls are lifted off their legs. It's all in the training. (Note the juxtaposition of the photo of the dancer on the studio wall.)

http://www.boomspeed.com/nurturing/VaganovaCambre2.jpg

http://mysite.verizon.net/vze6kvdq/images/cambre.jpg

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No offense is intended, but while those pics are of a somewhat academic interest, I don't really think either is a particularly good example of any school's version of a proper cambré. Sorry. :wink:

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Thanks Marga for the pictures! I'm not able to find the picture online, but in Natalia Makarova's autobiography (which is really just a coffee table book with lots of beautiful pictures interspersed with Makarova's commentary) there's a picture of her at 13 or 14 in an arabesque, and already you can see the curvature of her spine. Makarova was admitted to the Vaganova school later than most (she was about 12) and they accepted her on an "experimental" program, so she couldn;t have been at the Academy for more than a year when they took the picture. So obviously it is a sharp difference in training.

But can anyone tell me ... when did this "trend" start? Maya Plisetskaya was the first ballerina where I could really notice it, but it must have started earlier.

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Check Danilova. Not in Plisetskaya's league, but suggests trained flexibility.

The Lopatkina photo Marga cited is, to me, a nanometer away from being grotesque. :thanks: It passes muster only because this is clearly an allegro passage.

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Check Danilova.  Not in Plisetskaya's league, but suggests trained flexibility.

The Lopatkina photo Marga cited is, to me, a nanometer away from being grotesque. :thanks:  It passes muster only because this is clearly an allegro passage.

With all the ice skating I've been watching , at a quick glance I thought it was a skater going into a Beilman!

Richard

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