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Who are the great ballerinas today?


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Question of the week: Please nominate your candidate(s) for the reigning ballerinas. Really, truly, top of the line, could sit at the head table with Fonteyn, Makarova, Toumanova, Farrell, et al. at the Annual All Star's Banquet?

I'll kick things off by nominating Altynai Asylmuratova (Kirov) and Elisabeth Platel (Paris).

[Next week: great ballerinos]


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Hard question. It's difficult in this day and age as there are no truely great director to create for the great dancer. I will offer up Altynai Asylmuratova, Sylvie Guilluem, Kyra Nichols, and Nina Ananiashvili. At one time I would have added Darci Kistler but she has been injured too often to go down as one of the all-time greats. In the future, maybe Darcey Bussell or Viviana Durante. Bussell would do better to join a different company. Think of what she could do with the ABT rep. I'd love her at NYCB. But I don't think she'll reach her absolute best at the Royal, especially with the company's current woes.

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I would say Kyra Nichols. Without ever having a ballet remotely worth her talents created for her, she has taken Balanchine roles made for dancers completely different from her, and illuminated them with her own musicality and what seems to be intelligence, though it may be instinct. A 24-carat ballerina. Mary Cargill

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For me the only undisputed great ballerina is Asylmuratova, unmatched in the classics. I'd probably add Elizabeth Platel as well, but I've only seen her once in recent years and probably one shouldn't extrapolate from just one glimpse. There's no-one in London; Guillem is fabulous in some things but she's so individual that it's difficult to compare her against others - she needs a choreographer to make things which will really bring out her true quality.

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First I have to say that I was just connected on the Internet yesterday and a website like this one is my dream come true. My first search word on the web was: ballet!

I think it is a great idea to have a question of the week.

To me, there are two great ballerinas today: Monique Loudières of the Ballet de l'Opéra National de Paris and Evelyn Hart of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and if you don't mind I would like to tell you why. Il is very simply because they move me to tears. It even becomes a problem when I watch Evelyn Hart dance because my vision becomes clouded with tears, but I can't help it. If she dances Juliet, in ten seconds, she has you convinced that she would really die for her partner. To me there is one word to define Evelyn Hart and that word is: emotion.

Monique Loudières has the magnificent technique of the Ballet de l'Opéra de Paris, but beyond that she is a warm, fiery, passionate and very emotional dancer. I saw her quite a few times in Montréal, at le Gala des Étoiles and I also went to see her in Paris before she retired. (Retirement is mandatory for women at 40 years old.) My best souvenir of her is in "Adagietto" by Maurice Béjart. Because I had seen her before in Don Quichotte, Esméralda, Notre Dame de Paris, I knew that fiery side, but Adagietto was calm and serene and she still managed to move me beyond words.

Sorry for writing so long... redface.gif

[This message has been edited by Margot (edited 11-12-98).]

[This message has been edited by Margot (edited 11-12-98).]

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Asylmuratova is a favorite for most, if not all, of us. Interesting note. I watched the PBS special featuring Zizi Jeanmarie (spelling). In it they showed clips of her in "Carmen". It then showed scenes of her coaching Asylmuratova for the same role. Now I consider Asylmuratova's technique better than Zizi's, but there is no way in the world Asylmuratova was ever going to match Zizi's protrayal of Carmen! Zizi is more the woman, more the vamp, more the actress, and (I can't believe I'm going to say this, being the weight watcher that I am) Asylmuratova is too thin. Fascinating stuff.


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I've been mulling this one over since it appeared, trying to come up with an answer. But I can't answer the question as phrased. There are no current ballerinas I could rank with Makarova or Fonteyn or Farrell (although I wouldn't put Farrell in the same category as the other two; a dancer who is primarily a Balanchine ballerina is judged by different criteria in my book).

One problem is that I am not comparing these dancers side-by-side. Today's dancers are being evaluated by what I see before my eyes; yesterday's dancers are being seen through the haze of memory. I was a different person when I saw them, and levels of appreciation have been added to my viewing since then. I can't watch a contemporary dancer with the same set of eyes that I wore when I saw Makarova.

Another problem is that there is a sad lack of new, quality works being staged for the current generation. We can only see them in works where they are competing with the memory of the dancers we first saw in those works. The last major "new" work of any consequence, IMO, was Makarova's staging of "La Bayadere." It's difficult for a young dancer to shine in the lacklustre new works being created, which go in one eye and out the other.

It also should be kept in mind that when we remember Fonteyn or Makarova, we are recalling an artist who had reached their maturity. Makarova was almost 40 when I saw her, and had the time to nail down her technique and hone her artistry and expressiveness to its peak. She was a finished product; today's young dancers are still learning. (It's a sad fact of ballet that by the time you've got it all right, it's time for you to get off the stage.)

That being said, there are quite a few ballerinas today that are a joy to watch on their own terms. Darcey Bussell and Viviana Durante, two dancers with very different qualities, are at the top of my list. (Several people mentioned Assylmuratova. I've admired her since I first saw her on video in "Backstage at the Kirov," but can't forget how easily Bussell out-shone her in the "La Bayadere" video.) Susan Jaffe and Julie Kent also rank up there, as well as Nina Ananiashvili. On the Balanchine front, there are Helene Alexopolous, Wendy Whelan, Kyra Nichols, and Darci Kistler. For the future, I also have my eye on Riolama Lorenzo, who I've only seen in the corps at NYCB. She stood out there and shows promise (it helps that she's tall and beautiful and not so scrawny).

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Re Asylmuratova, I think I'd agree with Giannina that I'd bet money on Zizi in the Carmen sweepstakes -- but that's not having seen Asylmuratova do the role. AA has been both womanly and a fine actress in several things I've seen her in (most notably Le Corsaire and La Esmeralda pas de deux; both are on video, but I've also seen her do them in performance). But she also seemed totally wrong for Aurora in Sleeping Beauty. I only saw that one once, so who knows. Off night? Opening night nerves? Or just not her role?

Giannina is right though, it's all fascinating stuff. I also read Steve's post with great interest. The comment about Farrell gives him away as Not a New Yorker, but it brings up a very interesting point. What are the tests for Great Ballerinadom? The Petipa roles, and only those? It's hard to imagine Farrell in any 19th century role (but, again, we never got to see her do it; great dancers have a way of fooling you), but Ulanova and Plisetskaya never danced Terpsichore, or Chaconne, or Diamonds, and Fonteyn, one reads, was not at her best in Ballet Imperial. Are Balanchine ballerinas always in a separate -- and, I think you were implying -- slightly unequal trophy cabinet? Or can you look at her and say, "All right. Different but obviously the same." I've been told by several people that when she began to come up in the late '60s there were quite a few people (Royal fans) who disliked her intensely because she wasn't "classical" like Fonteyn. I would probably have been one of them. Now, I like both of them.

Also, I'd like to comment on Steve's gentlemanly relativism. You're right that you saw Fonteyn and Makarova and today's dancers with different eyes -- different age, different ambience, different everything. But I think that's what history gives us -- the ability to bridge those differences and compare across time. We can do it with all the other art forms. We know whether that composer writes nice tunes, or is up there with Beethoven and Mozart; whether that painter's pretty blobs stack up with Rembrandt. Why not in dance?

When I started going to the ballet I was lucky in knowing several people 10 or 15 years older -- and with 20 or 30 years more balletgoing experience than I (I came to ballet late, in my mid-twenties, and so I missed a lot.)

These people had loyalties to past dancers, but welcomed new ones. No one was sorry to see Sibley, Kirkland, or Kistler come along. You want to see new great dancers. But the same people could snarl at you when you admired, say, Merrill Ashley in "Stars and Stripes" -- "You never saw Verdy do it." No, never did. And that's the way I developed a sense of who as Great and who was not quite. I think there's enough video evidence (and I know video doesn't substitute for a performance) to show the differences. Go see a young dancer in Don Q, and then go watch Plisetskaya Dances, and tell me who wins.

I do agree wholeheartedly with Steve's point that it's difficult to judge a dancer until they're mature. I think that's why most dictionaries and encyclopedias don't list dancers until they're in their mid-30s. Too much can happen. And a lot of the dancers who are today's stars are still in their 20s.

As for Bussell and Durante, are they Fonteyn -- or Beriosova or Sibley or Seymour? Not to me, although I think Bussell could be, if she had a choreographer or coach who could guide her. There's a rosiness and freshness about her when I saw her (which may be gone now; she was quite young the last time I saw her) that I found very appealing, although, at that time, in Swan Lake and in Sleeping Beauty the technique just wasn't there. I haven't seen that Bayadere video, but I'm afraid to say I'm skeptical.

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Alexandra, if you'd ever heard me speak you would not have made a call as wrong as "Not a New Yorker"! I'm Manhattan born and raised. I'm also such a Balanchine fanatic that some people are surprised to learn I actually like anything else.

I did not mean to imply that Farrell or any other Balanchine ballerinas were inferior to "classical" ballerinas; only that I don't use the same yardstick on them. To me, comparing Makarova to Farrell is almost meaningless. It's like asking if a coffee mug is better than a wine glass. Better for what purpose?

I don't agree with your suggestion that we can compare dancers across time the way we can compare other artists. The score of Beethoven's 5th was not burned after it was first played; it is still around, and its structure and nuances can be compared to Mozart's 41st. Rembrandt did not reuse his canvases after one showing; they can still be seen, their brushstrokes examined. But Makarova and Dowell's performance in Swan Lake in October of 78 is gone for good. It exists only in my memory. I've watched them dance it for the Royal Ballet on video, as well as Makarova and Nagy at ABT, and as much as I enjoy those videos they do not give me the thrill that I got that night.

Alas, I do agree that Bussell and Durante will never reach the heights of Sibley or Fonteyn because the creative talent isn't there to give them the proper settings. I think the quality of dancers is at an all-time high, but the craft of choreography is in the doldrums. (At least in ballet. The situation in Modern Dance may be different, but since all Modern looks dreary to me, I'm in no position to judge.)

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I find this whole discussion fascinating, partly as it fits with what I've been thinking about a lot since Beriosova died - reading the tributes to her and trying to figure out what exactly it is that distinguishes a great dancer like her from the very good. I'm coming to the conclusion that for me at least it's the qualities that one almost blushes to mention today, like spirit or soul, and nobility. The great dancers were, or gave the impression on stage of being, somehow above the normal run of humanity. That's why I can't see Bussell, for instance, as joining the Pantheon. She's so keen to be seen as 'ordinary', and 'ordinary' and greatness don't co-exist for me. It's exactly this that held Lesley Collier, for instance, back - you can't be a prima ballerina, in the classical sense of the expression, and the girl next door simultaneously. Durante's reluctance to bring her soul to the party has a similar effect.The younger generation, brought up in the same egalitarian world as the current dancers, may see it all differently.

As for the RB 'Bayadere' video, I couldn't disagree more with Steve! Some of the problem may be that the camera loves Bussell more than Asylmuratova, but even so I see Bussell as gorgeous technique and little else, whilst Asylmuratova has the style, the subtlety and soul to bring life and meaning to the choreography. It's interesting that at Covent Garden, even when AA was dancing against Guillem and Ruzimatov, it was she who got the greatest ovation - you have to be there!

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Oh, Steve, I'm sorry to not only have misunderstood you but to have maligned your New Yorkness! Please forgive me.

I could argue that we don't hear Beethoven because the instruments have changed, and we don't see the paintings clearly because the paint has dulled -- and if it's scrubbed (as I'm sure you know from all the Sistine Chapel articles) so that it looks just like it did then, it looks different to us. I think we make adjustments for everything in the past (sometimes, probably not very good adjustments).

I think in a way comparing Fonteyn to Pavlova would be like comparing two very different beings, but I think people would generally agree they're in the same club. (Same with Taglioni, Grisi, Elssler.)

I wanted to second Jane's point about the ordinary and the great. Yes. Unfashionable, undemocratic as it may be, glamor is an integral part of stardom, and realism and classicism don't mix. I just read an excerpt from Bussell's book about dancing Juliet. It was very interesting, and she makes you feel what a dancer feels doing the role, but when she matter-of-factly talks about Juliet taking the poison and you have to choose whether you want the audience to know that the vomit is pouring through your fingers or whether to keep it in so you don't lose the poison - good God, what are they teaching children these days.

I remember a great line of Arlene Croce's, writing about Plisetskaya's swan imitations in "The Dying Swan:" "If it's swans you want, go to the zoo."

Maybe it is such an emphasis on ordinariness and realism -- along with the lack of good choreography -- is part of why we're not flooded with ballerinas today.

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Kyra Nichols is in my opinion the greatest classical ballerina in the world at present, and certainly the most musical.

I am privileged to have followed her career since 1985, although I always regret not being able to see enough of her performances in New York. I have happy memories of her over the years in many ballets, especially in 'Mozartiana', 'Vienna Waltzes', 'Cortege Hongrois', final movement of 'Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet', 'Donizetti Variations', 'Tchaikovsky Suite No. 3 - Theme and Variations', 'Diamonds', 'Walpurgisnacht Ballet', 'La Sonambula', 'Swan Lake', 'Tchaikovsky Pas De Deux'.

During my trip to New York this past spring, I remember her final scene in 'Serenade'. The sight of her borne aloft by her cavalier was most reassuring in hope. She was like a much needed beacon of light in our darkness. Her virtuosity was still undimmed in 'Tchaikovsky Pas De Deux', and in 'Raymonda Variations'.

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Did anybody on this board see Anna Polikarpova (now with John Neumeier's Hamburg Ballet, previously with the Kirov Ballet)?

I only saw her in video in Grigorovich's "The Stone Flower", but she was so graceful and marvellous that I was very impressed...

Elisabeth Platel definitely is a great lady.

I wish I had seen her more often (she's going to retire at the end of this season). I'd also suggest Isabelle Guerin. Perhaps she doesn't have the same class as Platel, but she has a wider repertory, and was very good every time I had the luck to see her...

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Oh, welcome, Estelle! Thank you very much for posting. I have not seen Polikarpova, but had heard from several people that she is extraordinary. Hard to tell what kind of a classical ballerina she is in that repertory, but still extraordinary.

I haven't seen so much of Guerin. She did a few Nikiyas in Washington. I'm sure she did a Swan Lake when the company first performed here about ten years ago, but I don't remember it! I've seen a bit of her Giselle on tape, which I thought quite beautiful, and as the Bride in L'Arlsienne, she made much of a part that I'd thought uninteresting before I saw what she could do of it.

Note to everybody: I never can remember the url to Estelle's site, because it's so long, but we have a link to it on Ballet Alert's link pages, and if you've never seen it, please do. It's one of the nicest sites on the web (and my favorite, I must say, along with ballet.co) with LOTS of information on ballets and dancers. Estelle, next time you post, maybe you could put your url as a signature line for those who won't check our links page?


PS: I realized, of course, as soon as I pressed "Post reply" that all you have to do is go up to the middle button that looks like a little letter at the top of Estelle's post, and you'll have her site address. Which is:


[This message has been edited by alexandra (edited 12-01-98).]

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Guest PaulWishinski

Many many thanks Alexandra for posting Estelle's url! What a wealth of information! Estelle, you certainly have put together a marvelous resource for those of us who have yet to experience, in person, the dancing of any truly famous ballerinas or ballerinos (is that a real appellation??)!!

I did see Baryshnikov in his White Oak Dance Project and frankly,.... well, I understand that was not the Misha of old, lets put it that way!

I'll be devoting a lot of time to reading on your site in the future.

PS. At this point my favorite performance of a ballerina has to be Darcy Bussell, in La Bayadere (the video with Mukhamedov & Royal Ballet 1991).

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About Anna Polikarpova: I'm not a fan of Grigorovich's

ballets, but that video of "The stone flower" is interesting (it

also features Tatiana Terekhova as the Queen of the Copper

Mountain), and Polikarpova alone makes it worth seeing. She looks so

sweet, graceful and light that I'd love to see her as Juliet or Aurora

for example.

Unfortunately there aren't many videos of Isabelle Guerin, as far

as I know (and that's the same for most of the POB dancers). She

appears in a video of "La Bayadere" as Nikiya (with Hilaire as Solor and Platel as Gamzatti), and in "Apollo" in the "Balanchine Celebration" tapes.

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Note: I posted this 12/01 late evening, and it didn't make the move, so I copied and am reposting it; hence, it's a little out of sync.

Hello again, Paul. Yes, ballerino is a "real appellation," although people will look at you funny if you say it on the bus. Here at Ballet Talk, though, the support group for people who know ballerinos, you can say it as many times as you want.<p>Glad you liked Estelle's page. I found it my first night on the Web and thought everything was going to be like that. Alas, not. Please check the links on our links page. There aren't many pages that have real content, but as I find them, I put them up. You might like the two Kirov sites; lots of pix. If you can't see the real stuff in the flesh, you might as well gaze at their image.<p>I'm going to close this thread now, because it's so long, and start a new one "Great Ballerinas 2." Closing the thread means that the thread won't accept any more posts, but neither the thread, nor its posters, should take it personally. It's just that we don't want the page to explode.

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Yes, after posting noted the "Today" part. Never meant "end of discussion" seriously. Should have inserted winky face ;-) or something.

Today I love Jenifer Ringer @ NYCB & have hopes for Alexandra Ansanelli, who seems to have extraordinary depth. Too bad no one is there to mentor them properly.

ABT: Eyeing Michelle Wiles, who monopolizes my attention when on stage. I like Julie Kent in limited range of roles -- will never see her disappointing Giselle again, for sure! Expecting wonderful things from Gillian Murphy. But the word "great" as applied to the likes of Farrell, Makarova, Kirkland? Don't think so. Of course, it's a young group of dancers with lots of time (let's hope) for growth.

Recently saw Cojocaru at RB as Giselle. Promising still. Seemed undecided in Act II whether to be a traditional Romantic wili or a contemporary one. If she was trying to blend the two, she doesn't yet have the artistry.

When it comes to men, at ABT at least, it's a far different story. In order of most favorite, there's Jose Carreno, Marcelo Gomes, Herman Cornejo; in a 3-way tie (depending on role, night, etc.) Angel Corella, Ethan Steifel, Max Belotserkovsky; still have a soft spot for Robert Hill, looking fwd to development of David Hallberg, yada, yada, yada. An incredible generation.

Was there a thread on partnerships? I will never forget the electricity, love and one-ness between Alonso & Youskevitch in "Giselle" Act II pas de deux at an ABT gala in -- what? early 1980's? They'd been apart since she returned to Cuba, she was over 60 and he near 70. This was their first reunion, but it was as if they'd never been apart. It was -- literally -- stunning. The audience was in complete silence for some moments before erupting thunderously.

Other than that, and on a more earthly plane, was the beautiful work Susan Jaffe and Jose Carreno did together. After their first NYC "Sleeping Beauty," my response was, "It was just like real life! She was asleep for a hundred years until Jose woke her up!"

Thanks for your interest.

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you can also see Anna Polikarpova on the new DVD with John Neumeier's "Illussions like Swan Lake" danced by the Hamburg Ballet. It's an extremely well done production and I think yet only available from Amazon Germany.

Regarding the great ballerina club I would say Alina Cojocaru will certainly soon join it.

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