Natalia

Vaganova Today by Catherine Pawlick

18 posts in this topic

Catherine Pawlick's Vaganova Today is now out; I received my copy from Amazon a couple of days ago...and it is a tough one to put down. What an insightful, fascinating analysis of the Vaganova method and its evolution during and after Mme Vaganova's years at the helm of the Academy of Russian Ballet ("the Vaganova") of Leningrad/St. Petersburg! Researched on site, in St. Petersburg's theatrical libraries and archives, via interviews with many of the top pedagogues at the Academy, this tome is serious and scholarly, yet written in Pawlick's friendly, clear style.

What I especially love about this book: Pawlick conducted multiple interviews with Academy pedagogues who were top soloists of the Kirov Ballet in the 1970s and 80s, when I first got to know and love the troupe. For example, Irina Chistiakova (a special fave of mine) provides insights into changes in Academy teaching and why it is so tough to go 'against the modern current' today. The book includes many lovely 'before and after' photographs of Chistiakova and other teachers (Terekhova, Komleva, Osipenko, the late Ninel Kugapkina, etc...the best of the best).

Not-to-be-missed:

http://www.amazon.com/Vaganova-Today-Preservation-Pedagogical-Tradition/dp/0813036976/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1314730976&sr=8-1

Brava! :clapping:

p.s. Hopefully, one of these days we will have a companion volume on the Mariinsky troupe (Mariinsky Today?) from Pawlick, who has resided in St. Petersburg, off and on, since 2004 and virtually 'camped out' at the Mariinsky Theater for most of that time. What a treat that would be.

Share this post


Link to post

Received mine yesterday. Recommending it for the libraries of all serious professional training centers of ballet. Fantastic Catherine and congratulations. You all might consider using the Amazon search box above to buy the book. Ballet Alert and Ballet Talk for Dancers receive a small contribution when you use this to purchase your items through amazon.com. :clapping:

Share this post


Link to post

Congratulations for your book, Catherine!

I couldn't put it down until I finished it. It is well-written, probing, and thoughtful.

I look forward to a leisurely reading of it.

Again, my congratulations and look forward--why not-- to a second book!

Share this post


Link to post

As more folks receive and read this book, it will be interesting to discuss some of the assertions and comments by the Vaganova teachers (as well as Pawlick's analysis), as more than a few comments and quotes raised my eyebrows, e.g., Tatyana Terekhova's "colorful" comparison of US and Russian body types...what is accepted in the "PC" US vs Russia, where bone structure is studied before a child is even allowed to set foot in the studio. I'll leave it up to others to make the direct quotes, if they wish. :FIREdevil: I must say that I have to agree with Terekhova's basic premise...although the wording is...errrr, interesting.

The almost-scientific analysis of leg extensions and what is tolerated (or expected) by the public NOW versus the 1960s is also quite fascinating. Gennadi Selyutsky and many other esteemed coaches do not mince words. :thumbsup:

Share this post


Link to post

I can't wait to get this! After reading Krasovskya's, "Vaganova: A Dance Journey from Leningrad to Petersburg" I was hoping to have a more recent book with emphasis on the actual schooling and thoughts from others. This is exciting indeed!

Share this post


Link to post

We have seen examples of and heard about the examinations of children's bodies. However, I fail to understand how examining a child will yield information about future development. How many tall children are told they will be basketball players when they grow up, then stop growing? How many beautiful children have faces that become plain when they are older? How many tiny children cause their parents to fear, and then end up taller than all the other children in their neighborhood?

Share this post


Link to post

We have seen examples of and heard about the examinations of children's bodies. However, I fail to understand how examining a child will yield information about future development. How many tall children are told they will be basketball players when they grow up, then stop growing? How many beautiful children have faces that become plain when they are older? How many tiny children cause their parents to fear, and then end up taller than all the other children in their neighborhood?

Correct, puppytreats. That's why, even among the 80 or so children selected to enter the first year of study at the Vaganova, a huge % is weeded out from year to year. Graduation classes sometimes have only a dozen or so members out of the original gang selected. The examiners of entrance classes apparently have done years of scientific research into bone structure and such. What Terekhova and other pedagogues in Russia are stating (in less diplomatic language): "Look at the results of our beautiful, uniform-looking corps de ballet!" They state what many balletomanes in melting-pot societies like the USA THINK but do not dare SAY, for fear of being branded 'politically INcorrect.'

That said, the irony here is that, at the end of the day, I've seen Vaganova Acad students with less-than-perfect facial features (by their standard) make it through to graduation via sheer talent, some even making it to Classical Soloist at the Mariinsky, e.g., ballerinas with pointy chins or male soloists with aquiline noses. In other words, after the initial weedings, there is 'hope' for the super-talented or hard workers. Also, as in anywhere else, there's always 'politiks.' Can't forget that little factor. :)

Share this post


Link to post

The Amazon reviews suggests that this book, while focusing on Vaganova and her influence on the School, can also be appreciated by those of us without much knowledge of, or experience with, ballet pedagogy. So, I have just ordered it, via the the Amazon box above. Thanks, Natalia, chiapuris, and vrsfanatic. Your posts convinced me.

Share this post


Link to post

The Amazon reviews suggests that this book, while focusing on Vaganova and her influence on the School, can also be appreciated by those of us without much knowledge of, or experience with, ballet pedagogy. So, I have just ordered it, via the the Amazon box above. Thanks, Natalia, chiapuris, and vrsfanatic. Your posts convinced me.

Simply as a presentation of interviews with famous Academy teachers, MT coaches and even current dancers (Lopatkina), this book is winner. Of course, it is much more than just a series of interviews.

It may sound overboard but, as a long-time follower and amateur writer on all-things-Mariinsky, this is a book that I'll forever keep on my bedside table. Before going to bed, I re-read one of the interviews or long quotable passages because they bring such joy to the soul, knowing that I the fan (we the fans?) are not alone in noticing the recent changes in the style and aren't that thrilled. [A favorite, told by Osipenko: Vaganova used to shout, "Lower the cantilevers, girls!" comparing high leg extensions to railroad signals.] :toot: That said, Osipenko and others are quick to realize that higher extensions are OK and expected today...but only if performed correctly, with a beautiful foot, and simply not kicked up "the easy flashy way."

In other words, there's a cadre of expert coaches and teachers in St Petersburg who see and recognize the problems and are going against the grain to coach dancers in the proper placement of limbs, feet, wrists, heads, eyes, etc...all of the 'lost' nuances that are so important to Vaganova Style as we got to know and love it in the 60s, 70s, 80s. Pawlick relates that some MT soloists actually go to the Vaganova coaches on the sly, sometimes during breaks or intermissions of a production, for help in restoring the nuances of Vaganova style! Also, some soloists seek out the coaches -- usually a coach other than his/her "assigned" coach -- to learn the 'soulful' aspects of variations, which used to be taught and are no longer valued by management, e.g., the acting and meaning behind steps. Such recognition must happen before things can be turned around. Time is of the essence before the Mariinsky stage is riddled with "Mac-Ballerinas"!

Share this post


Link to post

As more folks receive and read this book, it will be interesting to discuss some of the assertions and comments by the Vaganova teachers (as well as Pawlick's analysis), as more than a few comments and quotes raised my eyebrows, e.g., Tatyana Terekhova's "colorful" comparison of US and Russian body types...what is accepted in the "PC" US vs Russia, where bone structure is studied before a child is even allowed to set foot in the studio. I'll leave it up to others to make the direct quotes, if they wish. :FIREdevil: I must say that I have to agree with Terekhova's basic premise...although the wording is...errrr, interesting.

The almost-scientific analysis of leg extensions and what is tolerated (or expected) by the public NOW versus the 1960s is also quite fascinating. Gennadi Selyutsky and many other esteemed coaches do not mince words. :thumbsup:

I received the book from Amazon yesterday, and I began reading it last night. I too was struck by how so many esteemed pedagogues and coaches "don't mince words" as they describe how the abuse of extensions has been detrimental to Vaganova style. But my big question is why, if so many respected coaches are against this trend, does Mariinsky encourage dancers to distort lines when displaying forced, ungainly extensions? In some cases they're even rewarded for doing so, one dancer that comes to mind is Skorik. Her Princess Florine on youtube shows no airiness, but all extension with a dose of heaviness. Then she's rewarded with Swan Lake, why? Judging from her rehearsal video on youtube, she again looks out of depth trying to show off extensions with distorted line and not much else.

Share this post


Link to post

[skorik]..Princess Florine on youtube shows no airiness, but all extension with a dose of heaviness. Then she's rewarded with Swan Lake, why? Judging from her rehearsal video on youtube, she again looks out of depth trying to show off extensions with distorted line and not much else.

The Black Swan I saw of Skorik was full of the much talked about Mariinsky's "suppleness" and "upper carriage" and "flexible backs" and all that stuff...plus the usual heavy dose of distorted extensions, BUT ...when time came for the fouettes a major disaster took place... she couldn't even do 22 or 23-(all that while traveling all over the stage, VERY close to the pit). At one point she had to stop abruptly when it was obvious she was totally out of control and ready to fall and right there invent some choreography to supply for the emptiness midway the can-can coda music! :crying: .Embarrassment as I've never seen before, and let's consider that this was just the PDD in a gala performance...no tiredness from previous Odette here...

Share this post


Link to post

Photography might have had a cumulatively detrimental and denaturing influence on the contours of dance over time. It has certainly influenced architecture – most great buildings are only experienced in photographs – in terms of perspectives and angles rather than presence and the time it takes to move through the space. In some ways you remember the photographs and measure the buildings and dance performances against them – at best against the You Tube highlights.

I look forward to reading the new book – Catherine Pawlick's San Francisco Ballet reviews are low keyed and always nicely thought out.

Share this post


Link to post

[skorik]..Princess Florine on youtube shows no airiness, but all extension with a dose of heaviness. Then she's rewarded with Swan Lake, why? Judging from her rehearsal video on youtube, she again looks out of depth trying to show off extensions with distorted line and not much else.

The Black Swan I saw of her was full of the much talked about Mariinsky's "suppleness" and "upper carriage" and "flexible backs" and all that stuff...plus the usual heavy dose of distorted extensions, BUT ...when time came for the fouettes she couldn't even do 22 or 23-(all that while traveling all over the stage, VERY close to the pit). She even had to stop abruptly and invent some choreography to supply for the emptiness during the midway of the can-can-like music! :crying: . Embarrassing as I've never seen it before...

Wow, that is very sad indication of how much extensions are given precedence over other more important aspects of technique. When a ballerina can't even do single fouettes without taking a scenic tour of the stage, but instead is allowed to rely on ridiculous labored extensions as interpretation, no wonder Mariinsky dancers who want to get ahead will take notice and emulate that style.

Share this post


Link to post
.... But my big question is why, if so many respected coaches are against this trend, does Mariinsky encourage dancers to distort lines when displaying forced, ungainly extensions? ...

From what I've gathered in the book, the answer is that Mariinsky Ballet management -- the eternally "interim director" Yuri Fateev and his right-hand persons managing the company and making casting decisions, such as Ms Gumba -- demands it. Pawlick is far too diplomatic to say those two names outright...but she quotes the various personal coaches of dancers and Academy teachers (not always the same people, although a few Academy teachers do coach the pros). Pawlick and others DO mention that the pro dancers' schedules are crammed, so that there is precious little time to work with personal coaches on nuances of roles. Pawlick quotes some coaches explaining how many soloists are forced to sneak-in sessions with coaches who are not those officially "assigned" to them by Fateev & Gumba. Unlike the old days (since either Vasiyev or Fateev, not sure who), dancers cannot request an specific personal coach; I know that they could stick to a favorite coach during the Vinogradov era.

The main thing to remember in all of this: the coaches of the pros & the Academy teachers are very often working against the tastes (Balanchine/Forsythe/"modernity" Uber Alles) of Fateev. Please do not equate the bulk of the Vaganova & theater coaches with Fateev and his tiny circle. Dancers' schedules are crammed not just because of the many ballets performed & tours but also -- just hinted at by Pawlick -- for the purposely-devious desire to kill the 'old' Vaganova elegance for once and for all.

Perhaps Fateev thinks that he can make more money selling the Big Mac, instead of a meticulously-prepared elegant meal? On the Good News Front (and this is too recent to have made Pawlick's tome): Perhaps the recent "winds of change" in casting are a small hint of a "correction" to Big Mac Aesthetics?

Share this post


Link to post

Dancers' schedules are crammed not just because of the many ballets performed & tours but also -- just hinted at by Pawlick -- for the purposely-devious desire to kill the 'old' Vaganova elegance for once and for all.

How awful. By a simple question just keeps revolving around my head every time we get back into this "line/distortion/ubber extension" topic. What about the individual dancer common sense...? Aren't there enough videos where the sad result of this trend can be viewed, reviewed and revealed in its complete awfulness...? Don't dancers know about the general consensus among the audience on this aspect via this kind of boards or comments on Youtube and the like...? I am certainly probably one of the few people who DOES measure a good Odile-(not only, but also)-by her fouettes and a good Aurora by her balances and a good Giselle by her sautés on pointe. They are certainly not everything, but they are part of the role's backbone. They are tough cookies for sure but there's no way to avoid them. You either do them or you're not prepared for the role if you can't. Period. That's how I think. I don't care how malignant and beautiful and supple and lush and artsy and so on and so forth an Odile can be...deliver EVERYTHING, fouettes included and then we'll talk. No halfway allowed. I think there's also a generalized lack of need to get back to this theory-(not that it is the absolute truth, but...)-but I believe that unless ballerinas are not allowed to take on a specific role when they are not really technically prepared for it we'll keep seeing disaster after disaster. Yes, very elongated, supple, model-like creatures perfect for Vogue photo shoots with Leibovitz for not belonging to the stage.

Share this post


Link to post

... What about the individual dancer common sense...? Aren't there enough videos where the sad result of this trend can be viewed, reviewed and revealed in its complete awfulness...? Don't dancers know about the general consensus among the audience on this aspect via this kind of boards or comments on Youtube and the like...? ...

Cubanmiamiboy, most 'guilty' dancers are aware of shortcomings, which is why so many at the Mariinsky are seeking special coaching from teachers who know how to do it right. However, why would an improperly prepared dancer (such as Skorik in Swan Lake, who is basically a lovely dancer, much-heralded in the docu film about the Perm school) turn-down Fateev's offer to jump into a leading role...to see Miami Beach and headline a gala? Of course, she would not say, "Sorry Mr. Fateev, I don't want to dance Odette/Odile now" or "I cannot do the gala in Miami."

[by the way, Skorik has received negative criticism for other roles, such as Florine in SB or, recently in London, Dryad Queen in DQ. If she dances a poor Dryad, how on earth is she ready to dance O/O? But we digress, as this thread is about the book. Pawlik and those interviewed are not quoted bashing specific dancers but, rather, the general stylistic malaise.]

Share this post


Link to post