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Style: Kirov/Mariinsky

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Here are a few observations, not meant in any way to be exhaustive.

The Russian style in general is a mix of the Italian and French styles.

As with any style today, the Kirov style (or the style taught at the Vaganova Academy in St. Petersburg out of which most dancers of the Kirov-Mariinsky company are or were recruited), has been undergoing definite changes in the last decades. As with all Russian companies, the Kirov no longer enjoys it splendid isolation of the Soviet days, foreign influences have been mingling with the company's style, there are more and more non-Vaganova recruits, etc.

That said, the distinguishing quality of the Kirov-Mariinsky style is still the port de bras and the whole upper body - placement and perfect coordination of the head, torso, back, shoulders, neck. The arms and the upper body of the Kirov dancers are like musical instruments; they have a flexibility and expressiveness that allows to convey the slightest nuance (every finger must be visible). I once saw ballet master Olga Moiseyeva explaining to Irina Zhelonkina the difference between "Giselle" and "Chopiniana", simply by a slight adjustment of the back; yet the resulting image was a completely different world.

The Kirov-Mariinsky style is often related to the city where it took shape, St. Petersburg. The linearity and harmony of the streets and buildings, the cool rationalism that characterises the city, are mirrored in the Kirov style: the lines of every part of the dancer's body are firm, there is a clarity of purpose (nothing is concealed or careless) and a sense of harmony.

There is also a definite grandeur of manner and presentation, coupled to a certain reserve, what is sometimes called the aristocratic trait of the Kirov dancers. They are not the greatest actors around, but their stylized approach is ideally suited to the great 19th century classics that form the core of their repertoire.

Recently, I feel the Kirov-Mariinsky style became less distinctive. Also, when watching its soloists one senses a clear switch of emphasis from harmony to elongation of shape (to take this analogy from architectural history it's like the harmony and solidity of the romanesque style developed into the extremities and mannerisms of the gothic style). Bodies are different and there is less and less coordination.

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Agreement with the above, including a bravo for marc's para on architecture. i haven't been to st petersburg, but have seen this comparison made often, on film, which seems to be the perfect medium to express it in, making it immediately understandable. i too, am keen now to read your bolshoi equivalent. :D

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Wonderful post, Marc :D. I think it should be required reading for Maryinsky dancers. I see Maryinsky dancing as a combination of Italian and French renaissance architecture--especially Italian, which is more individual and less abstract.

I can give a more technical explanation, though I think the way I learned it is a bit old-fashioned compared to what you see now. vrsfanatic can probably give a more contemporary description.

Hand position: Place the tip of your thumb on the first joint of the middle finger so that the thumb is bent, not straight. Lift the ring finger slightly higher than the middle finger, and the index finger slightly higher than the middle one. The little finger is raised highest. None of this should be exaggerrated--it's a gradual progression. The fingers are lengthened but relaxed, and the entire hand should look 'long,' a continuation of the wrist and arm. This is how beginners hold their hands--after a while, the thumb no longer touches the middle finger, but keeps its general shape.

Head: Russians don't just use their heads--they use their upper backs as well. The head is almost always turned and inclined with the breastbone lifted and the shoulders pulled down and back. The head may be inclined forward or back and turned to either side, but it is rarely, if ever, turned without being inclined, except during pirouettes, of course. In écarté positions, the head is turned and inclined up or down instead of forward or back.

Knees: Pulled up and straight, just like everyone else :). The plié is deep and springy, with the whole foot on the floor, and always very turned out. The accent in plié-relevé is generally up.

Toes (ie, feet): Pointed straight, not winged, not sickled. When the foot points, it always goes through the demi-pointe position, but as it is usually pointed very quickly, this position is not emphasized beyond the first one or two exercises at the barre, and it is definitely not emphasized in pointe work, which the Russians view as more similar to jumps than relevés. (They even say "jeté arabesque" instead of "piqué arabesque.") Russian footwork is sharp and clear, with exact 5th positions (toe to heel, no overcrossing, no uncrossing, no space between the feet).

I think that satisfies Alexandra's requirements :D, though I think it's more about Vaganova than the current Maryinsky--judging by their last performance at the Kennedy Center, I wonder whether the two names are still synonymous...or maybe I just learned it wrong.

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One of my problems with the recent generation of Kirov women is the shallowness and brittleness of their plies. I suspect that it is a problem with the pointe shoes :confused: , as the men's plies seemed fine. But then again, as the sexes aren't trained together, . . .

Fortunately, by the Kirov's most recent New York visit, there had been some improvement. I hope it continues.

And let me add my voice in praise of Marc's essay. :) Great work.

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Alexandra, I thought the corps looked excellent, but could have used more épaulement. Carbro, didn't notice the bad pliés on the Kirov's recent KC visit; it is surprising, as Vaganova training emphasizes strong jumps for everyone.

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Forgive me if this wanders a bit off topic...

The use of the torso is visible even in the students, even when they are not on stage. I went to a student performance in St Petersburg this fall, and it was immediately clear who the dancers were.

Some video I saw once had a teacher telling students that they should practically never be facing/looking directly front.

About architecture: I recall hearing or reading somewhere a description of the street where the Vaganova school is located as "the most perfect street in Europe" because the height of the buildings is the same as the width of the street.

It is indeed beautiful, and in fact the Alexandrinsky Theater, which is at one end of the street (Theater Street/Rossi Street) is IMHO a much prettier and more elegant theater from the outside than the Mariinsky.

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This may not be the style you're asking, but I see the Kirov display this differently than some others.

Their position and placement of the attitude leg. One could see the difference between Vaganova and Cecchetti during the Rose Adagio in Sleeping Beauty when balancing in attitude.

In the Kirov's, the foot is higher than the knee, but the knee doesn't drop

Juxtaposed to a Cecchetti trained dancer - though not necessarily La Scala? - the hip is square and the knee is lifted and higher than the foot.

Also, Kirov's 'a la seconde' arm is strong, held, and almost by the shoulder - not level though. Other styles have it lower.

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When they run, their head is elongated but sort of looking down while their arms rise a little above a la seconde and the torso is elongated.

How about their expression? I think only the Kirov can look that serious at times, for they've received such discipline.

A performance by the Kirov just seems so futuristic, so bold and demanding, so BAM! compared to other style's softness.

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