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Alina Somova


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#196 George Ou

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Posted 30 May 2012 - 02:35 AM


I think we have to be cautious photo comparisons. Just about every dancer can be photographed in what looks like a bad position, it's hard to judge momentum and weight in most stills, and a supporting partner's position in supported adagio has impact on the alignment of the supported partner.

I agree completely abut being cautious. In this case, however, I think the still photographs are supported by a number of the video clips that have been posted on Ballet Alert over the years. Not to mention the reviews posted here from live performance. That out-of-alignment quality has been evident in so many of those, and not just in the case of Ms. Somova.

On the other hand, I'm a complete amateur in these matters. It would be great to hear from other members about what they think about Mr. Ou's photos, and what they do or do not show us.

For me, this series of photos raises a larger question than Ms. Somova's technique. It has to do with how much we can and cannot learn from still photography, and how much we can extrapolate from that..


Well in my post above, I included links to the source video clips of Somova along with other photos and they can be seen in their entirety and in context.

Moreover, I've found multiple freeze frames of a video clip to be extremely useful in not only evaluating dancers, but also studying and teaching ballet technique. For example, here's a "text book" example of how to do an inside turn to fish which I've found immensely useful as a learning guideline. Here's Baryshnikov showing how to do a proper reveltad and how to launch the step. Proper (Vaganova in this case but applies to all elite companies) tendu a la seconde with legs fully to the side and heels facing downward, not heel forward with legs cheating front. Proper turns in seconde with legs fully to the side from the stunning performance "Lost in Motion".

The photos show every frame of the video which only shows the technique very well, but it's also very useful as an analytic tool for determining accurate flight time and height that the dancer jumped. From this analysis, I've found that Ivan Vasiliev spends 0.9 seconds in the air for his monster double cabriole which is even respectable hang time in the NBA. David Hallberg and Roberto Bolle are both in the 0.66 second range for double tours which is very respectable considering the fact that they're doing proper ballet positions.

#197 Natalia

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Posted 30 May 2012 - 04:24 AM

George, I commend you for your research. As they say, "The proof is in the pudding!"

#198 George Ou

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Posted 30 May 2012 - 01:49 PM

George, I commend you for your research. As they say, "The proof is in the pudding!"


Thanks Posted Image

You've said: "[font=helvetica, arial, sans-serif][size=4]Yes, it is very interesting to see clear-cut examples of alignment side-by-side. "The proof is in the pudding," as they say. However, it's perhaps even more important to critique the "essence" of the artist, i.e., does he/she bring you JOY, is he/she MUSICAL, does he/she convey the proper aristocratic airs in the big Petipa ballets? In all honesty, the technical imperfections of Ms Somova have irked me the least. It's the "big picture" that I've found hard to stomach. She could align herself perfectly but the lack of musicality, big grin, sticking-out of chin, and overall "hee-haw quality" would still be a problem, sorry to say. "[/size][/font]

Honestly, your criticisms are far more stinging than my purely technical critique. The big picture is made up of many things some of which you and I have mentioned. Some of the things like the big grin sticking the chin out too far can be coached relatively easily. Her arabesque and back attitude alignment can be fixed though this takes a lot more work. The problem for her is that she was thrown into the fire before she could mature and it burned her and I feel for her. But I think the criticism is necessary because the last thing I want is little ballerinas emulating her.

I've always felt that even though the casual ballet fan doesn't understand all the finer details of proper ballet technique, they do understand it at a subconscious level. This holds true for many things and most people can't critique a singer to save their life but they know a good singer when they hear one. This seems true for Somova and people might not quite be able to vocalize it but something just doesn't quite look right.

#199 Natalia

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Posted 30 May 2012 - 04:28 PM

That's it - the "hee-haw" manner. Maybe it's an age thing but I think not. We see a lot of great ballet. We know the basics in a ballerina. One of the basics is an air of aristocracy...yes, even in Balanchine's 'Americana' works, those ballerinas have the European air of elegance. Something basic that we do not even be talking about.

#200 amiaow

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Posted 30 May 2012 - 07:08 PM

Recent videos of Somova show an incredible improvement in her technique, stage manner and acting (though if you look through her Vaganova school acting exams she always had the capacity to be a great actress). I too thought she was a circus pony until recent times. She has come a long, long way and is certainly deserving of her position as a modern Mariinsky Ballerina.

Watch her Dying Swan. Watch her in Millipied's "Without". Both beautiful and both during the last 12 months. I would pay to see her any day.

#201 George Ou

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Posted 30 May 2012 - 09:47 PM

That's it - the "hee-haw" manner. Maybe it's an age thing but I think not. We see a lot of great ballet. We know the basics in a ballerina. One of the basics is an air of aristocracy...yes, even in Balanchine's 'Americana' works, those ballerinas have the European air of elegance. Something basic that we do not even be talking about.


The chin criticism might be a bit unfair. She has that Ann Margret chin and it protrudes slightly but it's a minor flaw in a beautiful face for both women. She might be sticking it out and up too much but that can be coached. Most of us performers do weird faces and postures until we see ourselves in video and go oh c(#*$. I used to tuck my chin too much and tensed the bottom of my chin and I had to work to get rid of it, including running on the treadmill so that I don't strain in the face as much from fatigue.

Recent videos of Somova show an incredible improvement in her technique, stage manner and acting (though if you look through her Vaganova school acting exams she always had the capacity to be a great actress). I too thought she was a circus pony until recent times. She has come a long, long way and is certainly deserving of her position as a modern Mariinsky Ballerina.

Watch her Dying Swan. Watch her in Millipied's "Without". Both beautiful and both during the last 12 months. I would pay to see her any day.


I did see her school videos and she looked much cleaner in the videos. But even in her 8th year video, she still showed the excessively opened arabesque and front leg position compared to her classmate. The problem is that we all lose a lot of technique going from the classroom to the stage and it takes a lot of work to make the transition and some handle it better than others. It takes even more to go from a very good student to a good soloist much less principle and Somova never had time to transition and was just thrown into the principle roles and that's the fault of the management at the Kirov.

#202 Helene

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Posted 30 May 2012 - 09:53 PM

Recent videos of Somova show an incredible improvement in her technique, stage manner and acting (though if you look through her Vaganova school acting exams she always had the capacity to be a great actress). I too thought she was a circus pony until recent times. She has come a long, long way and is certainly deserving of her position as a modern Mariinsky Ballerina.

That is very good news.

#203 Natalia

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Posted 31 May 2012 - 03:20 AM

Got it, George. :) It's all in the eye of the beholder but...when I see movies of Ann Margret, I don't think "bony" and "brittle." I would never have compared the two but, again, I respect that it's all in the eye of the beholder. I totally agree with your well laid-out arguments, though.

#204 bart

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Posted 31 May 2012 - 10:30 AM

I've found multiple freeze frames of a video clip to be extremely useful in not only evaluating dancers, but also studying and teaching ballet technique. For example, here's a "text book" example of how to do an inside turn to fish which I've found immensely useful as a learning guideline. Here's Baryshnikov showing how to do a proper reveltad and how to launch the step. Proper (Vaganova in this case but applies to all elite companies) tendu a la seconde with legs fully to the side and heels facing downward, not heel forward with legs cheating front. Proper turns in seconde with legs fully to the side from the stunning performance "Lost in Motion".

The photos show every frame of the video which only shows the technique very well, but it's also very useful as an analytic tool for determining accurate flight time and height that the dancer jumped. From this analysis, I've found that Ivan Vasiliev spends 0.9 seconds in the air for his monster double cabriole which is even respectable hang time in the NBA. David Hallberg and Roberto Bolle are both in the 0.66 second range for double tours which is very respectable considering the fact that they're doing proper ballet positions.

Marvelous, marvelous links, George. Thank you very much. The Baryshnikov sequence reminds me of the work of Edward Muybridge, which revolutionized the way people "saw" movement.
.

I've always felt that even though the casual ballet fan doesn't understand all the finer details of proper ballet technique, they do understand it at a subconscious level. This holds true for many things and most people can't critique a singer to save their life but they know a good singer when they hear one. This seems true for Somova and people might not quite be able to vocalize it but something just doesn't quite look right.

A great point. Despite a lack of ballet training or exposure to it, I loved, intuitively, the first classical choreography I saw (Swan Lake) and, later on, my first experiences with neo-classicism (Balanchine). Concepts like "line" can be taught in class. But perhaps it works better if they are "felt." My own experience with beginners ballet -- after almost a lifetime of passively watching from the audience or the sidelines -- was a revelation in that regard.

In relation to the Somova photos and videos linked and discussed above, perhaps there are people who actually can "feel" when something is wrong, even without knowledge of ballet technique. If experiencing something as "right" produces pleasure, I can understand how and why many of us become discomforted -- or even upset -- when we watch a dancer or company performing classical works in ways that seem to violate that rightness.

#205 Paul Parish

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Posted 31 May 2012 - 02:36 PM

Thank you for these stop-action photos -- what a fabulous resource! Have you made them yourself? HOW????

The action in hte man's hips and legs in the fish-dive shows how much he has to hold back and hten how much he has to DO when the moment comes.
Fascinating!!
In that photo of the tendu to the side, looks to me like the standing foot is rolling over

#206 George Ou

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Posted 31 May 2012 - 08:20 PM

Thank you for these stop-action photos -- what a fabulous resource! Have you made them yourself? HOW????

The action in hte man's hips and legs in the fish-dive shows how much he has to hold back and hten how much he has to DO when the moment comes.
Fascinating!!
In that photo of the tendu to the side, looks to me like the standing foot is rolling over


That fish is very tricky even for professionals and I've used that to help my own technique. The trick was that she kept her toe on the ground to maintain control until the last moment.

Yes, I did make them for my analysis and for proving my points. It is common for ballet teachers (and entire methods) to teach precisely the wrong way to do things. I know many elite dancers who instinctively know that the way one actually performs a step is completely different than the way it's taught. Sometimes elite dancers do things beautifully and correctly but it's exactly how they teach you not to do things. So when I debate these academics, I show them the stop motion frames to show that elite dancers do things they way they teach people not to.

How did I make these? Using all free software and the following procedure.

1. Download videos with Download Helper (firefox plugin)
2. Play the video back with VLC and do single frame advance (using advanced tool bar) and hit the VLC screenshot button. This dumps a series of frames to your hard drive.
3. Use FastStone Photo Resizer to batch crop if necessary every photo in the deck. That way you can focus on the subject more.
4. Use a tool called TileMerger to automatically stitch all the photos in a folder into a single image.

I find this technique more relevant for measuring jump height than what the sport science researchers use which is the force plate. Force plate measures hang time before the tip of the toes touches down and it short changes people several inches. The NBA and NFL tests using the reach above baseline method which gives you the inches when your heel is off the ground but toes are still touching. Counting video frames where the dancer (or athlete) is above baseline height is much more inline with the NBA and NFL combine results for their new recruits. The average NBA athlete has a vertical jump of 28 inches and elite NBA players like Michael Jordan and Derrick Rose are in the 48 inch range. I've found that Ivan Vasiliev is close to Michael Jordan doing ballet steps so it's quite possible that Ivan doing basketball style jumps is in the elite NBA range. My personal basketball vertical is 30 inches which is decent but I lose a little height in ballet steps.

As for this girl's tendu side (from this video), you might argue that it's rolling back slightly but it is actually correct. You have to look at the big toe and pinkie which are laying comfortably flat. If she was rolling the standing foot, either the pinkie or big toe will look like they bear too much weight but it appears she's balanced. I use this photo to explain to refute people who insist on having the working heels facing forward, but at the expense of letting the working leg drift front. Natalia Makarova does it this way too (still image) and this is how Vaganova, Paris, and all the other elite schools teach it.

However, the girl does plie incorrectly like many Russian and Chinese dancers I have observed. They let their pelvis slide back instead of being completely flat in the profile.

#207 Paul Parish

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Posted 31 May 2012 - 10:02 PM

Dear George, thank you for all that -- WONDERFUL, and thanks for the step-by -step directions., they are priceless.

I still think that standing foot is rolling over -- notice the medial malleolus of hte ankle is dropped and the lateral one is raised -- the angle through that axis is nearly three degrees of tilt (look at the line of the Achilles) -- and though as you say she HAS got her pinkie touching [good gir!! and the 5th metatarsal down), she's still rolled the arch nearly flat.

In hte Somova immages you cite, only that first arabesque is aesthetically objectionable. That is a very ugly arabesque. In hte video, , that arabesque is a passing moment that began as a rond de jambe from a grotesquely misaligned develloppe a la seconde (in which she raised her hip to hte point where hte pubic bone was at a very rakish tilt). I find the second position much uglier than the arabesque. She was leaning towards the standing leg quite a bit before the rond de jambe, which took her into profile in arabesque de cote, and by the time he'd promenaded her around to face us she was indeed way off to the side -- on hte other hand, she did NOT look awkward, tense, or heavy -- and from that arabesque she chasse'd back into a tour jete that landed equally off-square but without any evidence of strain and passed through it easily into the next thing..

Perverse.

In a ballet like Bayadere, though it's classical, a certain amount of Romantic approximation is acceptable, as it would be in Giselle, where no position should be "true." Even in Sleeping Beauty, in hte vision scene, a laterally pencheed attitude can be acceptable -- but only in hte vision scene..

#208 George Ou

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Posted 01 June 2012 - 12:51 AM

In hte Somova immages you cite, only that first arabesque is aesthetically objectionable. That is a very ugly arabesque. In hte video, , that arabesque is a passing moment that began as a rond de jambe from a grotesquely misaligned develloppe a la seconde (in which she raised her hip to hte point where hte pubic bone was at a very rakish tilt). I find the second position much uglier than the arabesque. She was leaning towards the standing leg quite a bit before the rond de jambe, which took her into profile in arabesque de cote, and by the time he'd promenaded her around to face us she was indeed way off to the side -- on hte other hand, she did NOT look awkward, tense, or heavy -- and from that arabesque she chasse'd back into a tour jete that landed equally off-square but without any evidence of strain and passed through it easily into the next thing..


The first example had the spine shifted way off axis away from the working leg.

The second example had a distorted torso (probably shifted spine again but not visible in profile) to achieve an abnormally high arabesque.

The third example at least had a straight and aligned spine but it was basically a jazz arabesque with legs out to the side of the pelvis which is totally inappropriate for Giselle or classical ballet or even contemporary ballet.

[font=helvetica, arial, sans-serif][size=4]In a ballet like Bayadere, though it's classical, a certain amount of Romantic approximation is acceptable, as it would be in Giselle, where no position should be "true." Even in Sleeping Beauty, in hte vision scene, a laterally pencheed attitude can be acceptable -- but only in hte vision scene.. [/size][/font]


I'm fine with "[font=helvetica, arial, sans-serif][size=4]Romantic approximation[/size][/font]" and penche variants of back attitude and arabesque. I would go so far as calling them a more athletic and evolved version of "classical" ballet and I prefer them over the vintage look where appropriate. However, Somova is not doing a proper penche where there is a minimal forward pelvic tilt and minimal pelvic opening while maintaining a vertically aligned spine. What Somova is doing with her back attitude and arabesque is amateurish because she just swings the pelvis wide open and lets her spine dip to the side. It's very common in students who are trying to achieve height at any expense.

#209 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 01 June 2012 - 11:13 AM

Somova should had gone thru all the improvements BEFORE becoming a Principal. That she's changing, it is objectionable, but if it is true, then it is unfair for other dancers to see that she was promoted way before she was due. I still find her body completely distorted.

#210 George Ou

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Posted 01 June 2012 - 12:27 PM

Somova should had gone thru all the improvements BEFORE becoming a Principal. That she's changing, it is objectionable, but if it is true, then it is unfair for other dancers to see that she was promoted way before she was due. I still find her body completely distorted.


I think that's the key substance of the Somova complaints. Evgenia Obraztsova should have been promoted ahead of Somova but it became a runway modeling contest rather than ballet merit. I look at Obraztsova and I see a quintessential classical ballerina. I look at the young Olga Smirnova and I see a very beautiful ballerina. I didn't get that feeling looking at Somova.


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