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Phaedra392

Yulia Makhalina

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There seems to be a contingent of ballet fans who have very strong feelings about this Kirov dancer. That is to say, they hate her. I saw one post recently that simply called her "repulsive." I'm curious to know why. I understand that many consider the extreme extensions that are typical of Makhalina and others to be unattractive and distortive of the desired classical line. Although I have seen her dance only one role -- the Lilac Fairy in the Kirov "Sleeping Beauty" DVD -- she strikes me as quite lovely in the role. Can someone explain to me, preferably based on this performance, why she inspires such derision? Is it just the extensions, or is it more than that?

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Phaedra:

I am afraid I cannot explain that to you, because she is one of my favourite dancers - not only because she is truly remarkable technically, but because she is an artist as well. I particularly love her use of the upper body. In fact, she is my favourite Odette - Odile.

Maybe people who hate her do not like her extensions, but I believe that they look beautiful in her.

silvy

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Silvy --

Thanks for your reply. Since my question, I have now seen her as Odile and in Paquita on tape. She strikes me as almost supernaturally secure technically, especially in her turns. The fouettes in Paquita are mind-boggling. I like the extensions, too. But it's not just the pyrotechnics that impress me. I think she's an incredibly "dancy" dancer, if you know what I mean. She engages her entire body -- arms, torso, head -- in ways that are often neglected by other dancers. And her body is as ideal as can be, and her face is heartbreakingly lovely. She seems bigger than life somehow. I'm becoming a real fan.

Phaedra

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ok, Phaedra, then we agree completely. These 3 are the only 3 videos I have seen of her. I also saw her live, dancing Paquita (with Ruzimatov I think) and Dying Swan when the Kirov visited Buenos Aires in 1996. I also saw her TWICE in the street at that tiem, and I was stricken by her beauty: long very black hair, and a tight black skirt with high heels that showed her extraordinary legs in black panty hose

There is also a glimpse of her as Queen of Dryads in Kirov's Don Q (starring Terekova and Ruzimatov)

:)

silvy

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Phaedra, I don't think that when "repulsive" was used in the Bolshoi-Kirov exchange tour thread, it was in any way meant to apply to Yulia Makhalina as a dancer in general, but simply to the way she may have looked in that particular performance. But you are right, Makhalina has always divided opinions among balletomanes and critics for various reasons: physique, challenging performance style, early rise to stardom, the "prima ballerina" hype created around her in the early nineties etc. It all tends to obscure a fair assessment of Makhalina and, in fact, she was only the first of the now generally cherished and acclaimed type of Petersburg ballerinas - even though in my opinion she is still miles ahead of most of the new ones in sheer artistry.

You can find some more about Makhalina on: http://users.skynet.be/ballet-lovers/Yulia1b.html

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I see that the 3 of us are fans of Yulia!!

Mark, I wud be very interested to know what Yulia's detractors say regarding her PHYSIQUE. Also about her performance style. In particular,do they refer to her high extensions, or to something else?

Can you help me? I am very curious!!!

silvy

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I'll second that motion, Marc. What in the world could be wrong with her physique? And what is meant by "challenging performance style"? Thanks in advance for your help.

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I haven't seen much of her--only a few times when the Kirov visited the US. The first was a number of years ago, when she was very very young, and danced the opening night Corsaire. I thought she was lovely, beautiful dancing, and a beautiful face. She was also wonderful as Lilac that year. Then the next time the Kirov came back, she was featured in everything, and she seemed completely different--utterly self absorbed, still beautiful but not at all interesting. Then she just disappeared from the company's US schedule. I would love to see how she has developed, because when I first saw her I thought her dancing was so elegant.

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Good point, Mary. Makhalina was a different dancer when we first saw her in the late eighties, also physically (as the "Don Quixote", "Sleeping Beauty" videos witness). By working a lot on her physique she created a taller, a more spindly physical image, allegedly in imitation of the then revered Sylvie Guillem model.

Makhalina never had a more nasty (and often rude) press than in London, even still in the mid-nineties. Her physical identity was described more than once as a caricature (skinny arms, puffed ribs etc), her silhouette as extravagant... We should remember that the long-limbed dancers of today’s Mariinsky weren’t there yet. Her performances were frequently turned down as cold, unmusical, empty technical displays, high on bravura but short on dramatic expression, marked by exaggerated extensions and sinuous lines pushing the limits in the classics.

So yes, Silvy, the high extensions were mentioned all the time. Again, we need to realize that at that point dancers like Zakharova or Vishneva, who go much further than Makhalina, hadn’t been seen yet.

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Concerning flexibility, I find that Yulia Makhalina exhibits hers far less than say Svetlana Zakharova. When I watched her in the Kirov's Don Quixote as the Grand Queen of the Dryads, I felt that she was relatively contained. In the beginning of the variation where she does a jete ferme and releves to a develope a la seconde, her extension was not foot to ear. I haven't seen Makhalina in any roles that require real artistic interpretation, so my comments are limited to how she uses her facility.

It seems that many reviews have decided that the recent generation of Russian ballerinas use their facility in unclassical and even vulgar ways. I'm quite sure that these ladies would never dare to use these extensions in Giselle; their coaches would shun such an idea immediately. However, if a ballet is designed to be virtuoso, why not be as virtuoso as possible as long as it's not out of character. For example, Paquita, Le Corsaire, and Don Quixote are purely virtuoso ballets. I would expect to see such feats of virtuosity. I think a high extension would be fitting in the Rose Adagio of Sleeping Beauty as well, because although Aurora is a bit unsure of herself, she is young and exuberant. Obviously, such extension would be inappropriate in Giselle or for Nikiya. Who wants to see a peasant girl or a Wili with their foot in their ear. I don't mind huge extensions unless they are clearly unfitting of the character or are unharmonious in the choreography.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems that only the Russian dancers are criticized for their extension. I know that many, especially English critics, role their eyes at Sylvie Guillem's extension. But has anybody bothered looking at Darcy Bussel or Lucia Laccara 180 degree extensions. I've even seen Laccara do one of those in Giselle.

It seems strange to me that what every dancer strives so hard for is actually unwelcomed onstage in the classics. I'm quite sure that most dancers try their hardest to get their legs as high as possible, say in the Rose Adagio, but the Russians who can do what everyone else strives for are getting the sour grapes.

Rachel

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I think the high extensions do occur in Giselle and Bayadere as well, Rachel -- and the argument for them is what you wrote: if the dancer can do it, why not do it? But I'd argue that high extensions are quite out of place in the Rose Adagio. Zakharova actually touches her face with her leg.

You've hit on al chicken and egg thing -- students today are practicing this BECAUSE of the ballerinas, it's in imitation of them. And so of course, then they want to do it. And it takes attention away from other aspects of classical technique.

I've seen some dancers with such a natural high extension that, as one teacher I talked to about it said after we'd both seen the same performance, "it's not an issue." The leg just floats up, it's not presented as a trick. But when you have a dancer swatting the side of her face with her leg over and over and over again, OI think it's an issue.

I think there has been criticism of both Bussell and Lacarra for this (some saying that they, and this whole SkyKicker movement, is in imitation of Guillem). Personally, I don't find Bussell's extensions extreme or unclassical -- or incorrectly used. But others do.

I also predict that the high extension movement is about over and a new paradigm is emerging. I'm predicting the next ballerina model will be inspired by the Dance Magazine cover photo of Michele Wiles in an absolutely gorgeous, perfectly classical, arabesque. In the past two years, I've seen several Big Blonde classical dancers coming up, and I'm predicting that's the next paradigm. Check back in five years and see if I'm right. :)

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Rachel, most of the recent generation of Mariinsky dancers dare to use crutch-splitting extensions in any ballet: "Giselle", "Sleeping Beauty", "Symphony in C", or "Jeune homme et la mort". Whether it is out of character or not, whether it is vulgar or not, it doesn't matter, they do it all the time. It has become their trademark and that's why they are famous for and their coaches really don't mind.

Makhalina does it as well when she dances "Giselle". The "Don Quixote" film you are referring to is from the early days; like I said, quite a different dancer then.

Alexandra, I'm less optimistic than you :). When you see the current Russian ballet competitions, you'll realize the skykickers still have a lot in store for us.

There is an interesting scene in the film about Violette Verdy where she is coaching Lacarra and Pierre in "Liebeslieder Walzer". Verdy shows surprise when she sees Lacarra's extensions, but all she does is encouraging her in that direction.

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Oh, the skykickers won't go down without a fight, but I'm convinced we're at the very, very beginning of a neoclassical revival anyway -- I'm a believer in the pendulum swing theory of history, and we've swung very far in two directions: one, extreme technique; and two, "turning classicism on its ear." Classicism barely has an ear left, short of on-stage human sacrifice, there's not much left that someone can put in a dance that will shock, and extensions, number of pirouettes, etc. have a physical breaking point.

But I agree, most coaches encourage the exterme technique -- but not always. Verdy may have thought that the extension was appropriate. I remember hearing stories about Balanchine letting some dancers (i.e., Farrell) do very high extensions, while telling others, "Not right for you, dear." And Farrell's own company last season was positively chaste.

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Thanks for that clarification, Marc.

Alexandra~ Could you explain, in your opinion, what distinguishes a very high extension as classical or not-classical? Does it depend entirely on the role? You said that you found Darcy Bussel's extensions to be be classical. Is this because she uses them sparingly and only in the right context? For example would you consider her huge extensions as Gamzatti in the Royal's Bayadere to be classical, because they fit the part?

As I young dancer, I am envious of such extensions and do find them beautiful. I do, however, understand how they at times aren't true to the art and reduce ballet to a bag of tricks. I guess this applies to many other aspects of ballet technique as well. I'm getting from this discussion that such fireworks should only be used at the appropriate times and sparingly. For example, if Sofianne Sylvie turned every simple double pirouette into 5, it would get old fast and would turn her into a dancer with nothing but a bag of tricks.

Rachel

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It seems strange that the coaches don't mind the extensions but many seasoned ballerinas do. I've read an interview of Assylmuratova where she condemns the younger generations use of such vulgar extensions. But aren't those seasoned ballerinas the coaches of the newer generation? Maybe the coaches who encourage such extensions were over-the-top dancers themselves. Maybe it's just taste.

Rachel

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Good points. I think sometimes it is a matter of taste, but also it can be a matter of the understanding that a coach has of both the dancer and the ballet. There are some ballets where a high extension is appropriate, and some not. And there are some dancers suited to a high extension, and some not. There are some coaches who take pride in being faithful to the choreography, while encouraging dancers to be themselves, and know the fine lines involved, and when and how to cross them, or when not. And there are those who don't seem to give a damn about the ballet, just put in their prize pupil and let them do whatever they think will either get them a medal, or get screams and applause. There aren't any rules, unfortunately. It's always worked by example -- by companies that were recognized as setting a standard for classical dancing, and others imitating, trying to reach that standard.

There were high kickers before, lots of them, going way back to the early 19th century, and probably before that. The costumes kept the women from raising their legs as high as they wanted, or could. Bournonville had a fight with his leading ballerina (Grahn) over this issue and Grahn left. He never had a ballerina to equal her, but the ones he had kept their legs down :)

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There is at least one famous example of a coach going completely different directions with her pupils: the Kirov's Olga Moiseyeva, who is the coach of Altynai Asylmuratova, Irina Zhelonkina, and Svetlana Zakharova.

As for Moiseyeva herself, she could never have done with her legs what Zakharova now does all the time.

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Marc, wasn't one of the glories of Russian coaching that the older dancer would take (or be assigned ?) to a young dancer who was not at all like her/him? So that there wasn't the danger of someone trying to produce an imitation?

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Regarding Makhalina, I agree with Cargill. When I first saw Makhalina, I thought she was sweet, lovely, musical. She had a quality that is my favorite among the ballerinas I like - lushness. I think the tour in which the Kirov brought Vindagradov's Swan Lake, Firebird, and Scheherazade (in 1995 maybe) there was a change. As Marc pointed out, she became thiner and more rubbery. There was a glacial imperiousness about her that came off as shallow rather than mysterious. I also saw her on several smaller "Stars of..." type engagements in the late 90s. It may have been the surroundings, but her grand Kirov manner came off as a little ridiculous.

However, since she has lost her favored status, I have read that she has matured (she's been married, had a child, divorced) and it has reflected in her performances. But due to her absences from the last three visits to the United States, I have been unable to view this progress. I hope it is true.

About extentions, many people credit with popularizing the skyscraping syle to Sylvie Guillaum and that might be true of the practice in Europe and Russia, but at least in the United States there have been other very flexable ballerinas who were known for their extentions and out-sized arabesques before SG came on the scene, for ex. Farrell, Kent etc... And they were taken to task, by Croce for one. One instance in the late 60s, she said Farrell was careless in her use of her tricks and again when Farrell came back to NYCB in the 70s, other dancers were criticized for adopting Farrell's high-kicking mannerisms (Dudleson and Watts).

For me, there is a difference between the gooey-legged ballerinas whose legs always go all the way up, all the time, and others. I think it has to do with a lack of resistance. An English writer recently called it frictionless. It has no impact. I also find many dancers known for their extentions and flexibility are sometimes completely hopeless as far as other technical concerns, such as turning or entrechat six. And many distort their bodies to the point where there is little "line" left. For example, in the last section of Diamonds, there is a developpe where Zakharova lifts her leg in a very high extention (which is fine), she pauses ever so slightly then shifts her entire torso so that she is now wishbone shaped. It's too much and frankly makes it look a little like a freak show. Now, the three other Kirov ballerinas I've seen do it also have a very high developpe, but there is not that final distortion. So I think Zakharova has crossed the line. Maybe that's what makes Bussell's extentions look more natural, her line always looks beautiful and it doesn't look as if she's made of pulled gum.

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I think Dale has discovered what makes an extension beautiful or vulgar. If the dancer retains a good line, looks beautiful, and doesn't reseamble a contortionist, extensions are fine. That and no 180 degree legs in Giselle.

On another note, I was watching Tatiana Terekhova in Don Quixote and noticed that after her supported pirouettes in the Grand Pas, she did a very quick and very high develope side. I think it looks much nicer and just as virtuoso to extend the leg to about 90 degrees with good rotation and arched feet.

Rachel

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I agree with Rachel in that it wud be just as beautiful a 90 degree developpe a la seconde after the supported pirouettes in Don Q. And as long as it is still beaufiful, 180 degree extensions can be artistic as well. Because ballet is an art form.

For instance, I do find Margot Fonteyns dancing artistic, and beautiful, though she did not have those high extensions. On the other side, I also like Nadezhda Pavlova and Nadia Gracheva, and Makhalina, and Guillem, with their 180's. Because they convey beauty. But I do not like Zahkarova's extensions that much because I sort of find it vulgar, not artistic.

A teacher I had used to say: "this is BALLET not gymnastics - if you want to do gym, then go somewhere else and practice sports". And it is so true!!!

silvy

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I certainly agree with both Rachel and silvy -- and I think you've hit on something important. It's not the height of the extension, it's the way it's done. There are people who could make a 90 degree arabesque look vulgar, like something in gymnastics. There are dancers who make a plie look like a squat. It's the intention behind the step that matters, I think.

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