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Clement Crisp — Olga Smirnova

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Posted (edited)

So now it’s four and a half years later and the article rings truer than ever.

 

https://www.ft.com/content/f16dc240-06f4-11e2-92ef-00144feabdc0

 

I was just at the Mariinsky Ballet Festival where Olga Smirnova, performing La Bayadere, may have given the greatest ballet performance that I’ve ever seen. How to describe her? Well, Clement Crisp did and it’s as good a description as I’ve read.

 

She has “an indefinable authority.”

 

“She has the most exquisite upper-body, and a magical presence.”

 

“She creates something magical and it touches the spirit.”

 

He gets into a beautiful definition of épaulement, which we assume is meant to describe her as well. And here is where I would like to add something that relates to his statement, “And her stage manner is simple, authoritative, gracious and allied to a technique that finds no unease with Balanchine’s tremendous dances, but rather brings them to a fascinating life.”

 

It’s the idea that épaulement, a traditionally static, sculptural quality in art, the "pose" in dance, is actually carried over into her motion.

 

Elsewhere, I’ve used the word ‘phrasing.’ It’s meant to describe how she can time and position her moves so that they become a dynamic épaulement. For example, one part of her body may move forward while an arm lingers behinds creating a different rhythm, a different thrust. It can add up to an image of one unified, flowing motion that is actually made up of differently directed elements. All ballerinas seem to float, it’s what ballet is about. She can do it magnificently by using the “subtlest contrasts and oppositions,” part of Clement Crisp’s definition of static épaulement.

 

This is just one of uncountable attributes that she has, but it’s one that so impresses me at the moment.

 

Edited by Buddy

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In my post about the Mariinsky Festival I used the term “Angel Wings” to describe Olga Smirnova. I can partially borrow from Clement Crisp’s words to somewhat explain this.

 

“Angel” — A “magical presence,” “an indefinable authority,” a “transfixing effect” — that “touches the spirit.”

 

“Wings” — Flight — to be elevated above the stage and to float through your senses, carrying you along, with the  physical perfection and magical beauty of “Angel Wings.”

 

Can I offer one further thought about the idea of Epaulement?  Her entire performing range can almost be seen as an épaulement, something composed of “the subtlest contrasts and oppositions.”

 

 

[the term “magical presence” was actually Clement Crisp quoting Merrill Ashley, who was coaching Olga Smirnova in the performance of Diamonds]

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Wouldn't it be grand if Olga Smirnova would be included in the Mariinsky's Oct 2017 tour to the Kennedy Center as a Guest Star Nikiya? Otherwise I fear we may be subjected to a double or triple dose of another "O.S." as Nikiya.

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Posted (edited)

I'm not sure I followed the "O.S." (if you mean Skorik--I wouldn't mind seeing her Nikiya at all). But yes it would be fantastic if we could get the Mariinsky with Olga Smirnova as Nikiya--and Chudin as Solor too for that matter.  I fear completely unrealistic though...But the Mariinsky has some other good Nikiyas, however unfortunate it is that they let Smirnova slip away.

Edited by Drew

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Posted (edited)

8 hours ago, Natalia said:

Wouldn't it be grand if Olga Smirnova would be included in the Mariinsky's Oct 2017 tour to the Kennedy Center as a Guest Star Nikiya? Otherwise I fear we may be subjected to a double or triple dose of another "O.S." as Nikiya.

If so, you have my deepest sympathy, since I have seen both them as Nikiya and "from the sublime to the ridiculous" about sums it up...

Edited by MadameP

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13 hours ago, MadameP said:

If so, you have my deepest sympathy, since I have seen both them as Nikiya and "from the sublime to the ridiculous" about sums it up...

 

:D

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Posted (edited)

I would also like to see Olga Smirnova, along with Semyon Chudin, guesting as much as possible with the Mariinsky. I'd really like to see them as regular guests at the Festivals.

 

I like to wonder at times what Olga Smirnova would be like if she were at the same level now at the Mariinsky as she is at the Bolshoi. Keep in mind that she wasn’t long out of school when Clement Crisp and Merrill Ashley described her. At this point she would have still had a lot of Vaganova/Mariinsky in her.

 

I could visualise her as a dreamily pure ethereal, maybe even harkening back somewhat to Galina Ulanova. But she’d probably be closer to today’s Ulyana Lopatkina, whose space, I feel, is now being carried on as much as possible by the basic beauty of Oxana Skorik. Also Yekaterina Osmolkina reminded us at this year’s Festival what a remarkably graceful and dreamlike dancer she is.

 

I think that Olga Smirnova would probably be a ‘sensation’ no matter where she was. I think that she’s flourishing at the Bolshoi. I can also see her reaching into her Vaganova background someday and producing an amazing, Mariinsky-like resemblance.  I look forward to seeing her perform as much as possible.

Edited by Buddy
typo error(s) corrected

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If Smirnova had stayed at the Mariinsky, I wonder if she would have developed the commanding speed she has now--

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I think I read that the Bolshoi really wanted Smirnova and had a plan for her career. I think the very little movement and slow movement in ranks (with rare exceptions) at the Mariinsky would give any budding ballerina pause to think......

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3 hours ago, Drew said:

If Smirnova had stayed at the Mariinsky, I wonder if she would have developed the commanding speed she has now--

Smirnova always had exceptional speed, even at Vaganova.  It's one of her hallmarks.

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Posted (edited)

13 hours ago, MadameP said:

Smirnova always had exceptional speed, even at Vaganova.  It's one of her hallmarks.

I can believe that!! Though on the whole, in recent years, the Bolshoi has seemed to place more of a premium on speed than the Mariinsky. In an interview, another Mariinsky 'import' to the Bolshoi, Stepanova, mentioned working with her Bolshoi coach on the speed of turns which (she said) were done faster at the Bolshoi. 

 

With some Bolshoi ballerinas (I am thinking of dancers whose entire careers were spent at the Bolshoi) it does seem to come at the cost of refinement -- do they even care where they place the working leg in fouettes? What seems so extraordinary about Smirnova, as best I can judge having seen her live only a couple of times, is how she can be at once very fast and very, almost exaggeratedly, refined

 

The 'refinement' remark isn't exactly meant as a knock on the Bolshoi; I rather appreciate the distinctive inflections of the two different companies. But it can be very striking to watch Smirnova whirl around the stage like lightning while maintaining this cool, crystalline elegance at the same time. 

Edited by Drew

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Ah ... now you're opening up a whole kettle of worms!  Yes, of course one of the main differences between Bolshoi and Mariinsky is that the Bolshoi does go for the "big effect" at the expenses of correctness of technique and Vaziev himself has stated his desire to "refine" the Bolshoi style. Faster and higher is of course easier if one is not so particular about how one attains this!  This is why I personally am a Mariinsky fan first and foremost, although I love Bolshoi ballet for its theatricality and exuberance and I agree with you, Drew! I actually love the difference there is between the two companies!    With regard to Olga Smirnova, I know that I have seen videos of her work in class at Vaganova, and at her graduation performance, and both in live performance and on video since then, and yes, she is somewhat unusual in that she has flexibility, technique, elegance AND SPEED ... her final diagonale in the kingdom of the shades scene showed that very clearly!  

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I’m now into video reality rather than what I’ve just seen on stage. The one advantage is that you can study details that would have raced by on the stage. The other side is that the reality may be slightly altered or diminished.

 

What I’m noticing is the importance of Aura. This I believe was also a major factor when seeing her live. From videos I’m also noticing the importance of her phrasing — the timing and positioning. I mentioned the idea that a key element in the concept of épaulement — ‘subtle contrasts and oppositions,’ may be a key element of her entire performance. This may be true, but I think even more important is the idea of ’subtle nuances’ of any kind. She seems to excel at this.

 

In regard to what might have happened if she had stayed at the Mariinsky and developed with the support that she’s received at the Bolshoi, I’ve been looking at a few  old Vaganova clips, featuring her more delicate and refined nature. I get ‘tingles of excitement’ when I think of what a subtly ethereal goddess she might have become in the manner of Ulyana Lopatkina. I don’t mean to diminish for an instant what she is doing now, but this is an alternative direction that I find exciting to think about.

 

As I also mentioned, I think that this place is now being principally taken at the Mariinsky by Oxana Skorik, whose beauty of dance is remarkable. Whether she can develop into an ‘ethereal’ is yet to be seen. I’ve definitely seen the potential. I also mentioned the similarly beautiful dancing of Yekaterina Osmolkina, but I totally forgot about Alina Somova. That’s probably because she’s performing less. She tries so many things that it’s difficult to focus on only one, but in flowing beauty of dance she is also one of the Mariinsky’s finest. 

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Alina Somova is on maternity leave at the moment - that's why she has not been performing.  

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Posted (edited)

On 25 Apr 2017 at 3:16 AM, MadameP said:

Alina Somova is on maternity leave at the moment - that's why she has not been performing.  

 

Thanks, MadameP. I thought that was the case. Also she doesn't seem to travel, possibly to be closer to her family. And apropos to our latest discussion at the Mariinsky Festival topic, bring your tape measure if you disagree. I claim that she's tall or (bowing to my total lack of objectivity in her presence) at least seems tall. :)

 

Also one more quick comment about what, in the case of Olga Smirnova, I call phrasing. She has the ability in the middle of a flow to stop or highlight motion for a fraction of a second for dramatic (or ethereal, my preferred word) effect.* It can leave me breathless.

 

* I find this most noticeable in her facial expression.

Edited by Buddy
spelling and typo corrections and (*)added

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Posted (edited)

Alina Somova does have exceptionally long legs but I  don't think she is tall, from what I saw of her in class and rehearsal.   I think it's very difficult to judge dancers' heights from their stage appearance, because the stage makes all appear fatter (in just the same way television or photographs do,)  the dancers  are constantly moving, and also performing on a raked stage which means that dancers in other parts of the stage might "appear" smaller or taller relatively depending on where they are standing on the stage. Also, even in real life, physique makes some look taller than they actually are.  The long arms and legs that many/most dancers have, make them look taller than they actually are, giving them those endless beautiful lines that all strive for.  Proportions make some dancers look shorter or taller.  In their everyday clothes, many wear heels. It's difficult to judge.  Tallest ballerina who I know of at the Mariinsky Theatre is Alexandra Iosifidi, who is nearly 6 feet tall.  Smallest probably is tiny new recruit Anna Smirnova, who at well under 5 feet small, is very talented and recently danced Amor in Don Quixote.

Edited by MadameP

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Posted (edited)

On 25 Apr 2017 at 0:55 PM, MadameP said:

Alina Somova does have exceptionally long legs but I  don't think she is tall, from what I saw of her in class and rehearsal.  

 

6'1'' , just as I thought. Thank you !  :)

 

I do believe that Ulyana Lopatkina is 6'-1''. Thanks for the other insights.

 

Added: Ulyana Lopatkina is 1.75 m or 5'-9" according to Wikipedia.  I recall an article saying 6'-1''. If I can find it I'll let you know.

Edited by Buddy
"Added:" reworded

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Somova is 5'6, maybe 5'7. I'm almost 5'5 and she is just a hair taller than me. 

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On 25 Apr 2017 at 9:16 PM, Fraildove said:

Somova is 5'6, maybe 5'7. I'm almost 5'5 and she is just a hair taller than me. 

 

Thanks, Fraildove.

 

I recall a discussion we once had about the style differences of the major companies in Russia. We were talking about Svetlana Zakharova, but now we have Olga Smirnova as well. If you’d care to comment on her ’company style’ sometime I’d be delighted to hear what you have to say. I hope that your company is doing very well.

 

As an aside, one of the companies you mentioned was the Perm Ballet, who performed Swan Lake this year at the Mariinsky Festival, the first company to do a complete Swan Lake. The best that I can remember is feeling that the Perm dancers were very precise, almost Opera de Paris from the ankles up. This is a rather incomplete description, but I did enjoy their performance very much. 

 

In regard to articles about Ulyana Lopatkina’s height, the best I can do for the moment is this. 

 

“Lopatkina said that right now she herself is the tallest ballerina in the Kirov.” 

February 24, 2011

http://russiapastandpresent.blogspot.ch/2008/04/interview-with-uliana-lopatkina.html

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Posted (edited)

5 hours ago, Fraildove said:

Somova is 5'6, maybe 5'7. I'm almost 5'5 and she is just a hair taller than me. 

I agree with that - 5'6" is what I thought - a few inches taller than me, but no more!  And as for Lopatkina being 6'1".  This must be a joke!   She certainly isn't.  She might be 5'9", but she is shorter than both Kondaurova and Iosifidi.  Iosifidi is  just under 6 ft - 1.82 cm - she could be a catwalk model at that height! 

https://www.ellines.com/en/achievements/508-the-ballerina-who-enchanted-russia/

 

Edited by MadameP

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Thanks again, Fraildove and MadameP.

 

I guess, for me, the relevance of all these height statistics to this discussion, is that Olga Smirnova seems much taller to me than she might actually be (along with perhaps other ballerinas) —- to her (and their) great credit !

 

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Posted (edited)

More video watching and more beauty. Again back to what I call phrasing or control of the body in motion. In watching one of her Vaganova videos I notice how calm her upper back remains while her legs are quite active or dramatic in positioning. She has very noticeable suspensions of flow in her upper body and a very sculpturesque grandeur.  In a much more recent video this is much less noticeable, more subtle. I tend to like them both.

 

If you want to see a very brief example of this Vaganova style (2011) go to 4:50. Also look at the hypnotic wonder of her face in the part that follows. She ends by saying, "I want to believe in something good, something filled with light."

 

 

(Video posted by the Vaganova Academy)

 

 

Edited by Buddy
Video added

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