Jump to content


This site uses cookies. By using this site, you agree to accept cookies, unless you've opted out. (US government web page with instructions to opt out: http://www.usa.gov/optout-instructions.shtml)

Aesthetic versus GymnasticSvetlana Zakharova Interview


  • Please log in to reply
40 replies to this topic

#16 Hans

Hans

    Sapphire Circle

  • Moderators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 2,104 posts

Posted 28 December 2006 - 04:52 PM

Volcanohunter, regarding your take on Zakharova's modern dance comment, I could not agree with you more! Ballet dancers so often screw up modern works (just as they screw up the classics :rolleyes: ) yet think they're doing it "better" because their legs are higher.

It's great that Zakharova wants to master her body, but while she is working on it, could she please give us some expression in the meantime? Even Sylvie Guillem has an intensely focused energy about her and a very strong command of the stage.

#17 Paul Parish

Paul Parish

    Platinum Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,925 posts

Posted 28 December 2006 - 05:13 PM

volcanohunter, I agree completely about the importance of weight for certain kinds of dance -- even within ballet, there are many places where it's crucial to make effects of tremendous weight. My first experience of great ballet was at the Royal Ballet, where von Rothbart was danced (by Derek Rencher) as a creature of immense weight, who sucked the lightness out of other people, and when Odette came back under his spell, her glassy bourrees as she left the stage had an energy that went down, down, down.

Simliarly in the Capulet Ball, Juliet's father and Paris especially danced with tremendous weight, to tremendous effect -- they represented all the social forces aligned against the lovers, and they were no pushovers. I remeber when I first saw ABT do Macmillan's Romeo and Juliet, the triviality of this scene bothered me enormously.

Old-time Bolshoi dancers could always dance with weight when it was called for, and both Lavrovsky and Grigorovich required it -- not all the time, but frequently.

Graham requires it, of course, and Limon -- but so does "Dark Elegies."
"Esplanade" would be no fun at all if those catches weren't WORK.

But in the case of Bourne's Swan Lake, I think the swan was made on Cooper's power to control his line. He had gravitas. He did not dance light, but he was all about smooth suddenness and stunning line.

#18 bart

bart

    Diamonds Circle

  • Board Moderator
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 7,320 posts

Posted 28 December 2006 - 07:02 PM

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?

This is a wonderful set of questions. I was thinking somewhere along these lines, but could not find the words. I know that no one is arguing literally for an ossification of 19th-century classical performance style in defiance of changes in body type, training, etc.

What, then, SHOULD be done to incorporate, or adjust to, or make some sort of accomodation with the expansion of technical ability among young dancers today? If we do not find a way to blend these developments (or some of them) into our existing classics, what should be done with them? How should they be expressed? What should be allowed?; what forbidden? And who should decide?

(I should add that I, too, am disoriented and discomforted by videos of Zakharova. I wonder if those who have seen her frequently on the stage have the same response.)

#19 beck_hen

beck_hen

    Senior Member

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPip
  • 128 posts

Posted 28 December 2006 - 08:36 PM

I am so pleased to read the thoughtful and articulate comments from Leonid, Helene, volcanohunter, et al, just as I would expect from them. Unfortunately for my own ability to contribute constructively, La Zakharova is involved... She is my pet peeve; for me watching her is like hearing fingernails on a blackboard.

In my view, Zakharova is no Guillem, Maximova, or Plisetskaya, because she is boring. Her stage persona is haughty and cold—watching her is like touching dry ice—it looks frozen but leaves a burn. Mixing metaphors further: unlike the ballerinas mentioned, she doesn't modulate any of her effects, in their timing or intensity. She always dances like a stereo turned full blast, with everything the biggest it can be (and not on the music), which is attention-getting but deafening. In the Bolshoi visit to New York I much preferred spending the evening with Alexandrova. And I have read that Alexandrova dances a more difficult version of Pharoah's Daughter, while Zakharova dances a simplified one, allegro not being her forte.

I love to read dancer interviews. However, at the end of the day it doesn't matter what they say as much as it matters how they dance. She dances like she doesn't understand anything written here. In the end, I am convinced that the classical tradition is not endangered by technical facility (although it is more difficult to pass down classical style with distorted examples of classicism hogging the spotlight). Great dancers simply must possess taste and soul along with a great or merely acceptable body.

#20 SanderO

SanderO

    Silver Circle

  • Inactive Member
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 621 posts

Posted 29 December 2006 - 03:41 AM

This may be OT... but how do you feel a dancer's age, life experience, emotional maturity effects their "art'?

Since life experience has a way of making us more mature, sensitive etc one does see artist evolve (often) as they age.

Of course, due to technical and biological issues, dancers "slow down" and have to retire fairly young... probably when they are at the pinnacle of their artistic maturity (assuming the underlying assumption is true - that age has a positive effect on the work of an artist).

I find that the same "issue" pops up when I see musical child prodigies who achieve amazing technical prowess while they are obviously still emotionally very immature (even if mature for their chronological age).

Technique and athleticism are more accessible to the younger performers, but "wisdom" and artistic sensibility may not be. Toss into the mix that disciplines which require so much dedication, it may remove people from "maturing" life experience as they perfect their technique with countless hours of practice.

So what may (a guess here) be taking place (too often?) is that the push for technique early on creates dancers that are simply too young to be artistically mature and sensitive... a sort of trap by their own success.

#21 aurora

aurora

    Silver Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 677 posts

Posted 29 December 2006 - 07:33 AM

I've retained some of SanderO's comment in the quote below, but cut it down so as not to make my response overly long...

This may be OT... but how do you feel a dancer's age, life experience, emotional maturity effects their "art'?

Since life experience has a way of making us more mature, sensitive etc one does see artist evolve (often) as they age.

Technique and athleticism are more accessible to the younger performers, but "wisdom" and artistic sensibility may not be. Toss into the mix that disciplines which require so much dedication, it may remove people from "maturing" life experience as they perfect their technique with countless hours of practice.


I think you are correct to an extent, but that it's largely a matter of emphasis. Ballet training is often so geared to technique without a corresponding emphasis on what one might call acting skills, that young dancers don't even think about needing to work on this aspect until they are already a professional dancer.

I think if a dancer focuses on the artistry as well as the technique, they are often able to achieve a high level of artistry as well as technical ability at a young age, depending of course on personality and a deep interest in doing so. The problem is that many of them don't realize they really need to work on this until they are older.

As an example of one dancer who is unusual in his artistic maturity at a young age, I'd cite David Hallberg, who although quite young, has shown great sensativity in his parts so far, and an interest in expanding himself in parts that one might not assume would be within his range (Death in The Green Table, for example). He also seems especially good at coaxing emotional responses from dancers (Paloma) not always known for their emotive powers.

#22 Helene

Helene

    Administrator

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 11,332 posts

Posted 29 December 2006 - 08:50 AM

This may be OT... but how do you feel a dancer's age, life experience, emotional maturity effects their "art'?

In "Dancing for Mr. B: Six Balanchine Ballerinas," Darci Kistler spoke about doing her first Odettes, coached by Balanchine. She expressed surprise when Balanchine said to her "Don't look at your partner" and "You're not in love with your partner." She then explained (paraphrase) that he knew she didn't have the life experience to express this properly onstage, and that by not asking her to attempt more than she could do successfully, "He was giving me myself." Of course, he was there to guide her to what he wanted by coaching her personally, and he would not have accepted a gymnastic approach to the role.

Since life experience has a way of making us more mature, sensitive etc one does see artist evolve (often) as they age.

Except when it makes us bitter, depressed, burdened, and blocked :dry:

#23 leonid17

leonid17

    Platinum Circle

  • Foreign Correspondent
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,444 posts

Posted 29 December 2006 - 08:55 AM

" 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. "


And a very good question to ask.

#24 leonid17

leonid17

    Platinum Circle

  • Foreign Correspondent
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,444 posts

Posted 29 December 2006 - 10:37 AM

What, then, SHOULD be done to incorporate, or adjust to, or make some sort of accomodation with the expansion of technical ability among young dancers today? If we do not find a way to blend these developments (or some of them) into our existing classics, what should be done with them? How should they be expressed? What should be allowed?; what forbidden? And who should decide?


It depends what you mean by expansion of technical ability?

When you read of the variations from the Romantic ballet era you wonder how they were achieved. Show me a dancer with an expanded technical ability who can dance the Bournonville repertory and who in their right mind would want to allow that choreography to be changed for such a dancer?.

Going by repute, I doubt that 'terre a terre' technique amongst the Italian virtuosi and dancer like Yekaterina Vazem and other dancers of the period 1860 to perhaps 1910 or so has improved.

I have heard stories of a famous ballerina 90 years ago showing her company that fouettes was simply "trick of technique" and promptly performed 64 to prove this to discourage it as being compared an artistic achievement.

The other questions you ask are very important and I am glad you asked them because they need in my opinion, to be discussed.

The danger I see, is that 19th classical ballet will only be performed at some time in the future in a physically corrupted style as we slide progressively away from ballet being an art and instead becoming an entertainment.

Of course there are many changes in emphasis of execution of certain steps in ballets from the originating era which I have witnessed, but when performed by dancers who are artists and not physical exhibitionists, the ethos of the choreography and style is retained and the storytelling is not unnecessarily punctuated.

In the time of Petipa's and the period of his continuing influence, dancers of various artistic and technical abilities performed his works, but some only once or a very few times.

What is forgotten is that Petipa's ballets speak to us not just through mimetic facial expressions, gestures and ballet steps but also the weight value given to each aspect that meld as one with music to become an fully artistic expression and not merely a physical one which was Petipa(and Ivanov's) great skill.

I have been almost mesmerised by Ulla Lopatkina in Act 1 Swan Lake and had to applaud her attainment of control and a sculptural beauty. However it was Miss Lopatkina I was watching and not Odette so the point was missed, why, because I was constantly relating to the beauty and strength her personal physical achievement rather than the story.

I would say that in many cases Bart we have adapted enough already and to go further would as I say corrupt the genre. The music only allows you only to do so much. I don't want to see its bars stretched or speeded up to a level that is distorting to accommodate dancers so called expanded technique.

The choreographic ethos of a ballet and its very clear aesthetics is more important than any particular dancer. The dancer who doesn't acknowledge this is not an artist of the dance, but merely someone who can be seen performing in a ballet performance.

There is no objective measure of what is right, but an effort and propaganda from such discussion as this from such learned contributors may assist in forming a consensus of opinion, that will lead dancers (and teachers, Artistic Directors) to understand their responsibility, rather than seeing opportunities to shock and startle.

We have seen dancers who can go to the acceptable limits and these are the dancers to applaud and talk about in terms of their verity to the style and so both the dancer and their merits live on as an exemplar.

An American lady Agnes Sligh Turnbull wrote,” The mind once suddenly aware of a verity for the first time immediately invents it again”. I live in hope that those producing the repertoire under discussion and the dancers performing it, can recognise the exemplar when they see them and that dancers new to a role, divine a way to become such as one, themselves.

#25 SanderO

SanderO

    Silver Circle

  • Inactive Member
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 621 posts

Posted 29 December 2006 - 11:53 AM

Leonid said:

I have been almost mesmerized by Ulla Lopatkina in Act 1 Swan Lake and had to applaud her attainment of control and a sculptural beauty. However it was Miss Lopatkina I was watching and not Odette so the point was missed, why, because I was constantly relating to the beauty and strength her personal physical achievement rather than the story.

I plead guilty to this in so much of ballet and opera. I am virtually unable to "suspend" disbelief and not focus on the person and their "talent".

I am curious as to how many people really do see Odile or Odette and not the ballerina who is attempting to represent these "character" through the abstraction of dance and movement and so forth?

I am also wandering is this really is necessary? Why must we believe that Rigoletto is a hunchback? Sure it matters in the storyline... but can't we embrace the music without the character?

For sure we do escape a bit in these roles... we ARE drawn in... But how m do we need to be so much that we no longer see the personality of the artist?

#26 laureyj

laureyj

    New Member

  • New Member
  • Pip
  • 5 posts

Posted 29 December 2006 - 12:44 PM

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.

#27 leonid17

leonid17

    Platinum Circle

  • Foreign Correspondent
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,444 posts

Posted 29 December 2006 - 03:27 PM

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.

#28 Hans

Hans

    Sapphire Circle

  • Moderators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 2,104 posts

Posted 29 December 2006 - 05:21 PM

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.

#29 bart

bart

    Diamonds Circle

  • Board Moderator
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 7,320 posts

Posted 30 December 2006 - 05:36 AM

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?

#30 leonid17

leonid17

    Platinum Circle

  • Foreign Correspondent
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,444 posts

Posted 30 December 2006 - 01:37 PM

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.


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):