Ballet fan

Dancers that everyone loved (including critics) but that you didn'

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Everyone has favorites for everything in life, and ballet is no exception. We have favorite choreographers, composers, and ballets, but the ones that give life to a work and make it or break it are the dancers themselves. So we all grow fond of certain dancers in certain roles. Critics and supposed experts are not immune to this either. However, I'm curious if anyone here has experienced thinking that a particular dancer is not necessarily marvelous, stunning, or deeply moving in a certain role or maybe even in general, despite critics and a wide array of people saying so and praising said dancer to no end. It can be a current dancer or it can be from the past. I've never really experienced this myself but I was simply curious if other people actually have.

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I can think of many examples. This is heresy for someone living in Canada because she has the status of national icon, but for me the most obvious case is Karen Kain, whose performances usually bored me to tears... until she began dancing the works of Glen Tetley, in which she was terrific. Unfortunately, it didn't do anything to loosen up her Odette-Odile.

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Where do I start?

I love Patricia McBride, but wasn't overwhelmed by her "Who Cares?"

Except for "Dying Swan", while I can appreciate her authority, Uliana Lopatkina doesn't reach me in any other way.

I think Louise Nadeau was gorgeous in many, many roles, but I could not bear her acclaimed "Agon" or Aurora.

I heartily disliked Darcey Bussell's "Agon" in the Balanchine Celebration in 1993 (the one on VHS/DVD).

I like almost no film I saw of Nureyev or Fonteyn, and by the time I saw Nureyev live, I wish I didn't.

I found Baryshnikov disengaged in most of his classical roles.

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Where do I start?

I love Patricia McBride, but wasn't overwhelmed by her "Who Cares?"

Except for "Dying Swan", while I can appreciate her authority, Uliana Lopatkina doesn't reach me in any other way.

I think Louise Nadeau was gorgeous in many, many roles, but I could not bear her acclaimed "Agon" or Aurora.

I heartily disliked Darcey Bussell's "Agon" in the Balanchine Celebration in 1993 (the one on VHS/DVD).

I like almost no film I saw of Nureyev or Fonteyn, and by the time I saw Nureyev live, I wish I didn't.

I found Baryshnikov disengaged in most of his classical roles.

Interesting that you didn't like Nureyev and Fonteyn since they're hailed as two of the greatest dancers of the 20th century. I have Margot's Cinderella and I thought she was quite lovely. I also have her Sleeping Beauty and although she doesn't have high extensions or incredible elevation in her jump, she has such musicality, regal presence and lyricism that it makes her compelling in that role.

I'd love to hear your opinions on this.

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I don't see much of the Fonteyn that critics and fans describe in either of the films. I've was once told by a close friend whose ballet-loving father had the same reaction, that you really had to see her in person to understand why she was so great, and that afterwords, you could see those qualities in film.

I'm not arguing that Fonteyn wasn't great. I don't see that greatness on film, and it has nothing to do with not appreciating older performances on film in general. There are many that I love.

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I've never disliked Heather Watts, but never gave her much thought either way, although I saw her a lot. A critic friend talked about how she was 'the best at NYCB' in the 80s, something about 'in rehearsal more than performance', but that was pretty abstruse to me.

I don't know how highly considered Viviana Durante is, but I find her on the dull side.

To be honest, I know what a fine dancer Anthony Dowell, but I've never found him exciting even so.

I think I probably don't know what I'm talking about here, but I don't care for Plisetskaya's 'Swan Lake' on film, but this might go along with what Helene is saying about Fonteyn, although I do always like Fonteyn on film, even though I only saw her live in 'Poeme d'Ecstase', which isn't representative.

Have never cared for Ethan Steifel, too literal and unpoetic.

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Should dancers we've only seen on film be considered in this? It doesn't seem entirely fair to me, as it is not a true representation of the performance.

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I've loved many, many dancers that I've only seen on film. My absolute favorite is Irina Kolpakova in "Sleeping Beauty" and "Raymonda".

I think some dancers come across very well on film and fit the descriptions of critics and fans. Others, for me, not so much. I don't dismiss them because of that: I just don't see what everyone else saw.

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Should dancers we've only seen on film be considered in this? It doesn't seem entirely fair to me, as it is not a true representation of the performance.

I don't see why not, Hans, because one of my favourite of all ballet performances--Sizova's Aurora--I only know from film. And in my affections, it ranks with anything I've seen live. Maybe we should include disclaimers as Helene and I have done, though. I also only know Lezhnina from film, etc., and most of what I've seen of Baryshnikov and Nureyev is on film, although I did see them in person as well, although I've loved all their work, or at least liked it a great deal.

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Natalia Makarova is my answer to the question. Others loved her, critics praised her. I found her somewhat unmusical, technically lacking in many areas and a very self conscious & self important performer. I know people who would like to shoot me for this opinion

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I'm ashamed to admit this here. But .... here goes. Erik Bruhn.

This was at Ballet Theater in the latter part of his career. I had no ballet training, so I was not able to respond to his particular strengths, either technically or as a danseur noble. My reaction was more a matter of temperament. I remember feeling that he projected coldness and that he often seemed to be dancing in a different ballet from the others on the stage.

Even now, when watching him on video, I can admire ... but I do not enjoy.

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I finally bought the Makarova-Misha "Giselle"-(thanks rg! for the Ebay hint! :flowers: )-thinking that perhaps I had to watch an entire ballet so I could appreciate all the praising that Makarova has had. Sadly, I ended up on Vipa's side...I couldn't "see" her greatness...And then, it is not totally about technique. I own many, MANY Giselles, some of its ballerinas with a lesser level of technique at the time of the recording than Makarova...(e.g-Seymour)-and still, Lynn did it waaay more for me...

Ditto with the clips I've seen of Natasha in Swan Lake. They leave me cold... :crying:

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Ditto with the clips I've seen of Natasha in Swan Lake. They leave me cold... :flowers:

That does prove Hans has a good point, though, that we should always point out whether we've seen something on film or live, both and/or only, etc.. I've never seen any Odette I loved more than Makarova's (except for adoring Melissa Hayden's in the Balanchine equally, but in a different way), and I did see it in person. I only saw the film of the Misha/Natasha 'Giselle', and I didn't particularly care for it either, although I've never seen Bruhn/Fracci live and I love them just on film in 'Giselle', despite all the well-known botchings in the film itself.

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For me, Uliana Lopatkina. It's not that I don't like her performances, it's just that every time I've seen her I could think of another ballerina, often in the same company, that I'd rather see in that role. I find her performances kind of stilted and overly calculated. But then again I've only seen her after her big injury/maternity leave/comeback. A few youtube clips here and there of her earlier days suggest a more exciting performer.

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For me, Lopatkina as well. I've only seen her live in Dying Swan, though. When I see her, I think she dances very well, but she just can't interest me. I also have the impression her Dying Swan (on different videos, live) is almost exactly the same, every time. And I just don't really like her style..

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Where do I start?

I love Patricia McBride, but wasn't overwhelmed by her "Who Cares?"

Except for "Dying Swan", while I can appreciate her authority, Uliana Lopatkina doesn't reach me in any other way.

I think Louise Nadeau was gorgeous in many, many roles, but I could not bear her acclaimed "Agon" or Aurora.

I heartily disliked Darcey Bussell's "Agon" in the Balanchine Celebration in 1993 (the one on VHS/DVD).

I like almost no film I saw of Nureyev or Fonteyn, and by the time I saw Nureyev live, I wish I didn't.

I found Baryshnikov disengaged in most of his classical roles.

I agree heartily with you re: Bussell, both in general, and particularly in her Agon pas de deux for the '93 Balanchine Celebration. While some of the US critics in particular may have been in agreement with me about Bussell in terms of her lack of acting ability and (per Kisselgoff) the tightness/lack of epaulement in her upper body technique, she seemed to receive almost universal praise when it came to her Balanchine interpretations. I think Mr. B would not have been so impressed by her Agon; this may seem nitpicky, but he would've disliked her use of hands and fingers in particular, I think - they lacked articulation and were what Mr. B might have called 'spoon hands.' In general I think that more worthy dancers at RB were overlooked during Bussell's reign, including Belinda Hatley.

Another dancer whose popularity mystifies me (much more than Bussell, actually) is Cuban prima Viengsay Valdes. While I understand that she's somewhat of a polarizing figure (some find her flashiness 'vulgar'), for me it comes down to her technique. While she can turn and balance incredibly well, these seem to be the only two tricks in her bag. Otherwise her technique seems caught in some past era and is not up to current standards for any ballet dancer, prima or otherwise -- sloppy footwork, lack of turnout, no looseness in the hips or legs, and unattractive (in my opinion) port de bras. And yet she's so beloved by the Cuban public and by a number of prominent critics worldwide. What am I missing, I wonder?

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Lopatkina's chilly approach isn't for everyone, her injury coincided with her becoming a mother and one of her Kirov colleagues told me he thought that before the baby, ballet was her life, but since the baby it has taken second place. I think he is right; it is the spark of inspiration that I miss.

I've already noted that I never cared much for Gelsey Kirkland and I have sympathy with some of the things said about Makarova although I adored her in more modern works. I hate to speak ill of the dead, but the recently deceased Evdokimova never did it for me as I found her rather listless on stage and still remember acutely a disastrous Raymonda she danced in Zurich with Nureyev. Of those currently dancing although Zakharova gets some (but tellingly, not unanimous) acclaim from critics, personally I can't stand her.

David Wall was a dancer that although I didn't dislike him, I always felt his roles were better danced by other people, also he had a rather arrogant stage persona. Mukhamedov I enjoyed at the Bolshoi but found myself cringing when he danced with the RB: very much a fish out of water.

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I've learned so much from this thread. The best Swan Lake I ever saw (live), EVER, was with Makarova and Dowell. I eagerly bought the recording of Swan Lake with the two and wondered what the heck had happened ... where was the perfection? Live is definitely better, I can see that now. One of the many reasons may be that with live there's a sense of "danger"; something can go wrong, and the fact that the dancers avoid disaster only heightens the beauty. With recordings errors can be hidden.

Vipa, I'm holstering my gun.

As to the topic of the thread: Vishneva.

Giannina

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Lopatkina's chilly approach isn't for everyone,

What frustrates me about her is that I generally love two kinds of dancers -- lush and chilly -- and I'd expect to love her in many things. It's actually why I liked her "Dying Swan" so much. For the same reason, and something I forgot to mention in the caveat, I loved the "Sheherezade" clip of her on YouTube.

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I've never disliked Heather Watts, but never gave her much thought either way, although I saw her a lot. A critic friend talked about how she was 'the best at NYCB' in the 80s, something about 'in rehearsal more than performance', but that was pretty abstruse to me.

I recall Watts as one of the most widely criticized dancers in the history of NYCB -- I liked her in some roles not in others, but I would not remotely consider her a dancer "that everyone loved (including critics)."

I'm ashamed to admit this here. But .... here goes. Erik Bruhn.

Bart--You are a brave, brave man and for that I salute you. Certainly if we lived in an earlier era, I would have had to challenge you to a duel.

I feel compelled to add that I think that film and video are uniformly misleading. With dancers I hugely admired and saw a lot (such as Makarova) video has given me nothing...nothing to recall what I loved. And I rather suspect that it's even possible that when one admires a dancer on video, in real life, one might have seen problems or had issues.

I'm not saying it isn't a tool for historians and fans alike -- I could not be happier that the Kirkland Giselle Act I solo has become available -- and I sometimes comment on video myself, but I firmly believe one can only really assess a dancer one has seen live. (I don't think Dying Swan is a much of a gage either, by the by, for judging a dancer unless she is Anna Pavlova.)

A dancer that "everyone loved (including critics)" but that I didn't? Well, I don't know that quite everyone loved her, but on this board Miranda Weese was hugely admired and critics certainly liked her...I found her reliable, but was otherwise not enchanted. David Wall always received raves for his acting ability, but when I saw him as Romeo and Siegried I found him to be reliable (again, that word) in image and manner, but no remarkable dramatic artist.

But to match Bart's bravery (which I feel I must): the young, pre-injury Darci Kistler. Kistler! Whom I have seen give stunning ballerina performances in the later and much later parts of her careers did not have the same impact on me when I saw two of her earliest triumphs. The part of her career that "everyone" agrees on and admires I somehow missed even when I was looking straight at it. In Divertimento no. 15, the "eager" quality that others loved meant that she danced so far ahead of the music that it simply irritated me especially since it unbalanced her relation to other dancers on stage in what is, in crucial sections, an ensemble work and as Odette in the condensed Balanchine Swan Lake--I somehow just didn't see what others saw or, rather, the coltishness looked to me like just that, coltishness. I didn't dislike it but I wasn't swooning.

To be clear: I consider Kistler a ballerina and have hugely admired and loved her performances, but ironically not the performances that blew everyone away before she suffered injuries. I do think in this case the problem may have been me and not her.

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Oh, Makarova drove me up the wall with her crazy tempos. I once saw her finish a variation a whole measure after the music ended. At ABT the conductors were expected to follow her. However, I did see her give a glorious performance of Swan Lake with the RB in London, where she was one with the music. Apparently their conductors set the tempos and dancers ignore them at their peril.

Kyra Nichols was one dancer all the critics seemed to see more in than I did. I enjoyed her performances, but was never swept away and couldn't understand what they were raving about.

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Lopatkina's chilly approach isn't for everyone, her injury coincided with her becoming a mother and one of her Kirov colleagues told me he thought that before the baby, ballet was her life, but since the baby it has taken second place. I think he is right; it is the spark of inspiration that I miss.

Strangely I like Lopatkina when she's not dancing one of her "signature" roles (Dying Swan, Bayadere, Swan Lake). Those all leave me cold -- her chin doesn't move, her fingers are frozen, and it just doesn't seem like a living breathing performance. But the times I saw Lopatkina dance roles she dances less frequently (Raymonda, Scherherazade, etc.) she's more spontaneous and enjoyable to me anyway.

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Twyla Tharp! Now let me clarify. Her time in the 70s-80s fine. Today, outdated! But for some reason the audience eats up the boxing, martial arts and senseless running around of the choreography. Now when it comes to her Sinatra Suite I love it.

I also was never a fan of Ethan Stefiel. Something about the way he walked around the stage just always annoyed me. I don't think the movie Center Stage did any favors for him either in my book.

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I suppose I have two separate categories in my mind: 'illustrious dancers who leave me cold' and 'illustrious dancers who drive me up a wall.' Most of the dancers in the latter group are divisive enough not to enjoy universal critical and popular acclaim in the first place, e.g. Svetlana Zakharova or Nikolai Tsiskaridze. Even though he seems to enjoy critical favour in the U.S., I'd have to add Ethan Stiefel to the list. Zoltan Solymosi and Rex Harrington had a similar effect on me, though they had nothing like Stiefel's technique. These are the dancers who make me squirm in my seat, as though my consciousness were desperate to tear itself away from my body and hightail it away from the theatre. I think it's a reaction to what comes across as extreme narcissism on their part.

The other group is made up of dancers whom I don't necessarily dislike, and who are often superb technicians, but who don't do much for me. They would include Darcey Bussell, Miyako Yoshida, Viviana Durante, Cynthia Gregory, Kyra Nichols, Uliana Lopatkina, Gillian Murphy, Aurélie Dupont, Emilie Cozette, Roberto Bolle and Carlos Acosta.

I am sympathetic to detractors of Makarova, though over time I learned to live with her eccentricities and came to see her as a net positive for ballet.

I also agree that Mukhamedov was ill-suited to the classical roles.

Agnès Letestu frustrates me about 50% of the time, though I have to acknowledge that her ballerina aura is very real.

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