Jump to content


Aesthetic versus GymnasticSvetlana Zakharova Interview


  • Please log in to reply
40 replies to this topic

#1 leonid17

leonid17

    Platinum Circle

  • Foreign Correspondent
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,422 posts

Posted 27 December 2006 - 03:32 PM

From the Svetlana Zakharova Interview in Russian thread:

(volcanohunter @ Dec 26 2006, 08:52 PM)

Zakharova, pt. 3


As a child she also idolized Sylvie Guillem. The first time she saw Guillem she couldn't believe that a body could be mastered to such an extent. When asked why Guillem is considered ballerina #1, Zakharova explains that Guillem could do things that no one else could. Zakharova considers Guillem equally incomparable in her current repertoire. If a person has a good body and has command over it, a viewer cannot tear himself away.

Since she'd been dancing the classics for ten years, at this point she finds contemporary works more interesting. The appeal of classical choreography lies in its difficulty and the knowledge that few people can do it. Classical choreography danced cleanly is a victory over one's own self and over the classic. "There is nothing above the classics. A person who dances the classics can, in principle, dance modern. Worse, better, but he can do it. A person who dances only modern can't dance the classics."


I am not an admirer of Svetlana Zakharova in classical ballet because for me, she exhibits personal, physical levels of execution of certain steps, which are the antithesis of an art that should conceal rather than reveal personal physical attributes.

Miss Zakharova is quoted as saying, “Classical choreography danced cleanly is a victory over one's own self and over the classic.” I believe she is right, I just differ with her interpretation of “danced cleanly”. (See Leigh Wichel’s comment on her performance in Don Quixote available in Quotable Quotes Forum) She says she admired Sylvie Guillem. In 19th century classical ballets I did not.

I had admired the outstanding gymnasts that had earlier emanated from Russia and Eastern Europe in the late 1970’s and 1980’s and still admire the very best gymnasts.

However academic classical ballet has nothing to do with what appears to belong to the school of gymnastics. In fact it should be the antithesis, as classical ballet should be an art that conceals physicality and seemingly strenuous movement. That is the whole purpose of 8 or so years of training and the whole ethos of classical ballet.

What is obvious in physicality in the classical ballet theatre, is not art, it is a physically attained and exhibited skill. Ballet is an art that in its practice conceals not reveals. What goes on in the ballet-school or the class-room to achieve technical prowess should not be seen on the stage just because it can be physically achieved.

When a 90 degree arabesque is called for by a choreographer a hyper-extended 6 o’clock position should not be seen. When choreography calls for two pirouettes I do not expect to see six. Overt exhibitionism in the execution of ballet steps in my opinion cannot be called anything less than a vulgarisation of an art. Mathilde Kschessinskaya, no mean technician in her day, was criticized for her complicating the choreography with technical displays at the detriment of artistic impression.

Classical ballet is not the same as an Olympic Gymnast competition. Ballet dancers are not in competition with one another. They should not be measured just by height of jump or the height of extension in arabesque. If this happens we are not talking about an art form we are talking about a sporting competition.

Does a hyper-extended arabesque evoke an aesthetic response in an audience or 'wow', 'gosh' excited response and the same goes for high jumps and multiple turns. In the right ballet they may be acceptable in the wrong ballet they should be condemned. It is a question of appropriateness and the balanced presentation of an art form without jarring punctuations that interferes with the aesthetics intended by the choreographer.

When dancers in classical ballet companies are allowed to go beyond the set choreography, it seems to me that Ballet Directors no longer value the corpus of the classical ballet repertoire or have respect for the works.

For young dancers to be impressed by what they see as a role model may in the long run have long term damaging effects on their bodies if they aspire to such physicality but are not so naturally endowed. In London, physiotherapy rooms and Pilates teachers are inundated with classical ballet dancers in a way that never happened in the past.

The art form is the art form and although execution of some steps have changed, it would be wrong sometimes to say ‘technique has improved’ as I have sometimes heard. There are many combinations of steps in variations from the 19th century ballet choreography that are not attainable by many classical ballet dancers today. I remember that not long ago, properly executed gargouillade combinations were beyond members of a major ballet company.

The appearance of Miss Zakharova in both the Kirov and the Bolshoi companies was not an addition I welcomed or able to applaud. The effect of her presentation in a number of classical ballet roles has been to discourage me from seeing performances with other dancers in the cast I would have wished to have seen.

I once argued elsewhere, that such obvious physicality in classical ballet should not be considered to be degenerate. I was wrong. Well, in the aesthetic or artistic sense that is.

I do not personally blame Svetlana Zakharova for the way she executes certain steps. I am just shocked that very few people stand up and say, “Great, but not in 19th century classical ballet!".

#2 Helene

Helene

    Administrator

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 11,214 posts

Posted 27 December 2006 - 04:37 PM

The art form is the art form and although execution of some steps have changed, it would be wrong sometimes to say ‘technique has improved’ as I have sometimes heard. There are many combinations of steps in variations from the 19th century ballet choreography that are not attainable by many classical ballet dancers today. I remember that not long ago, properly executed gargouillade combinations were beyond members of a major ballet company.

I've never seen Ms. Zakharova dance, although I would have hoped that her love of Guillem was more of an instance of "Do as I do, not as I say." (Ironically, my disenchantment with Guillem came not from her later performances, but from one of her earliest: I looked with great anticipation to her performances of the second movement of Palais de Cristal when Paris Opera Ballet visited New York in the 1980's, and it was the dullest and most lifeless performance of the work that I had ever seen. I could not believe that this was the young dancer who caught Balanchine's eye and whom he admired.)

I think there are two ways to look at the "technique has improved" argument. I've always been struck by the number of dancer artists who look with astonishment at advanced students, apprentices, and corps members and comment that they wouldn't get a corps contract in these times. In Striking a Balance Christopher Gable said (in 1979),

I find the ballet very disappointing now because, like any athletic form, its technical standard goes on going up and up. Look at Olga Korbut, the toast of the world for a year. The next year, [Nadia] Comaneci can do all she could do and more, and this year Comaneci will be gone and a new, tiny fragment with incredible physical facility will take her place. Well, this happens to a similar extent in the ballet. The thirty-two fouettes in the Black Swan pas de deux were put into Swan Lake originally because only one dancer in the world could do them. Now every dancer must be able to do them to the right and to the left before they can even take their advanced RAD exams. So the emphasis for the teachers and the students has gone into technical excellence. And because it's a hard fight and 99.9 percent of your time -- job -- to achieve that excellence, I think you have to abandon, the rest. Which is, in a nutshell, why I'm not dancing any more -- I mean, it's why I made the break.

But he goes on the explain that Nureyev "raised the technical standard of the game way, way up, which was all to the good and the essential and had to happen," which shows the ambivalence toward technical advancement that comes in both arts and sports.

The other side of the argument is that in specific ways technique has improved, and in other ways it hasn't and has gone backwards. In the last few months I remember that someone made the point that because Balanchine liked tall dancers and emphasized steps and movement they could do. (I apologize for not being able to find this post, and especially if I misunderstood the point.) Melissa Hayden was very vocal about how in her view Balanchine stopped giving jumps in class after Suzanne Farrell hurt her knee, and she asked outright, how could his dancers expect to keep up their technique when it wasn't used? Balanchine created a more romantic style in his Farrell ballets; while they were hardly technically easy, they emphasized different technical needs, and Balanchine was noted to use his classroom as a way to drill his dancers in what he needed for whatever he was working on at the time. Balanchine emphasize the technique that furthered his various neoclassical styles.

One sports analogy I would make is that John Curry, who I considered the greatest figure skater ever, would not have made the top 10, or even the top 15 if the other skaters stood on their feet, in today's competition. Just about every top 20 male skater can do every triple, save, perhaps the triple axel. However, the preparations into most of the triples and quads involve so many cross-overs and so much telegraphing that would not have been acceptable in Curry's time. The refinement of steps and edges, the extraordinary posture, the glorious runout, and the ability to spin in both directions that were a hallmark of Curry's skating in his competitive years have been practically lost in triple/quad era, which requires more strenuous preparations in longer programs with seven-eight jumping passes in 4-4.5 minutes.

I think in the argument about technique, the concept of technique as appropriate to style has been lost. An actor who performs MacBeth in a traditional production in the same style as he would a Mamet or Guare or Brecht play, especially if the rest of the company performed in a traditional style, would be completely out of place. A singer who sang Tosca in a baroque style or a pianist who added a cadenza to Schoenberg might be booed off the stage. A dancer who does the equivalent in a classical or romantic ballet is often lauded.

Technique is like fire; in the wrong hands, it can burn down the house. In Gable's example, in the hands of Nureyev, it brought ballet to another plane, but Nureyev had the tempering aspects of tradition and style (and most would say, genius.)

#3 volcanohunter

volcanohunter

    Platinum Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,956 posts

Posted 27 December 2006 - 04:46 PM

What really struck me as I was reading Zakharova's interview was her preoccupation with the physical aspects of dance. For her, the body is something that must be conquered for the sake of conquering it. Not once did she state that the purpose of mastering the body is to make it as expressive an instrument as possible.

#4 koshka

koshka

    Bronze Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 256 posts

Posted 27 December 2006 - 06:49 PM

Just for the record, not all gymnastics fans are happy with the trend in the sport toward more tricks and less artistry, and some consider the sport to have peaked in the 1980s.

In addition, gymnastics (especially women's gymnastics), like ballet, is supposed to look effortless and elegant.

Just this week, many fans are mourning the recent death of Elena Mukhina, a Soviet gymnast of the early 1980s whose hallmark was her elegance and style.

#5 Paul Parish

Paul Parish

    Platinum Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,925 posts

Posted 27 December 2006 - 07:24 PM

If I may return to Leonid's argument, he is making the case for British ballet, a style I love, and which first made me realize that dancing was something that could be thought about rather than just enjoyed.

But in fact American ballet, in particular the style Mr Balanchine cultivated, DOES frankly incorporate acrobatics and gymnastics --"acrobacy," in the polemical phrase of Lincoln Kirstein. It's not a genteel style: kicks are high, the hip goes up, the lines are distorted, the energy is socko. Some works are restrained and classical, but many are not.

In Stars and stripes the girls developpe high and grab the foor with the hand -- an old circus trick. one of the few technical steps Suzanne Farrell performed in the solo to Stravinsky's (what was it called? In Memoriam to Aldous Huxley??) -- she's mostly on hte floor, stretching, pouting, tossing her pony tail -- was a walkover into an arabesque.

But of course, this was all occasioned by la Zakharova. I agree, she seems to be young and full of beans, and she also seems to say what she thinks more than is prudent. On the other hand, what do you expect from a kid who can do all that? I wish I'd liked her dancing more when I saw her, for though she was dancing Kitri, in the Bolshoi's production, and that would seem to give license for all manner of vulgarity, still, it dismayed me how little she seemed to relish the idea of Spanish style. She kicked herself in the back of the head without arching her back. It will be interesting to see what Ratmansky does with her. The Bolshoi seems to me to be a company full of energy and life and dancers who are bursting with talent.

#6 Farrell Fan

Farrell Fan

    Platinum Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,930 posts

Posted 27 December 2006 - 08:19 PM

one of the few technical steps Suzanne Farrell performed in the solo to Stravinsky's (what was it called?In Memoriam to Aldous Huxley??) -- she's mostly on hte floor, stretching, pouting, tossing her pony tail -- was a walkover into an arabesque.

The ballet was just called "Variations," but you've correctly identified the music, Paul, "Variations in Memory of Aldous Huxley." Suzanne revived this piece for her company two or three years ago and added the huge shadow of another dancer, a pony-tailed female who looked very much like Suzanne but wasn't. It made things even more interesting.

#7 carbro

carbro

    Late Board Registrar

  • Rest in Peace
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 6,361 posts

Posted 27 December 2006 - 09:45 PM

In Stars and stripes the girls developpe high and grab the foor with hte hand -- an old circus trick.

I see that moment -- as well as the one in Stars' Second Campaign when the lead female, heel in hand, releves along a diagonal-- as a gentle mocking of American vulgarity. If it strikes one as crass, well, that's the point.

I, too, love the English style and bemoan its decline. I also love Balanchine style. The world was a much richer place when we had both -- and more. The entire ballet world seems more and more to be drifting into its equivalent of Esperanto.

#8 Helene

Helene

    Administrator

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 11,214 posts

Posted 27 December 2006 - 09:50 PM

If I may return to Leonid's argument, he is making the case for British ballet, a style I love, and which first made me realize that dancing was something that could be thought about rather than just enjoyed.

But in fact American ballet, in particular the style Mr Balanchine cultivated, DOES frankly incorporate acrobatics and gymnastics --"acrobacy," in the polemical phrase of Lincoln Kirstein. It's not a genteel style: kicks are high, the hip goes up, the lines are distorted, the energy is socko. Some works are restrained and classical, but many are not.

I'm not so sure. MacMillan's ballet is British ballet. What it is not is in the classical style.

With rare exception, Balanchine's dancers didn't dance the traditional classical works, which require proportion and restraint. This didn't seem to interest him in a context outside of the Imperial Theater in the structured make-believe world of the Czar and his riches and in the primacy of the Church -- and even then, as a teenager, he was experimenting outside the Petipa mold -- and after the ugliness and deprivation of two World Wars, the Depression, Modernism, and the different energy of his New World. Had Petipa been alive and productive when Balanchine was a student and young dancer in the theater, it might have been a different story.

Balanchine's ballets might be an extension of the classical ballets, but they are not the same thing with the exact same demands. The question is whether contemporary dancers who take extreme extensions and positions should be dancing the classical ballets without regard to stylistic integrity or fidelity to the classical works when they are suited best to neoclassical or contemporary works. To give an example, should they be dancing Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake, or Swan Lake in the style of Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake, which is another kettle of fish? In singing, it is usually considered a bad thing when someone tries to sing Handel as if it were the Ring Cycle (apart, perhaps, from the Wood Bird).

#9 volcanohunter

volcanohunter

    Platinum Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,956 posts

Posted 27 December 2006 - 10:44 PM

If I understand correctly, leonid's basic argument was "Great, but not in 19th century classical ballet!" Presumably he wouldn't object to Zakharova turning her pelvis inside out while performing William Forsythe. But I don't think the decline of the Russian style can be blamed on the Guillem effect. The vulgarization of Russian school traces its origin to the beginnings of the Soviet period with its Spring Waters-style throws and one-armed lifts. And it's not just the English style that's in decline today. Lis Jeppesen has bemoaned the deterioration of the Bournonville style at the Royal Danish Ballet, which she blames on the decreased presence of Bournonville ballets in the company's repertoire and the increased presence of foreign-trained dancers.

The entire ballet world seems more and more to be drifting into its equivalent of Esperanto.

How true. And it's possible that once sensitivity to stylistic variations is lost, ballet descends more rapidly into an acrobatic competition because the physicality is all that's left.

:yucky: Speaking as a former modern dancer, I objected to Zakharova's assertion that classical dancers can dance modern works (but not vice versa). In my experience, classical dancers often can't dance modern works very well at all. (Here I presume she's referring to modern dance and not contemporary ballet.) Specifically, ballet dancers from the former Soviet Union are particularly bad at rolling. But that's just an aside.

#10 Paul Parish

Paul Parish

    Platinum Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,925 posts

Posted 27 December 2006 - 11:58 PM

I take your point.

I'd bet what Zakharova understands by 'modern" is deeply ignorant of what you're talking about, volcanohunter.

But you piqued my interest by mentioning the style of Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake, since I was terribly dismayed by the loss of otherworldliness when Adam Cooper, who was a superb classical dancer, had to be replaced. To my mind, it only works when the swan is beautiful in THAT WAY, like Grace Kelly, nobly proportioned, inscrutable, mysteriously reserved at the core -- when MB's Swan Lake came through here this year, the swan was alas unable to make the white swan happen -- he could do things, and he had a teddy bear quality that was at times powerfully endearing, but he was gross.

Which is an odd twist on the usual problem -- Odette must be noble. Great Odettes are rarer than exciting Odiles. And in the end, he didn't signify (though Adam Cooper most intensely HAD).

#11 winky

winky

    Member

  • Member
  • PipPip
  • 19 posts

Posted 28 December 2006 - 01:32 AM

I find it almost sad that Zakharova is preoccupied with the physical aspects of ballet. I have seen many dancers able to do great technical feats, but the ones who really stand out for me are the ones who master the art of ballet.

It is an intangible gift that certain dancers have and it has little to do with kicking the back of their head with their foot. The ability to make me feel or even cry as they dance. I think that a high level of technical prowess is absolutely necessary for a ballet dancer, however, being able to interpret dance creatively and project emotion is what really makes certain dancers stand out.

#12 leonid17

leonid17

    Platinum Circle

  • Foreign Correspondent
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,422 posts

Posted 28 December 2006 - 04:09 AM

If I may return to Leonid's argument, he is making the case for British ballet, a style I love, and which first made me realize that dancing was something that could be thought about rather than just enjoyed.


Paul I was not consciously making the case for British ballet, but I would make a case for the aesthetic/artistic productions of 19th century classical ballet, wherein the best traditions of the St.Petersburg Imperial Ballet, the Kirov and Bolshoi Ballet (certain productions), American Ballet Theatre (certain productions), Royal Ballet (certain productions), Festival Ballet (certain productions) are kept as a benchmark. There may be other companies I should have mentioned, but these are the productions I am most familiar with and at various times, have paid homage to the choreography and style that reflected original values which I believe are worth preserving.

Too much striving for physical attainment can result in the loss of artistic sensitivity towards the choreography. Making a performance your own is of course essential for all dancers, but not when it impacts on a role by distorting the set choreographic delineation of the character.

There are a number of productions of 19th century classical ballets in the last 100 years that have produced distortions to both the choreographic text and the underlying symbology; robbing audiences of the experience they are entitled to especially when the original choreographer’s names are part of the publicity.

Why go for a kind of authentic production and performing style in 19th century classic ballets? Because in the case of Petipa, his ballets are a genre of their own and succeed best, when produced sympathetically to his production style and performed in a manner that is valid.

It would be considered perverse to perform Bournonville of Balanchine with an inappropriate display of invalid technical pyrotechnics, yet it is okay to mess with Petipa.

Why is the case? Is it because the performing standards for the choreographic text of Petipa's ballets are somewhat wooly and not clearly identifiable, I think not.

There should be a society for the preservation of aesthetic standards in 19th century ballet production. Why, because it is needed. Who is ready to join?

Ps
For Volcano Hunter.
I accept your point about Soviet vulgarity, but this was not taken up by all dancers.
In the early 1990's I arranged for a group of Bolshoi dancers and teachers to attend a dress rehearsal of the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden. It was the teachers who were most
intense about seeing Guillem as one felt they saw her as role model of attainment for the dancers to see.

#13 delz

delz

    Member

  • Member
  • PipPip
  • 12 posts

Posted 28 December 2006 - 05:10 AM

Dear Leonid,
Would you please clarify just for better understanding what aesthetic standards do you mean? You talk about music, choreography, dancer’s abilities and movements, orchestra style, light, costumes, don’t you?
To have authentic copies of 19th century ballet production on stage?

#14 volcanohunter

volcanohunter

    Platinum Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,956 posts

Posted 28 December 2006 - 01:37 PM

But you piqued my interest by mentioning the style of Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake, since I was terribly dismayed by the loss of otherworldliness when Adam Cooper, who was a superb classical dancer, had to be replaced. To my mind, it only works when the swan is beautiful in THAT WAY, like Grace Kelly, nobly proportioned, inscrutable, mysteriously reserved at the core -- when MB's Swan Lake came through here this year, the swan was alas unable to make the white swan happen -- he could do things, and he had a teddy bear quality that was at times powerfully endearing, but he was gross.

I remember at least one critic pointing out that although Jerome Robbins had access to the finest Broadway dancers, he cast two ballet dancers as Maria and Tony in Jerome Robbins' Broadway. (And Bernstein used opera singers for his recording of West Side Story, which makes me wonder whether the piece could ever be staged to everyone's satisfaction.) It's obvious enough that there is something ineffable about ballet dancers, even in our mongrelized aesthetic age.

For my part, I wish ballet dancers wouldn't venture too eagerly into other styles of dance. They seldom have the necessary weighted quality to do modern works properly. Their centres of gravity are simply too high. Zizi Jeanmaire was a sensational jazz dancer, but many ballet stars attempting jazz come across as suffering from "goofy white guy" syndrome. More problematic is the execution of national dances. Even some great ballet companies look pretty silly doing the character dances in Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and Coppélia, and that's a serious problem.

But back to the questions leonid raised. Certain body types have always been considered aesthetically superior. Long limbs have always been considered preferable to short ones. For at least the last 100 years slim dancers have been preferred to hefty ones. High insteps have always been preferred to flat feet. Dancers have always aimed to raise technical standards also. They've been aiming for greater turnout, higher extensions, faster pirouettes and bigger jumps all along. So why is it that when a Zakharova, with her long, thin limbs, bulging insteps, emphatic turnout, sky-high extensions and speedy fouettes appears on the scene, many ballet viewers, myself included, recoil in horror? I wonder, did people find Ekaterina Maximova's high extensions offensive? Were Alicia Alonso's quintuple pirouettes considered objectionable? What about Maya Plisetskaya's giant leaps? Or did the virtuosos of the past put their skills at the service of ballets in a way that the Zakharovas of today can't seem to grasp?

#15 SanderO

SanderO

    Silver Circle

  • Inactive Member
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 621 posts

Posted 28 December 2006 - 02:39 PM

Does Zakharova have especially long arms? That is my impression from watching a few of her videos.


0 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users


Help support Ballet Alert! and Ballet Talk for Dancers year round by using this search box for your amazon.com purchases (adblockers may block display):