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leonid17

Aesthetic versus Gymnastic

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What struck me from the Russian interview was a general tone indicative of the almost monastic atmosphere of the theatre and general life in which ballerinas like Zakharova emerge, how sheltered she appears to be for a woman of 27. She talks of how she likes to go shopping with her mother, how her mother and brother protect her fiercely and prevent her from driving, insisting that she has a chauffeur. She tries to grab the occasional chance to drive, if the driver's having a day off, but says it is useless because of the family's close watch on her. How many 27 year olds do what their mother and brother tell them? On the health question she says that the theatre's regime of "don't eat/drink/walk about unnecessarily" is aimed at the dancer keeping in the best shape physically and mentally for daily work in the theatre - the same as an office worker turning up for work with a clear head. (We would say don't eat too much, they say don't eat more than is necessary - a psychological difference? We say, it's down to your personal judgment, they say, there is a line set down.) I also remember Lopatkina saying in a London interview that when the Kirov was on tour she did not go sightseeing because walking on hard pavements was bad for the feet.

I wonder if this quite prescriptive focus over there on nannying a kind of hot-house physical condition and the institutional-historical narrowness of intellectual exposure ingrained from Soviet times and which was culturally set from earliest Soviet philosophy to dismiss any sacrosanct Tsarist artistic style may leave dancers of superior natural qualities today too easily tempted to fall back on perfecting their physical flourishes rahter than searching for something to do with them. Great dancers always have very interesting minds, which they release through their bodies' eloquence (never mind Fonteyn couldn't talk, she had an absorbent imagination, shaped by the even more fascinating Ashton). Unlike Lopatkina who evidently has a rich inner life and Guillem who is a great reader and enthusiastic eclectic, in interviews Zakharova doesn't seem to divvy up much information about her own aesthetic resources. Again I remember being struck by an interview in the past when she explained about her habitually high leg that it "just went up there". That just seemed so dumb. Having said that, she was surprisingly gorgeous and charming in Pharaoh's Daughter in London, which is of course Pierre Lacotte's pastiche of Petipa rather than "real", and as he made her his star on the revival, I suppose its light-hearted, decorative excess could be considered a showcase for her essential qualities. I thought it suited her much better than the profounder roles. She's maybe what in opera would be a lyrical soprano who's been pushed into dramatic roles, and has overegged her facility for coloratura to hide her discomfort to the point where she no longer feels discomfort (and has hundreds of thousands of fans to quash any lingering self-doubt).

It seems to me that the matter of preserving classical style may have much to do with revaluing the tentative steps to "authenticity" taken by the Kirov in its Sleeping Beauty and Bayadere reconstructions, and deciding to hallow and isolate the stylistic colours of the 19th century- which would then free the 20th and 21st centuries to create new works in their own, more modern technical idioms. It would be similar to the "authentic' movement in classical music which has done so much to clarify performances of 19th-century music, let alone that of earlier eras. However, this must depend on a consensus of older teachers in major institutions who've been raised in a very different tradition, the one that allows for so many changes to suit and showcase their proteges that the original vanishes very quickly. This new seriousness may never happen, and I am almost resigned to it. Intellectual base in dance is not highly valued and the lack of it will be the art's death. I am certiain from watching their ballets that Balanchine and Ashton both had it, but were not surrounded by people who understood the consequences for the long-term future.

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It seems to me that the matter of preserving classical style may have much to do with revaluing the tentative steps to "authenticity" taken by the Kirov in its Sleeping Beauty and Bayadere reconstructions, and deciding to hallow and isolate the stylistic colours of the 19th century- which would then free the 20th and 21st centuries to create new works in their own, more modern technical idioms. It would be similar to the "authentic' movement in classical music which has done so much to clarify performances of 19th-century music, let alone that of earlier eras. However, this must depend on a consensus of older teachers in major institutions who've been raised in a very different tradition, the one that allows for so many changes to suit and showcase their proteges that the original vanishes very quickly. This new seriousness may never happen, and I am almost resigned to it. Intellectual base in dance is not highly valued and the lack of it will be the art's death. I am certiain from watching their ballets that Balanchine and Ashton both had it, but were not surrounded by people who understood the consequences for the long-term future.

They are interesting observations you have made and point out directions that may lead to a better understanding by professionals of the genre in which they work, but as you illustrate in the context of teaching there, are problems.

It is not merely the lack of an intellectual base in dance that is a problem; it is the discouragement of such an understanding of the form historically within companies, even in fairly simple terms. Why, because they are bound to outmoded establishment loyalties of supposed traditions, in which they were discouraged in the past and are unable now, to observe in an objective mode and to examine, analyse and hopefully move backward and forward at the same time as you suggest to survive effectively as an artistic force.

There are several companies who are at a significant crossroad of understanding as to their best future. Yet these companies are prepared to take any sort of step, rather than none. Why, because there are outside pressures not to stand still and to attract new audiences in what ever way can be marketed, to gain publicity.

I was there in the sixties when concerts of early music on original instruments were criticised for all the wrong reasons ignoring the scholarship involved with mostly complaints about tuning. When David Munrow of the Early Music Consort of London had a commercial success providing the music for a two historical TV series the climate began to change.

When the excellent reconstructions of The Sleeping Beauty and La Bayadere by the Kirov Ballet were staged, they were welcomed as cuckoos in the nest by the old guard who wanted to hang on to the Soviet versions often danced in a manner inappropriate to the ballets style and a long tradition. Millicent Hodson's more than interestingly achieved, reconstruction of Nijinsky's Rite of Spring was somewhat disregarded when a new version was staged at the Kirov some months ago.

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In Zakharova's defense, some people really do have legs that "just go up there." In my opinion, this is a talent that must be trained, but it rarely is. While teachers always specify that the legs must be at 25, 45, or 90 degrees, everything above that is "as high as you can," whereas people with Zakharova's talent ought to be taught to give shading to their high extensions, specifying that the leg be at 120, 135, or even 160 degrees.

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Thanks, Hans, for that explanation. Now I understand better the ragged irregularity you often see on stage when these movements are performed by several dancers simultaneously -- even in high level performances of the most classical ballets. Perhaps workshops with the Rockettes might help?

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In Zakharova's defense, some people really do have legs that "just go up there." In my opinion, this is a talent that must be trained, but it rarely is. While teachers always specify that the legs must be at 25, 45, or 90 degrees, everything above that is "as high as you can," whereas people with Zakharova's talent ought to be taught to give shading to their high extensions, specifying that the leg be at 120, 135, or even 160 degrees.

I am sure in the past, in Russia at least, students that exhibited so called hyper extension were considered unsuitable for academic classical ballet and were directed as other unsuitable students undoubtedly were who also did not make the required technical and aesthetic grade, to circus studies and gymnastics.

Now we are seeing the reverse and the perverse. Gymnastic students are being admitted into academic classical ballet schools.

Save the art stop it now. No more 5 to six moments when 10 past six will do.

It is a vulgar exhibition that is nothing to do with art but only to do with a physical peculiarity which goes beyond the accepted norm for academic classical ballet.

Academic classical ballet teachers should stop accepting such students and Artistic Directors need a lesson in balletic aestheticism and stop encouraging personal physical prowess as a substitute for an integrated technique in which artistic expression is the aim.

If anyone wants to make a case for a new norm. I am okay. But not in 19th century classical ballet.

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I have a rather simple expedient for curbing excess when I coach. I ask the dancer, "Can you do a developpé à la seconde and stick your kneecap in your ear, and a six o'clock arabesque? You can? Good for you; now don't do them. This is Flower Festival in Genzano."

I would like to differentiate between hyperextension and extremely high sticking of the leg up in the air. Hyperextension is an anatomical term for joints which reach full travel beyond straight. They "lock in back of themselves". Doing high developpés is not hyperextension, but curiously, dancers with hyperextended knees are often possessed of the ability to do very high developpés. Hyperextension itself is mostly in the province of anatomists and dance teachers. It needs to be corrected or compensated for.

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Bart,

There's more to it than that. Balanchine liked energy, he liked it more than line, and a corps de ballet whose legs were all high but not the same height was fine with him. "Our lines suck," a great NYCB dancer once told me. " Mr B wanted to see you give it all, not hold back." (He was delighted when dancers fell. Once at the barre Darci kistler did a grand battement with such force she knocked herself off her standing leg. Famous story: he loved it and told everybody they should be dancing like that.)

It's NOT appropriate for "Fille mal Gardee" or "Sleeping Beauty"; but it's totally appropriate for "4 Temperaments" or "Rubies" or "Stars and Stripes" or "Serenade."

Balanchine did insist on musicality. If it was not musical, there was no place for it. But gymnastic, obvious strength, energy, strong attack were part of his aesthetic and NOT beyond the pale.

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Hyperextension itself is mostly in the province of anatomists and dance teachers.

And of course rheumatologists.

There are academic rheumatological studies regarding hyperextension on various websites.

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Oh, yes indeed, leonid! Teachers see a great deal of trouble coming in uncompensated hyperextension, with the weight of the body sinking into the heels and jamming the kneejoint back into a fully-locked position. It is one of our tasks to teach students how to turn this anatomical characteristic into as much advantage as possible. Hyperextended students can use this skeletal formation to give them extra "control zone" in balances, all the while keeping good ballet practices in mind. Teachers attempt to instill good taste in students, and a sense of period appropriateness and style. The high extension is perfectly good for much of Balanchine, and a corpsful of Shades all with 120° developpés in ecarté is an outstanding sight!

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I'm not sure I'd rule out this particular body type from ballet, period, as they generally have rather lovely lines (also, if we considered them unsuitable for ballet, we would never have had Lynn Seymour, Alessandra Ferri, or perhaps even Marie Taglioni). They must simply be taught taste and appropriateness.

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Exactly, Hans. Dancers need to know when to use it and when to leave it alone. It can be used to stunningly effective purpose, and times when it's "what the hell is that?" It's kind of like George Carlin's "Seven Words You Can Use Some of the Time, but not All of the Time."

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I totally agree with Leonid's and others' like assessment of Sveta Zakharova. Say what you will about her, she is a maverick and an original. Right now at the Bolshoi she has major competition with

the advent of ballerinas such as Natalya Osipova, the two Katyas - Ekaterina Shipulina and Ekaterina Krysanova, and the two Mashas - Maria Allash and Maria Alexandrova. IMO artistically and technically,

she doesn't compare with these ladies. She can no longer rely solely on her limb "pyrotechnics."

Also, Zakharova seems to have left an indelible mark on the most recent harvests of the Vaganova Ballet Academy. At the Maryinsky, the hyper-extension/zero artistic expression "cult" is now being promoted and perpetuated. An example of this fact is the promotion of individuals such as Alina Somova - who is an entirely different story altogether.

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I totally agree with Leonid's and others' like assessment of Sveta Zakharova. Say what you will about her, she is a maverick and an original. Right now at the Bolshoi she has major competition with

the advent of ballerinas such as Natalya Osipova, the two Katyas - Ekaterina Shipulina and Ekaterina Krysanova, and the two Mashas - Maria Allash and Maria Alexandrova. IMO artistically and technically,

she doesn't compare with these ladies. She can no longer rely solely on her limb "pyrotechnics."

Also, Zakharova seems to have left an indelible mark on the most recent harvests of the Vaganova Ballet Academy. At the Maryinsky, the hyper-extension/zero artistic expression "cult" is now being promoted and perpetuated. An example of this fact is the promotion of individuals such as Alina Somova - who is an entirely different story altogether.

Cygnet, I find your points very interesting. Most of my recent experience with both these companies is video rather than live but I do follow the drift of your discussion. I'm curious as to what others with more first hand experience than mine say.

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From what I've seen of the companies in London, I think Cygnet's summary is quite accurate!

There are, of course, other non-leg-as-earring dancers at the Mariinsky... they just don't seem to be used as much lately, as has been noted elsewhere.

A few years ago, there was another interview of Zakharova whent he company was in London. Her comments regarding her extensions were basically 'I do it because I can' and 'The audience is impressed by it, so what else do you want'. Of course I'm paraphrasing, but the article alone turned me away from her....

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I found the comparison between the Kirov-trained Svetlana Zakharova and the other Bolshoi ballerinas most interesting last summer in London. I had never seen Ms. Zakharova perform live before, and I was of course expecting it with great excitement, especially in Swan Lake ; but in the end I found myself drawn to the other Odette/Odile I saw, the wonderful Maria Alexandrova, who was really giving a personal interpretation of the role. She brought lovely, telling details to the part. Ms. Zakharova seems to go for the easiest take on a role, the most "international" if I may say so, but she is just not a great actress - it showed again in Cinderella, IMO. I still have no idea how she really sees these parts, although she looked beautiful in both.

Ms. Zakharova has been celebrated for her technique, but although it is quite extraordinary, she isn't perfect in every area. Her jumps are poor compared to many Bolshoi dancers', for instance. Every dancer has his or her weaknesses and often compensates for it by bringing something special to whatever he/she dances - artistry. I suppose it's hard to even think you need to "compensate" for something by going further when you're one of the most celebrated dancers in the world, and so young. It pleases the audience, as she says. I hope the "competition" Cygnet was talking about will ultimately push her further as an artist, but from her interviews, it doesn't seem on good track. And for now, I'd see Natalia Osipova or Maria Alexandrova any time over her...

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I'm not sure I'd rule out this particular body type from ballet, period, as they generally have rather lovely lines (also, if we considered them unsuitable for ballet, we would never have had Lynn Seymour, Alessandra Ferri, or perhaps even Marie Taglioni). They must simply be taught taste and appropriateness.

"Taste and appropriateness" -- exactly. I think also of an older word, "seemly."

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