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Who are the great ballerinas today?


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I second the nomination of Wendy Whelan, and I've seen quite a lot of her. I'm really surprised at the silence from the regular NYCB crowd -- everyone must be busy going to the theater -- because I think most regular NYCB-goers would agree that Whelan is clearly the best ballerina in the company today. And by virtue of her versatility, she would match many of the great ballerinas of the past.

If you're going to allow nominations of those still dancing but possibly a bit past their prime -- you'd have to include Kistler. For me, she simply defined a ballerina and is the person

who made me fall in love with the ballet. I admire Nichols, and she is a musical dancer, but she has never made my heart surge or my eyes tear or had me hold my breath in the way Kistler, or even Whelan, has.

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Forgive me for being a bit of a pessimist and a wet blanket, but I have this uncomfortable feeling that we're in a Great Ballerina Drought right now. Surely there are many highly competent technical and artistic women (and men) working now, and more power to them, but there's nobody who sets up a tingle for me the way Cynthia Gregory, or Violette Verdy, or Margot Fonteyn could. But maybe I'm just getting old!

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Hello everyone...

Personally speaking, I think it'd be really hard for me to classify Kyra Nichols as a classical dancer because I haven't really seen much of her in the classics. How was she in Martin's "Sleeping Beauty" or "Swan Lake"? I wonder how she would do in some of the major classical works? That being said, I would definitely agree that Monique Loudières is one of the greatest classical ballerinas of this decade -- has anyone seen her in "La Esmeralda" pas de deux with Manuel Legris? (And Manuel Legris is the best male dancer of this decade, imo.) This is probably one of the best pas de deuxs I've ever seen live. I agree with the comment that Guillem is great in some roles, but she's a little too "individual" for my taste. Still, her "Grand Pas Classique" is probably one of the most thrilling pas de deuxs I've ever seen. I don't think any one could surpass her "thrillingness" (?) in the female variation of "Grand Pas Classique." She's definitely beyond extraordinary in that one. Elizabeth Platel is the ultimate "classical" ballerina, and also, I think the most "romantic" ballerina of this decade. Just pure French classicism. I think I would vote for Isabelle Guérin too. As for Polikarpova, I've seen her in quite a few works at Hamburg but I can't really classify her as a great ballerina, imo; her repertory in the classics is a little too limited there, and her neoclassical roles (or at least the ones that I've seen her in) have not really made much impact on me either. I think I prefer the petite Sylvia Azzoni, who dances with so much passion. She is quite exquisite in some of Neumeier's recent neoclassical works; I hope she'll get some good roles in Paris this January.

As for the upcoming young dancers, I would definitely vote for Myriam Ould-Braham, a coryphee at the POB, as well as Dorothée Gilbert, a quadrille. Ould-Braham manifests more of that traditional romantic + classical dancer, where as Gilbert can do both classical and contemporary works equally well. Ould-Braham's classical qualities resemble Platel a lot (I'm assuming Platel coaches her quite frequently?), and Gilbert's energy reminds me of Loudières's. I think these two will be GREAT dancers some day...let's hope that they won't have too much trouble climbing up the ladder through those concours...As for the men, I think Hervé Moreau has great potential. Noble, beautiful line, gorgeous face too (which helps (^_^)) -- shall I say that he might be the next Legris? I've also liked Alexandra Ansanelli a lot from the little that I've seen of her; I'm also looking forward to Jaime Castilla of SFB.

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When I first saw Wendy Whelan, ( "Concerto Barocco", First Violin, at her SAB workshop), she was all gawk and sinew. Over the years, I recognized her smoothing off her rough edges and bringing a true intelligence to her roles. It is easy to be impressed by technique, but the evidence of a dancer's examination of the choreography and music in relation to her/his ability and temperament is rarer and so much more gratifying. She was indeed very moving in "Liebeslieder Walzer" last spring. Thank you, Wendy.

Must add: Saw Irina Dvorovenko in 1st Movement Symphony in C tonight. After 30 years (easily over 100 viewings) of this work, I found her to be (using the word advisedly) a revelation. With complete fidelity to the Balanchine style, she found the playful vein in Bizet's music and went with it. At appropriate moments, her head would be tilted just so, tenderly acknowledging her partner standing behind her, thus maintining their interaction. It was really quite a thrilling performance.

Dvorovenko has proven herself an extremely versatile stylist. I have watched her with gratification on many occasions, and she has often surprised me with attention to details. Where is the line between great and near-great? She may be ready to cross it.

Having just recently emerged from a ballerina-rich era, it is somewhat disconcerting to wonder where everyone is these days. Well, like learning after Balanchine's death that great ballets don't automatically appear every year or two, neither do great dancers, male or female. The staggering level of male talent today must simply be a fluke. Enjoy it, everybody, while it lasts!

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Maybe most will disagree.....Im only 21 and I know she comes from the old gaurd of ballerinas......and she was never ANYTHING like these ultra gumby ballerinas today, but Margot Fonteyn is the greatest ballerina of all time....Makarova, Fracci, Kirkland, Assylmurotova, Guillem, Platel....LETS NOT FORGET LESLIE COLLIER, Sibley, Cynthia Gregory, Farrel, Ayupova, Terekhova, Larissa Lezhnina is divine, Zhakarova, Ananiashvili, Bussell, Herrera, Julie Kent...all these are mere subjects to the great Fonteyn. (I am naming ballerinas of the last 30 years or so)They all may have/had better technique, but Fonteyn rules all! Let us not forget all she did, and HOW LONG SHE DANCED. Now, in this time, I dont think there can be the "greatest" because it seems ballerinas are to diverse to be compared. I leave anyone out? Tell me, but Fonteyn is Queen...Empress. No one will ever dance Sleeping Beauty better BTW!

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This New Yorker (born and bred) comes down on the side of my fellow New Yorker Steve Keeley. I am a GREAT admirer of Farrell, but I have often wondered what it would have been like to see her in roles made famous by Fonteyn, Makarova or Toumanova (all who danced a more traditional repertoire.)

My only nomination is for Ananiashville. At this point in her career she has the maturity and the stage presence of a Danilova. I don't see this quality in most of the ballerinas mentioned. (I assume Asylmuratova is not in the running because she is not performing).

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Today's great ballerinas? Well, this very New-York-Centric viewer would indeed put Kyra Nichols at the top of the list. There's nobody else dancing today who so easily and naturally finds the heart of the music, and the soul of the steps. Even in her sunset years, she's a revelation every time she steps onstage. Yes, her stage demeanor is often modest and reticent to the point of seeming cool and distant, but like the true Balanchine dancer she is, she lets the music and dance speak for themselves.

Ananiashvili, for her strength and wit and killer instinct. I always admire her stage smarts -- she always recognizes the Big Moments in a role, or even a diagonal, and nails them, time after time. The itty-bitty little connecting steps aren't always so important, but I find myself hardly caring when I'm watching her. I love the way she can find grandeur and drama in places where I'd never seen it before. In this way she's the opposite, or rather the complement, of Nichols, for whom God is clearly in the details. I love and admire the way Ananiashvili can pull a great performance out of a hat when she's clearly having an off night. Many dancers can look great when they're on a roll, but few have the intelligence and professionalism to keep on changing their approach until they make a performance work.

Wendy Whelan, with wit, strength and professionalism not all that different from Ananiashvili's, and a lyricism and athleticism which is far removed indeed. I've grown fond of her mannerisms -- like those little pouty faces she seems completely unaware she's making when in the throes of great concentration -- and rather in awe of the grace and fortitude with which she almost single-handedly carried NYCB's repertory on her back for a few recent years.

I think should Dvorovenko understand (and respect!) the difference between a diva and a ballerina, she could become a very good ballerina indeed, but I think the world would be a grayer place. Right now the interplay between herself and Belotserkovsky is perhaps the most fascinating study in the interplay of personalities on any New York stage.

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First, a note regarding a sort of secondary issue that this thread has raised: great ballerinas do not -- and presumably never have -- danced everything equally well. Even if one restricted oneself to nineteenth-century repertory, this would be the case. A great Kitri is not necessarily a great Giselle, though she may be an interesting one...So if a ballerina is "great" in a substantive portion of the ballet repertory, that (to me, at least) qualifies her for the pantheon Alexandra invoked in her original question...A great Bournonville ballerina has a place comparable to a great Petipa ballerina. To take an example of a 'specialist' ballerina from the past, I can't envisage this particular table without a seat for Carla Fracci.

I would include the great twentieth-century ballet choreographers in the discussion as a matter of course: a great Balanchine ballerina is a great ballerina plain and simple -- and the very greatest Balanchine ballerinas belong in the "pantheon." (I feel compelled to add that great dancers often have some range, of course, and Farrell, for example, was impressive in Robbins and Bejart as well as Balanchine.)

There is probably less consensus on this message board as to whether a great Cranko ballerina or great Neumeier ballerina has the same 'importance' as a great Balanchine or great Ashton dancer. I think that if a dancer made an historical impact on a repertory that has had real historical influence, that dancer may well belong, at the very least, in balletomanes' debates about the matter. I would not vote for Marcia Haydee myself, but I would understand if someone brought her into the discussion.

Speaking more personally, I sometimes have been skeptical about whether some of today's 'greats' are really on a par with the very greatest of the past. But in recent years performances by a number of the dancers mentioned above, have caused me to suspect somewhat the role of memory and the sheer power that attaches to 'first' loves in one's consciousness...

Any number of dancers mentioned above: Whelan, Nichols, Bussell, but also Guillem (! her individualism is a plus in my book)and Ringer seem to me, at the very least, genuine ballerinas capable of great performances. (I have seen much, much less of recent French and Russian ballerinas, but Vishneva and certainly Platel probably belong on this list.) At their very greatest each has shown me something that I would put in a category with the very best I have seen.

Of this group, Ringer in particular seems to me to suffer for lack of a choreographer's vision to showcase her remarkable presence. In two roles, in particular, (Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet and the Kistler role in Martins' ballet in memory of Stanley Williams [title?]), I have found her to be ...well...unforgettable -- putting a completely personal stamp on roles created for other great ballerinas. Two roles may not be quite enough to enter the pantheon, but it's certainly enough to keep me from being too pessimistic about the state of ballerinas today. (And on the subject of range -- Ringer's debut as Aurora was enchanting...)

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Beautiful post, Drew. Lots of important points.

In my experience, Lis Jeppesen was the perfect Bournonville heroine. I regret deeply never having seen her Sylphide (La, of course), but was never compelled to see her in Petipa or Balanchine. That would have been curiosity, perhaps of the morbid variety.

Jenifer Ringer, I'm afraid, will never reach her considerable potential within the current NYCB environment. Not that she won't give performances of great depth and beauty. Her second act pas de deux from Midsummer Night's Dream (debut)last spring will remain among a handful of highlights over my lifetime, I'm sure. Her exquisite tenderness stilled the house. It just pains me to wonder the greater heights she might reach with a little responsible artistic guidance. Even as a 16-year-old student, she gave the "Waltz" girl in "Serenade" as much sweep and emotional nuance as any veteran I'd seen, and added that special, fresh excitement unique to youngsters.

I am struck by the absence here of Martine van Hamel, forever my ideal Aurora, Myrtha and Raymonda. While seeming physically unsuited, as La Sylphide she captured all the necessary lightness and created a character that was not only credible, but beautifully danced. Her Swan Lake synthesized dance and mime, every single moment of her Act II telling Odette's story as vividly as if she were reciting it. She excelled in Balanchine -- "Theme" and "Sylvia" as well as "StravinskyViolin." And she was a fine Tudor ballerina, as well. Perhaps she craved respect more than love. Speaking of divas, if Martine had had a bit of the diva in her, ABT's various managements may have given her the support she deserved.

I know Kyra Nichols is much loved, but she just never hit the mark for me. So often, I felt her telegraphing, "Look what I'm about to do! Aren't I clever/strong/cute?" Just too much manipulative calculation for my liking.

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Kyra Nichols cute?

I left NYC at the end of the eighties so I missed a lot of her later performances as a principle. In her early years as a soloist and principle she was nothing but strong, pure in port de bras, and soulful. She had a clean and thrilling technique - many pirouettes and often giving us balances.

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Kyra Nichols cute?

In her own mind, so it often seemed.

Brilliant technique, no question! Fleet, clean, solid. But that alone will hold my attention for a mere season or two. Whatever it is that everyone else has fallen in love with in Kyra escapes me.

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For me, it's Asylmuratova, hands down. Compared to her on the Bayadere tape, Darcey Bussell pales by comparison both in technique and acting IMHO, but haven't seen Bussell lately. Next, I think, could be Lezhnina and Ayupova, though I'm not sure they're really great. I agree with Mel that there seems to be a Great Ballerina Drought and also think Sizova deserves a place in here. Not to mention Royal Danish ballerinas. Are there any 'greats' there?

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The two Danish ballerinas who had a shot at greatness have spent most of their careers on the bench during the Terrible Time of Troubles of the past 12 years or so, when there's been a Purge of Artists in Copenhagen.

But Rose Gad and Silja Schandorff, both about 32 now -- very different in both body and temperament -- were quite extraordinary. Gad was exceptionally musical in everything she did, and the best under-20 Giselle I've ever seen. Schandorff -- tall and statuesque -- a remarkable, and very wild, Sylph.

My nominees for Great International Ballerina -- Asylmuratova, Platel, Guerin -- have stopped dancing (AA completely, EP and IG do still appear as guests). I'll vote with Mel for Ballerina Drought.

I admire both Ayupova and Lezhnina, but haven't seen them in enough roles to judge. They certainly had every promise of being great ballerinas -- as did Pankova and Ivanova, IMO. The Bolshoi's Maria Alexandrova has possibilities, too. And Cojacaru in England, of course. I don't think she's the great ballerina of all time yet, as she's often portrayed, but I think there's extraordinary talent there.

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I've tried to limit my choices to dancers still performing today whom I've seen enough to actually form an opinion. By the time I saw Assylmuratova in 1999, she was indeed grand and sublime, but also clearly tired. She may well indeed "belong" on many "great ballerinas of today" lists, but I couldn't put her on mine.

Of the Kirov dancers who came this summer, I'd have to list Pavlenko as the likliest ballerina-to-be -- in each part of Diamonds, she was truly stunning. If only her Swan Lake hadn't been cancelled!

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My nomination is great Canadian ballerina Evelyn Hart. She has the most musical body that I have seen, so with her careful approach and knowing what is fast, or slow, or how to use space,pose or silence in between steps, she completely changed some ballets for the better for me (i.e.. Spring in Kudelka's Four Seasons). She is still dancing, although her retirement is probably not very very far. Sigh. I hope I'll get to see her dancing again in Toronto.

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Ballerinas: Evelyn Hart. Anna Antonicheva. Darcey Bussell. Svetlana Lunkina. Irina Dvorovenko.

Ballerinos: Ethan Stiefel. Dmitri Gudanov. Marcelo Gomes. Marcin Krajewski.

Great husband and wife partnerships: José and Agnes. Cyrill and Lucia. Max and Irina.

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What about Larissa Ponomorenko of Boston Ballet to add to the list of ballerinas?She is this little whisp of a thing who delights me everytime I see her.She is extremely versitile and really brings depth to every role she dances.She is exciting to watch and a true gem of a woman.My only concern is that she doesn't get the recognition she deserves,because not too many people pay attention to Boston Ballet.That could be good and bad,mostly because they have many talented dancers worth watching.Larissa in my opinion has always been world class and worthy of a vote for great ballerina of our time

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