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Henry Danton was born in 1919 in Bedford, England, and danced with the International Ballet and the Sadler’s Wells Ballet before embarking on a voyage of the world after the Second World War. He was one of the original cast of Ashton’s “Symphonic Variations.”
He danced in companies across Europe, the United States, Australia and New Zealand before becoming a teacher. At 94 years of age he lives in Mississippi where he continues to teach.
Karapetyan and Polunin (alphabetical order)
This is a response by an ex-dancer, and subsequently teacher, (and a Brit to boot) with many years in the profession, to Ms. Kavanagh's article relating to the Polunin bubble.
While I am in disagreement with the present fashion of exposing the private lives and problems of artists in general, and dancers in particular, one must be grateful to Ms. Kavanagh for clarifying some of the aspects of this “storm in a British teacup” which was blown up way beyond its importance.
In reading the details of Polunin's childhood and progress to his present status as a dancer, I am struck by the similarity of these with those of another very talented young dancer, who I have had the opportunity to observe and get to know.
I first saw Avetik Karapetyan in the Varna Competition in 2010. I saw his first round appearance and was, like the other members of the audience, very impressed. Attending Elizabeth Platel's classes for the workshop, which was held in conjunction with the competition, and which Karapetyan took daily, I soon realized that I was watching a very unusual dancer. Apart from the fact that when a step or combination was being shown by the teacher, he would just watch quite motionless, sometimes sitting in a split on the floor, watching and absorbing, he would then, without any of the “rehearsals” of legs and hands most dancer do when learning a combination, deliver a perfect rendition of the steps, ever accurate, impeccable and faultless, and with a full understanding of all the implications of the step or movement.
But this was not the only phenomenon. Details were added so that one finished up by thinking that one had never seen that particular step or combination done before.
As the week progressed he would add his embellishment or sophisticated improvement of the steps, sometimes much to the teacher's chagrin, and usually to applause by the other dancers and those watching the class. This was never done with any sense of disrespect, rather from his innate sense of improvisation. He has since told me that he is the despair of ballet masters as they never know what he is going to do.
The details of his life and progress as a dancer as I have come to know them, are strikingly similar to those of Polunin. But his reactions to circumstances have been almost always dissimilar.
Like Polunin he comes from a somewhat similar “underprivileged “society, Armenia.
Like Polunin, early life saw him on the streets and into street fights. Both had mothers, who in an effort to get them off the streets, put them into other activities. Polunin to gymnastics, and Karapetyan to dance.
Their mothers, however, seem to have been very dissimilar. Polunin’s mother appears to have had big ambitions from an early age for her son, pushing him, and eventually, one must suppose, being responsible for him leaving for England and the Royal Ballet, for a career in what was perhaps not his choice. All of which could account for the strained relations with his mother.
Karapetyan, on the contrary, in a profession that he liked, at the age of 17 made his own decision to leave Armenia, because, if he had remained he would have had to do military service for 7 years, which would have put an end to a dancing career.
Both, at an early age, though about three years apart in age, find themselves out of their respective countries but in very dissimilar circumstances. .
Polunin in a very secure and guaranteed situation where he can continue his studies, albeit maybe in a profession not of his choice. Karapetyan separated from his family, (who he was not to see again for seven years), alone without assistance or sponsorship, in a foreign country with only his wits to allow him to survive, But Karapetyan calls his mother regularly and frequently to ask for recipes for his attempts at cooking to maintain a healthy regime, free of stimulants.
But whereas Polunin had no opportunity to choose his teachers, to like or dislike their systems,
Karapetyan in his wanderings in Europe eventually was able to make his own choice of teacher.
“I chose Prokofieff because I did not have good enough feet for Pestov”. His choice was particularly auspicious, as Prokofieff produced extremely strong and masculine dancers.
The two dancers are quite dissimilar in physiques. Polunin tends to be longer and more stretched out, a result maybe of early gymnastics. Karapetyan is shorter, stockier, with powerful shoulders, which undoubtedly the street fighting helped to develop. These allow him to lift his partners effortlessly. His “press lift” of his partner in arabesque, makes it look like she was lifted from above, and he lowers her controlled and softly on to pointe. This a dissimilarity with Polunin, who must acquire this.
With respect to their different physiques, Polunin tends to have long stretched straight legs and arms. My teacher’s eye detects Polunin’s hips that are not squared to the front, the result of a specific training which produces a different line.
Karapetyan is muscular to a point which would have delighted Michelangelo, and correctly placed hips allow him always to easily and naturally assume an accordant and harmonious pose, both in the air, or on the ground
It is said that clothes make the man. Maybe they also reveal something of character. There is a dissimilarity in what appeals to Polunin and Karapetyan. Polunin would appear to prefer black and loose fitting, concealing not only the tattoos that adorn his body, but also possible defects. .
Karapetyan wears the least necessary, skin tight, with a preference for white, which allows every muscle tendon and sinew to be seen. His white socks are a hallmark which detail the fast accurate footwork of feet that were “not for Pestov”.
Both Polunin and Karapetyan have languished for the past years in state companies, which have their advantages and disadvantages. Polunin has been presented, perhaps over-presented. too soon in his company and up till now has been known principally in the tight close circle of British Ballet. For which reason, maybe, he decided to make a change.
Karapetyan, facing the hierarchy of a staid Swedish state company took the initiative and got himself out to international competitions all over the globe, where he earned medals, and is known to a different but equally elite public.
Both are unusually talented young male dancers, now at a turning point in their careers, with much to be compared between them. Comparisons have been made of Polunin to Nureyev and Baryshnikov. He is now to be mentored by Zelensky. It is to be hoped that he will have a Director who will not address a recalcitrant and rebellious 22 year old as ‘’darling” and not emerge as a Nureyev-Baryshnikov-Zelensky clone.
Karapetyan, I am sure, will emerge only as Karapetyan. “I just love to move and am happy if anyone watching enjoys it”.
If there are as Ms. Kavanagh suggests, demons in dancers’ lives which live and belong in the darkness, there must be, by the same token, angels who live in the light. My bet will be with the angels.