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Alina Somova's Performances Highlight of 2008?!

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Hi. I don't know if anyone caught the Year End "Best Of" edition of Sun Dec. 21, 2008 NY Times, Arts & Leisure Section. Columnist Gia Kourlas stated that Somova's dancing was one of the highlights of 2008 dance performances. She refers to Alina Somova as "a lithe young dancer with an angular face and a halo of platinum hair." Kourlas further states, "Her effortless extensions and individual touches — fouetté turns embellished with darting kicks — were full of juicy aplomb, layering her performances with a blend of glacial grandness and coltish resolve."

Did anyone else read this! Were Gia and I watching the same performances!? I might give Somova the acrobat or gymnast of the year award, but her dancing certainly was not a highlight of 2008.

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it might be good to stress that while Somova has a good number of detractors, esp. on BT, there are also other ballet watchers who don't agree with these highly negative assessments and who find much to admire and laud in her.

i personally heard from a very prominent, former Kirov dancer in the NYC, who made a point of telling me to me that Somova was for him the highlight of the Kirov's recent season in NYC.

i'm not necessarily comparing them at all, but Suzanne Farrell's rise at NYCB had a good dose of negativity surrounding her at the start of her years under Balanchine.

time will tell if Somova's career will carry her to a pinacle that pales the waves of negativity sometimes greeting her earliest years.

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Multiple posters on this forum have reported on the yellow color of Somova's hair, its dark-brown roots, etc. Ditto the Fu-Manchu nails. The details are not as important as the general fact that multiple writers have found it necessary to comment on such seemingly-trivial facts of a dancer's personal grooming. It should not even be discussed and it would not be discussed in 99.9% of dancers. The fact that it is even discussed means something. Were I a dancer, I would be embarrassed if fans were discussing my grooming habits. Alas, the dancer (or her coaches) bring a lot of these seemingly-trivial and unecessary comments upon herself. Fans of ballet would love to NOT have to even mention these things...but we are not blind.

On one thing we can all agree, I think: Love her or hate her, Ms. Somova is a lightning rod for discussion.

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a halo of platinum hair." .

...a point was established already that it is yellow.

LOL! Is there a Hair Style Talk site somewhere? I'm guessing there is.

I think there is plenty to criticize in her dancing without making fun of her hair. :thumbsup: I wouldn't exactly call it a halo, but I was much more interested in Kourlas' description of her fouettés:

fouetté turns embellished with darting kicks — were full of juicy aplomb

she certainly did "kick" a lot in her fouettés--but I thought this was awful, she looked jerky and off balance. In fact with the exception of Tereshkina, I didn't think any of the Kirov stars had very pretty fouetté turns. But Somova's were absolutely the worst--she positively lurched in my view. So to see those turns especially praised is rather shocking to me.

I found this on youtube but one, they look considerably better than what I saw in NYC, and two the angle obscures her lurch when she comes off pointe. Still I don't see them as model turns


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multiple writers have found it necessary to comment on such seemingly-trivial facts of a dancer's personal grooming.

Well, there are whole threads dedicated to the length of a dancer's hair, ,some body art displays-(tattoos), and so on...Hair color is not that far from the topic, considering how restricted the female members get to be about their choices-(usually long, dark...you know, in case maybe a Giselle part suddenly pops :thumbsup: ...)

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i would submit that one observer's yellow is another's platinum, esp. if the color was viewed and described under stage light in certain circumstances.

Arlene Croce wrote memorably sometime back of a male soviet dancer she much admired as 'another one of those soviet men with implausibly colored hair.' this was an aside, as noted, for a dancer whose DANCING she admired.

i'm sure however there were others, in the case of the dancer Croce was writing about - if memory serves it was Vyacheslav Gordeyev - who might have admired his hair color but not his dancing.

as noted above, i think it is important to remember that not every thinks ill of Somova, not by any means.

also, i doubt very much that gia kourlas would say 'platinum' if she didn't think that was the right word for her recollections.

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I found this on youtube but one, they look considerably better than what I saw in NYC, and two the angle obscures her lurch when she comes off pointe. Still I don't see them as model turns . . .

Model fouettés consist of the working leg giving the illusion of a whipping (not kicking) motion. Fouettés aren't supposed to bounce either. She has very long legs, hyper extended knees and weak feet, so it's hard for her to complete the rotations and fully extend the working leg to create that whipping motion. By the time she fully extends her leg, it's time to begin the pirouette again. She barely gets through doubles and triples. I've seen her a few times in "Swan Lake" she can only just complete the standard singles -and these with the minimum of momentum. If you want to see exemplary fouettés on YouTube, input other dancers, especially Maximova's or Terekhova's Kitri.

Somova's appearances are unique precisely because they're attention getting in all the wrong ways. Likewise, they're "entertaining" for all the wrong reasons. She's the Maryinsky's newest Principal Dancer, and we're discussing technical survival issues and the other "incidentals" that make up her stage persona. And that's the point: These shouldn't be issues in light of her promotion. It's these incidentals and technicalities that are impossible to ignore or overlook, particularly in a performance. You can't miss them; they're so in your face. I agree with Natalia that it's surreal that not only her appearances are controversial, but her stage persona "package" is as well. She's allowed to go onstage without sanction re her appearance with carte blanche, and it's mums the word. Personally, I think we're eyewitnesses to an international classical ballet conspiracy (or) ponzi scam. Draw your own conclusions.

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I tried to post this earlier but didn't succeed (I think), so forgive me if it shows up twice.

THe fouettes described (with the kick) are just the Russian way of doing fouettes - extending side instead of having the stirring motion. I'm surprised Kourlis doesn't know this. Not my preferred way of seeing fouettes but not surprising in a Russian trained dancer.

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THe fouettes described (with the kick) are just the Russian way of doing fouettes - extending side instead of having the stirring motion. I'm surprised Kourlis doesn't know this. Not my preferred way of seeing fouettes but not surprising in a Russian trained dancer.

well, yes and no. First I agree it is surprising Kourlas doesn't know this, but to expand upon the subject a bit...

One it seems more typical of the Kirov dancers than the Bolshoi dancers. So perhaps it should be called the Kirov or Maryinsky version, not the Russian.

see Osipova:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6lYICgpHZrM at 7:30 (sorry I have seen her do better fouettes than these but it was the first I found)

or for a very different example, Ananiashvilli:


which is more kick, but still does have a degree of whipping motion.

furthermore, I do think Somova's lurching is distinctive from others, even within the Kirov. Yes the "Russian method" is more kick than "stir" but look at Tereshkina (who is the best technician of the Kirov dancers I saw in NYC):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1TnAkuVTAhU at around 8:43. She most definitely does the "stir" variety (and they are lovely, despite the bad video quality)

or watch her in the don q fouettes (the same as I posted earlier for Somova)


big difference, and to me, much better!

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I would appreciate some background on Gia Kourlas, is this an established critic and above all is this a critic with working knowledge of past Kirov luminaries?

Russian dancers and their hair: Another universe as far as I'm concerned with both sexes constantly surprising me in the frequency and variations in hair colour. At one time having black hair was considered the balletic ideal, with Taglioni, Karsavina, Pavlova, Markova and Fonteyn all being brunettes. How time has changed.

Personally, I think we're the eyewitnesses of an international classical ballet conspiracy .

I'm beginning to think so too.

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I think that we could write an entire tome on Russian dancers' hair and the relative lack of upkeep. One of my very favorite, lovable male stars of the recent past, Andris Liepa, received a lot of heat during the 1986 Kennedy Center run for his two-toned mane. Irina Chistiakova (now Lopatkina's coach) sported a VERY lemony-yellow hair towards the end of her career. Even Somova's celebrated new coach, Terekhova, had trouble with "root alerts" when she changed to blonde in the 1980s.

Now let's turn to the dancing and the much-commented Somova foutees. I call them the Russian Can-Can, as in "I can! I can! I can! Look at me! Look at me!" My point is that there is a general bombast and crudeness to everything that she does. That's my -- many of us -- our problem with Alina Somova. General crudeness from the top of her rooted hair to her can-can feet.

More power to the esteemed critic, Gia Kourlas, for being able to see through the crudeness at some artistry. Kourlas is a very knowledgeable and esteemed critic. That we cannot deny. I hope to be able to see some of those glimmers this January, when I see Somova's Kitri at the Kennedy Center.

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Conspiracy for or against what, may I ask? While Somova is clearly - as Colin Powell recently said about Sarah Palin - a polarizing figure, I think a more balanced approach is necessary. I was horrified by her at first, both in some video clips (especially an awkward, messy Aurora) and onstage in a cold, hard, brutal Don Q pas de deux, the one performance of hers I caught during the company's last New York season. Having heard reports of her doing better in Ballet Imperial from reliable sources, I decided not to write her off completely. Watching further videos (including excerpts from a complete Don Quixote, Balanchine's Diamonds and Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux), I see her differently now. There's a tendency to gawkiness and going for extremes that may or may not diminish over time, but I think in the right roles she can be charming. The Tchaikovsky adagio, in particular, is bold, free, fluid and really lovely. She may not be a fully finished dancer - yet - but major talent, potential and an undeniable degree of accomplishment are already there. (Plus, I have to hand it to her for even attempting, in the Tchaik Pas coda, Suzanne Farrell's sequence alternating fouette turns and rapid pique steps - not a complete success but, again, a bold and winning move.)

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Conspiracy for or against what, may I ask?

Perhaps a "vast right wing conspiracy" that Senator Clinton used to refer to when they investigated former President Clinton. I think the poster above who allued to a "conspiracy" or "Ponzi" scheme may be questioning how Somova could have been promoted to principal under the circumstances. Unfortunately, we all know that the advancement of certain people within large organizations, including ballet companies, is often based on considerations other than merit.

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idly, i wonder how many of Somov's detractors have actually seen her dance 'live' - i.e. not on some scrappy youtube clip.

my first glimpse of her was on a dvd, which led me to a not very positive reaction.

seeing her at city center was happily different.

what didn't come across on video, besides the full dimension of her dancing, was the charm and sweetness she exuded in the perfs i saw, nor the power and thrill of her manege of coupe/jetes on the confining city center stage in ETUDES - in particular this is moment i will not soon forget. similar power and ease touched moments of her BALLET IMPERIAL.

full disclosure: these were my ONLY experiences with her performances. i have not seen her since; have not seen her on her home stage, nor for that matter on a stage that really suited the Kirov repertory - which in most cases city center did not in this past season.

i'm sure any number of people in the audience of city center found much of what they dislike in Somov in these same performances. but at least they were making their judgements on her actual performing and not on crude, 2 dimensional records posted on youtube.

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My only experience w. Somova was at the City Center performances. I attended very frequently (trust me, it added up to mucho $$$$). I saw most of her performances during that engagement. I would agree w. you that there were certain things she did very well; however, certain performances were very bad, and utterly lacking in grace or refinement. As Alistair Macaulay astutely wrote in one of his reviews in the NY Times, Somova "skews her pelvis sideways to achieve high extensions, even though the angle of her tutu ... shows just how much this distorts her line." She does this repeatedly. One of the elements of beauty in ballet is line. Somova seems to be determined to turn an element of beauty into an element of ugliness- a freak show designed to show us all how flexible she is. Her habit of hyper-extending her legs is a big problem. That's why I found it surprising that a NY Times reviewer would single her out as a best of 2008.

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I did see her at City Center, and had the same impression of her in the classical rep as I did from film. However, I did think that she was convincing as a lyrical dancer in the lyrical parts of "Ballet Imperial". My reservation even in this is that her facial expression turned from radiant to blank after several minutes of dancing. (In the smaller City Center venue, what has been described as her "deer in the headlights" look was fairly obvious.)

I thought she was a talented soloist-level dancer with potential, who did exude a sunny presence when she did not look dazed -- and I do not underestimate the ability to shine and connect to an audience -- who needs coaching to curb her competition-like excesses and try to find her inner plastique, and who needs to work very hard on her technical weaknesses, since given the exposure and prominence in casting she has, everything she is, flaws and all, are up front and center. Again, the parallel to Farrell and what Kistler described in "6 Ballerinas', where she said something like, "You had to do your growing onstage."

There are many great dancers who worked very hard to compensate for weaknesses for which they were criticized early: Fonteyn, Farrell, and Ashley come to mind, having worked very hard on their feet, for example, and Ashley, by then considered a technical virtuoso, on her turns. What is Somova does not have that Farrell and Kistler had was an artistic genius and choreographer to mold their careers, Kistler for a very short period of time, or what Fonteyn, Farrell, and Kistler had in the iron-willed founder of a company who took an interest in their development; Fonteyn had the outside influence of Volkova and was later creative muse to Ashton.

My question is whether she will grow. I don't see the underlying teaching or creative forces to push her, and given the Kirov's touring schedule, it's not condusive to shoring up technique.

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it would indeed be surprising if Macaulay put Somov on HIS list of highlights.

but why is it surprising that a different writer, with a mind of her own, would have a different opinion?

i don't think this is the first instance when a TIMES critic put a highlight on a year-end list that went contrary to what a colleague critic may have said during the year.

as i recall Dunning had been known to single out something or someone that was at odds with some of the opinions filed by Kisselgoff or Anderson.

i don't think any department in culture at the NYT has a 'lock-step' policy behind its first-string critic.

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i don't think any department in culture at the NYT has a 'lock-step' policy behind its first-string critic.

Of course 2 critics can disagree, even if they work for the same paper. It was surprising that Gia K put Somova on her list not because it is a divergent view from A. Macaulay. Rather, it was surprising because of the numerous deficiencies in Ms. Somova's technique.

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I think it's perfectly reasonable for a critic to say, "Yes, Dancer X's technique is lacking, but his/her performance transcended that for me, and s/he caught my eye every time, while Ms./Mr. Technical Perfection over there put me to sleep", but I think it's questionable not to admit to the underlying flaws. I don't think Somova's technical flaws are all that difficult to see, especially when she danced with a corps, who behind her, for example, put her feet to shame. That contrast was the most jarring thing I found about her dancing.

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highlights tend to be short and succinct and about a general, overall impression.

one could have, say, highlighted Fonteyn's first seasons with the Sadler's Wells Ballet for their overall effect w/o pausing to say she had 'problem feet' etc. ('soft' as 'pats of butter' to quote ashton.)

it's possible that when Somova danced with a corps de ballet behind her, one was so taken w/ the overall effect she was making that one didn't bother to dwell much on who was dancing how behind her.

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