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Alina Somova


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#91 canbelto

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 01:53 PM

I agree that I find weird similarities between Mezentseva and Somova as well. Both of them kind of accentuate the boniness of their body by their movements. Hard to describe but both are/were really into jutting out their chin or flapping the wrist in a way that just makes them look all skin and bones. It contrasts with the fluid port-te-bras I associate with many Mariinsky ballerinas. Also, both of them seemed to lack elevation, giving all their performances a rather earthbound, jerky look.

But anyway, the depressing thing is the few times I've seen the Mariinsky since Somova, many of the corps de ballet seem to be striving for her look. Ultra thin, blond, chins jutting out and flapping bent wrists. It just doesn't look healthy for any woman to be that thin. I mean, I understand ballerinas are usually tiny as is, but the Mariinsky corps de ballet now looks like they are on a gulag diet.

#92 Paul Parish

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 04:14 PM

Mezentzeva was worshipped because of her musicality and her refined sensibility --

I looked for it in vain till I saw her do white swan for the kids in "Children of Theater street, " -- I mean, CHECK IT OUT, that's one of THE greatest white swans I have EVER seen....

Somova doesn't have that. They may be similarly articulated -- you're very aware of their joints, and they move like moon-landing creatures, with three-part legs (thigh, shin, foot) The Russian technique moves the foot to and from pointe with a slight spring, so it moves altogether in one piece and looks at its best like a baguette diamond but even at its best it's noticeably jerkier than Balanchine's method, which calls for rolling through the ankle and the metatarsals and then springing onto the toe -- and a certain body-type makes this look noticeably jerky to American eyes.

But it was Balanchine who said "the bones must show" -- Gelsey took this too far into anorexia, but the way she let you see the geometry of the dance in the angles of the bones themselves made her dancing truly thrilling -- the muscles just move the bones into place, and the bones do most of the work.

With Somova, it can be very exciting to see those limbs deployed, especially since the amplitude is so great and her lines can be very beautiful -- not always, for sure, but as Denby said of Toumanova, whose dancing he found a LOT of fault with, the next day one had only a searing memory of terrifying extensions. I certainly get that from Somova's Diamonds -- the very first passage, where they do a bird-like courting dance and then he takes her hand, her first sautes in arabesque just blew my head off.

#93 Canary

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 06:58 PM

I am not a Somova hater, but, Paul, what you just said in describing Alina's dancing is exactly why people criticize her. Namely because she doesn't move through the movements, there is no cantilena which is a very important part, not only of the Russian school, but of any school. Kirkland really had this, this was what was so amazing about her and why her weight never really mattered, if you know how to move through the movement you will never look heavy. Somova just does poses, it's like she's moving from one great picture to the next, first really deep penchee arabesque, then a developpe, the this, etc. there is no connection between the movements.

#94 canbelto

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 07:54 PM

Somova doesn't have that. They may be similarly articulated -- you're very aware of their joints, and they move like moon-landing creatures, with three-part legs (thigh, shin, foot) The Russian technique moves the foot to and from pointe with a slight spring, so it moves altogether in one piece and looks at its best like a baguette diamond but even at its best it's noticeably jerkier than Balanchine's method, which calls for rolling through the ankle and the metatarsals and then springing onto the toe -- and a certain body-type makes this look noticeably jerky to American eyes.

But it was Balanchine who said "the bones must show" -- Gelsey took this too far into anorexia, but the way she let you see the geometry of the dance in the angles of the bones themselves made her dancing truly thrilling -- the muscles just move the bones into place, and the bones do most of the work.

With Somova, it can be very exciting to see those limbs deployed, especially since the amplitude is so great and her lines can be very beautiful -- not always, for sure, but as Denby said of Toumanova, whose dancing he found a LOT of fault with, the next day one had only a searing memory of terrifying extensions. I certainly get that from Somova's Diamonds -- the very first passage, where they do a bird-like courting dance and then he takes her hand, her first sautes in arabesque just blew my head off.


See I've seen Somova live and on video and I disagree that her lines have great amplitude. I think it's sort of the opposite -- her overly bent joints make her dance "small" despite the extravagant extensions. The constantly jutting chin and flapping wrists and weird way of holding her hands make her dancing look, as you said, jerky, but more importantly, it takes away from any sense of classical line. Many dancers who are not nearly as long-limbed as Alina Somova manage to have more amplitude in their penchee arabesques, simply because there isn't the constant jerk/joint effect I see with Somova. For instance, let's do a comparison:

Alina Cojocaru:


Alina Somova:


Same exact ballet, same variation (Rose Adagio). Alina Cojocaru is not blessed with long limbs, a long neck, or attractive feet. But her elevation, and the fluidity and grace of her movements give her dancing more "sweep" than Somova, who is never able to get off the ground in her opening series of jumps, and has an irritating way of pausing between her jumps to jut her head sideways, which cuts off the continuous movement.

I'm not even bothered by Somova's hyperextensions anymore. They're fairly common for a lot of ballerinas. It's her jerky, awkward way of dancing that irritates me.

#95 papeetepatrick

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 08:32 PM

I'm not even bothered by Somova's hyperextensions anymore. They're fairly common for a lot of ballerinas. It's her jerky, awkward way of dancing that irritates me.


Yes, that's exactly what it is, and her Rose Adagio is perfectly abhorrent. The weird mantis-like body would be wonderful if she could get it to coordinate--maybe that wasn't required so much in 'Ballet Imperial', which caught me off guard when I liked it, because all I'd seen were those clips that look so strangely out-of-control.

Mezentzeva was worshipped because of her musicality and her refined sensibility --

I looked for it in vain till I saw her do white swan for the kids in "Children of Theater street, " -- I mean, CHECK IT OUT, that's one of THE greatest white swans I have EVER seen....


And I think it's her BLACK Swan that is one of the greatest--this combination of creaminess and utter viciousness and vacuity, she luxuriates in it--she's plain wicked, and probably really is!

#96 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 09:18 PM

That Rose Adagio is painful to watch.

#97 cantdance

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 09:32 PM

Mad about Mariinsky has posted on Facebook a few hours ago the videos of Somova being coached in Sleeping Beauty in 2008. They might be the Japanese Lessons dvd. RussianBalletvideos has on Youtube a 9 part video of Galina Mezentseva at age 35 in class.
Willis Ballet has on their website videos for purchase of Mezentseva http://www.willisbal... Order Page.htm They have a good selection of videos. In the teacher's videos it is Mezentseva demonstrating the steps in class and also her in performance.
Alina Somova is much thinner and doesn't control her limbs as well as Mezentseva. I have only seen Somova live at The Kennedy Center a few times, I was more impressed by Obraztsova.

#98 Helene

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Posted 22 September 2010 - 08:54 AM

I'm distracted by the guy on the right, who shifts over each time he does a tendu.

#99 Cygnet

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Posted 22 September 2010 - 10:12 AM

Mad about Mariinsky has posted on Facebook a few hours ago the videos of Somova being coached in Sleeping Beauty in 2008.

Like Canbelto and others, I'm over Alina's 180s. They are the main ingredient in her stage persona recipe. Many ballerinas have Alina's flexibility. However, not all of them choose to display it, or (when in doubt) fall back on it in performance like she does. It's each dancer's artistic choice and judgement call. Flexibility can assist one's technique but it's no substitute for it; nor innate talent, musicality, ability or artistry.

I've just finished viewing the "Lessons" dvds on mariinsky-livejournal. Alina made her debut as Aurora in October 2005 in Los Angeles. Here's the thing: When this dvd was filmed Somova was a 1st Soloist and had been given Aurora and O/O many times during 2005 - 2008, at home and abroad. What's revealing about the "Lessons" dvd set isn't only how Madames Moiseyeva, Tchyentchikova (Vazieva), Kunakova and Tarasova coach, but how their pupils respond to their instructions. Here's where you can really see the difference. If you have the dvd set or get a chance to view them online, notice the facility and technical ease by which Tereshkina, Novikova and Obrastzova work with their respective coaches Kunakova, Moiseyeva and Tarasova. Their's is a collaboration; Madame Vazieva's and Alina's is a private lesson.

Lubov, Olga M. and Elvira guide and polish Vicky, Olesya and Yevgenia. The ballerinas polish their dances, and develop their interpretations. They're not taking class again, and they're not learning the roles/solos from scratch. Alina can't get to the solo or interpretation because there's a major lack of technique in her way. Olga T.-V. repeatedly corrects Alina's technical mistakes. This was also the case in the "Ballerina" dvd. Makhar Vaziev, Gennady Selyutsky, and wife Olga were three on one, repeatedly trying in vain to get Alina to properly execute Odette's first entrance for her debut in "Lake." It was a stage rehearsal. It was impossible not to notice that there was a problem. That was the sign. The operatic equivalent of this would be a singer at her first rehearsal for a debut in a major role. The maestro gives the downbeat. The pianist plays the opening bars for her first scene and aria. She doesn't know the lyrics or the notes. She's flat with each attempt, but everyone carries on as if that's normal.

Now fast-forward 4 years later to "Lessons." Again, from 2004 - 2008, she was given many performances as O/O and Aurora. Alina's Odette and the Act 3 Aurora sessions were simply impossible. She doesn't reach the end of either variation. In stark contrast, Novikova, Tereshkina and Obrastzova complete their diagonals and the rest of their solos several times in their segments. Their legs and feet (alone), are stronger than Somova's. Madame Vazieva shouldn't have had to demonstrate (practically), the entire variation for her. Alina sees what to do and how to do it, yes - but she can't even imitate Olga T.-V.'s movements or assimilate her instructions. Besides Tsar Maiden in "Little Humpbacked Horse," Aurora and O/O are her calling cards. As a Mariinsky Principal with +6 years of study, tours, rehearsals and performances, she should be able to execute (in this case) Odette's and Aurora's 3rd Act variations without having to reinvent the wheel. I'm giving my East Coast friends fair warning: She will (most likely) be featured as "Giselle" at Kennedy in February, and may even get opening night. http://kennedy-cente...nt&event=BLBSF.

#100 canbelto

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Posted 22 September 2010 - 01:56 PM

Alina might have a lot of hip/joint flexibility but in other areas her flexibility is lacking. For instance, she has an extremely stiff back and upper body. This makes her dancing kind of seem very disjointed -- a hip that is constantly swinging, but the back, neck, shoulders, and arms are held rigidly.

Again, here's a comparison:





Same exact ballet, same exact variation. Diana Vishneva again doesn't have Alina's physique. Diana's a lot shorter, for one, and doesn't really have very long legs for a dancer. But Diana uses her back flexibility to imitate the Oriental belly-dance style, and is able to control her body so Nikya's variation looks like one long dance of grief. Somova's lack of flexibility in her back and the jerkiness of her movements take away from her characterization of Nikya.

But when the Kirov came to the City Center, opening night the company closed with the Kingdom of the Shades scene, and it was given to Somova.

#101 bart

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Posted 22 September 2010 - 04:00 PM

Many thanks, canbelto, for making it possible for us to compare these two dancers so closely. I agree with you 100%.

I'd add that Vishneva's arms, long compared to the proportions of her legs, are marvelous instruments enhancing her solo. In comparison, Somova's seem to be creating distraction.

#102 Drew

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Posted 23 September 2010 - 08:47 AM

This has been a very interesting discussion and I have learned a lot from it. I do still have some residual concern about how we discuss and invoke video. Somova may or may not be an appalling phenomenon--not having seen her live I can't say--but I do think that while criticizing her videos is, in this era, fair game (if not perhaps entirely fair since so much that is theatrical is not captured) one should at least note their dates. I am thinking in particular of the Sleeping Beauty (rose adagio above) which I have not looked at for years--and which is often cited to exemplify the horror of her dancing. It's a performance from at least three years ago--a lifetime for a young dancer. I myself just saw Ashley Bouder give a performance sensational in many ways but which involved several tiny adjustments during the course of her first big variation, somewhat undermining it to my mind, and a semi-stumble at the end of her fouttes--if that were to be all over Youtube, what might not we hear about Bouder's 'sloppiness' as if that were the eternal truth of Ashely Bouder?

Of course one might say the big difference is context: people regularly see Bouder 'nail' her variations and those criticizing Somova's dancing here and elsewhere have seen her live or, like me, have been reading critics and message-board comments from long-time ballet-goers etc. and in that context it may make sense to say 'see, this old Sleeping Beauty seems to exemplify the problem' that we have seen in many other performances or that we are trying to describe....and yet I remain a little uneasy about the way a particular performance, early (or in other cases late) in someone's career becomes some kind of frozen exemplar for criticism to refer to even years later...I've had to learn to live with the fact that Kirkland's Nutcracker video IS Kirkland for most of today's ballet fans whereas I don't even think that it should count as her Nutcracker! It occurs to me that this is perhaps a different topic than Somova per se and I really can't 'defend' a ballerina I have never seen live and whose video excerpts do not suggest I would find her a favorite (though I'm on record as thinking some of the Little Humpbacked Horse excerpts rather charming and not hating the Diamonds video).

Anyway, I just wanted to register a certain unease at the way we invoke video evidence--obviously we can, and this discussion certainly has, benefited from it and yet I would still advocate for a more cautious (and, especially, date sensitive) way to talk about it.

I AM learning a lot from all these detailed analyses and was fascinated by the suggestion of a certain stylistic relation between Somova and Mezentzeva--whom I saw once and 'respected' but did not particularly like. What was my shock when I learned she was one of the truly adored Kirov dancers!

#103 bart

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Posted 23 September 2010 - 12:16 PM

This has been a very interesting discussion and I have learned a lot from it. I do still have some residual concern about how we discuss and invoke video.

Thanks, Drew, for you well-developed post. I've thought about what you've written and now want to retract my statement about being able "to compare these two dancers so closely." Clearly, that is a gross exaggeration.

Speaking only for myself, YouTube clips sometimes allow me to look more closely at what the dancer is doing and to make decisions about what I like/admire and what I do not in that particular performance. The variables, as you mention, are numerous and are something we never should forget. I thank you for reminding me of that.

#104 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 23 September 2010 - 12:57 PM

...this video vs. live performances issue somehow made me remember something a poster said a while ago-(can't remember who),...something like "one doesn't has to go to the Sahara to know that it is hot there..."

#105 papeetepatrick

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Posted 23 September 2010 - 01:16 PM

...this video vs. live performances issue somehow made me remember something a poster said a while ago-(can't remember who),...something like "one doesn't has to go to the Sahara to know that it is hot there..."



haha Cristian, yes, but you do have to go there to know 'how it is hot there'. I became aware of this when I went to Switzerland in 1997, after knowing about their highest standard living. But when you go there, you get all these other dimensions, like how they've provided for their citizens already in a way that American politicians always only promise in their re-election campaigns. And this was something that was very different in the direct experiencing of this generalized prosperity from merely knowing 'it's like that'.

I understand the disappointment that happens with reproduced performance, even though we're glad to have it for the most part. But you're also right...because, ultimately, the recorded and taped things have become more and more what is imprinted on most minds. In every field too: I was thinking just now of how I've never seen the B'way show 'South Pacific' on stage, but I consider that I know everything important about it from the film. I don't, btw, think that it therefore follows that I know all about Ms. Somova, only that that Rose Adagio and her awful balances, if they can even be called that, were definitely awful 3 years ago, and most people still find her an anomaly. I'm sure her nearly inexplicable superstardom--well, maybe it's not quite that--is very significant in a broader cultural way.


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