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CharlieH

Are there any great Classicists today?

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Posted (edited)

This thread on the Ballets-Swan Lake forum got into the matter of performing clean fouettés...

It led to Cubanmiamiboy posting some amazing clips of Cuba’s Rosario Suarez (Charin) performing classically-pure, beautiful single fouettés as Odile...which made me think of the great Russian Ballerina Vera Trefilova, a contemporary of Pavlova, Tchessinska, Karsavina...yet described by Levinson, Haskell, Volonsky and other critics and other writers as “the most classical of classical ballerinas” of her era. She was not the greatest interpreter from a dramatic perspective or the most ethereal but her positions, such as arabesque, were textbook Cecchetti.

Now forward to 2018:

Who are today’s great classicists? Who consistently performs textbook classical movements (be it Cecchetti, Vaganova or other system) while maintaining great musicality, as Trefilova was reported to have done? Related to this, who displays impeccable turn-out while posing or moving in all of the angles of the “prism” that constitute the art of ballet (efface, ecarte, and so on)?

Are there any pure classicists today? Or is “classicism” an archaic concept? Is the need to be dramatic, versatile, and interpretive killing classicism?

Among today’s active ballerinas, I’m thinking - perhaps - of the Bolshoi’s Evgenia Obraztsova, certainly in the Lacotte oeuvres. Recently-retired RDB Soloist Diana Cuni also struck me as a pure classicist in her time. Isabella Boylston from the waist down? Among men...Hallberg?

Please tell me that I’m far too pessimistic and that the “pure classicist” ballerinas and danseurs still exist. :)

Edited by CharlieH
Adding turn-out as an important facet of pure classicism.

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Definitely Cuni and Glurjidze too.  The sticking point is musicality.  My vote goes to Osmolkina.

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2 hours ago, Mashinka said:

Definitely Cuni and Glurjidze too.  The sticking point is musicality.  My vote goes to Osmolkina.

Oh, Osmolkina. Lovely example, Mashinka.

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Agree with Obraztsova and Osmolkina, and would like to add Stepanova and Novkova also.  

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Stepanova's lack of musicality would definitely disqualify her.

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Just now, Mashinka said:

Stepanova's lack of musicality would definitely disqualify her.

? She is one of the most musical ballerinas I have ever seen!  

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3 hours ago, MadameP said:

? She is one of the most musical ballerinas I have ever seen!  

I agree. Her Swan Lake at the Mariinsky (before she moved to the Bolshoi) opened my eyes to how touching and exciting the final act can be. And during the white swan pdd near the end as she bourees toward the center away from him she broke your heart with the longing gaze that fit the music.  Her Firebird was also incredible for its musicality.....the way she removes her arms from Ivan's embrace, the way she commands the stage as the monsters are running amok, etc. I don't understand why there is so much animosity toward her on BA. 

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6 hours ago, Mashinka said:

Stepanova's lack of musicality would definitely disqualify her.

I would also disqualify her as a model classicist on account of her line. She lifts her legs too high to the back in arabesque and especially attitude, and tips her pelvis sideways and shifts her ribcage over to the side in à la seconde, as do most dancers today.

P.S. This does not make me a Stepanova hater. But if we are seeking out great classicists, that sets the bar very high.

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Posted (edited)
11 minutes ago, volcanohunter said:

I would also disqualify her as a model classicist on account of her line. She lifts her legs too high to the back in arabesque and especially attitude, and tips her pelvis sideways and shifts her ribcage over to the side in à la seconde, as do most dancers today.

P.S. This does not make me a Stepanova hater. But if we are seeking out great classicists, that sets the bar very high.

I second the above. That ribcage shift-(to the side in a la second or forward in atittude derriere a la Somova)- makes me cringe. 

I would say the few who qualify are those who put themselves far from position distortions and bizarre turns-(again...Somova's horrible "kick out" fouettes come to mind).

I nominate Tiler Peck.

Edited by cubanmiamiboy

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Posted (edited)
10 hours ago, Mashinka said:

Stepanova's lack of musicality would definitely disqualify her.

LOL here we go again. I'm a musician and I find Stepanova among the most musical of ballerinas.  There is a subtlety in her movement to music that may not be obvious to some but I find it incredibly communicative of the musical syntax.  It's a puzzle to me why others can't see it, although I think the often irrational dislike of the ballerina for other reasons may have something to do with it.

 I don't see her as a classicist, however, because to me that implies a sort of backward-looking ideal and she is definitely a modern dancer. One can prefer a more old-fashioned look and even bemoan too-high arabesques or attitudes but Stepanova's are beautiful. Again, why some can't see that beauty I don't know.

Edited by Quinten

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Not everyone sees the same thing in a dancer, and no one has the obligation to see what anyone else sees.

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I don't consider musicality to be a matter of staying in time to the music, for me it is when a dancer becomes infused with the music so that it becomes part of her.  Regarding Stepanova, her poor line as described above contributes to her lack of musicality because the distortions frequently cannot be performed within the parameters of the score, hence slowed down tempi.

The O/P gave Diana Cuni as a benchmark, a paragon of classicism, he also gave exact examples of what constitutes classicism. 

On ‎7‎/‎10‎/‎2018 at 5:02 PM, CharlieH said:

Who are today’s great classicists? Who consistently performs textbook classical movements (be it Cecchetti, Vaganova or other system) while maintaining great musicality, as Trefilova was reported to have done? Related to this, who displays impeccable turn-out while posing or moving in all of the angles of the “prism” that constitute the art of ballet (efface, ecarte, and so on)?

 

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Thanks for the reminders on classicism - for what we are seeking in this thread. I did not intend this to be a knock-down thread. The ability to display textbook positions (as in the Petipa era), port de bras, turn out is extremely rare nowadays. It’s not even sought out. 

Could an NYCB ballerina- or anyone trained primarily at SAB - ever be a classicist because of their emphasis on speed and relatively low focus on port de bras (my only disagreement with including Tiler Peck in the rare “classicist” group). 

This is not a “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” matter. You’re either a classicist or you are not. It’s something that’s increasingly rare to find. It may actually be a negative in a dancer who seeks a job with a major company nowadays, so it’s not fostered. But a few of us still treasure seeing it in rare dancers who display it correctly and with elan...Angelica Generosa of PNB in those Harlequinade lecture-demos with Fullington a couple of years ago, for ex.

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8 hours ago, Mashinka said:

I don't consider musicality to be a matter of staying in time to the music, for me it is when a dancer becomes infused with the music so that it becomes part of her.  Regarding Stepanova, her poor line as described above contributes to her lack of musicality because the distortions frequently cannot be performed within the parameters of the score, hence slowed down tempi.

 In musical history, tempi, even in music from the classical period, are all over the place, depending on the fashion of the time.  I don't know why ballet, a musical form of art, should be any different or why dancers giving performances consistent with the tastes of the era should encounter such severe criticism.  I may really dislike a particular conductor's tempi, but I would never suggest his or her point of view on tempo is invalid or not within the parameters of the score. (I am not sure there is even such a thing!)  I find some tempi so bewildering that I almost don't recognize the piece but surprisingly it may actually reveal some new shape or impulse in the piece I hadn't noticed before, which is valuable in itself.  Similarly, the same variation or role danced at different tempi can reveal differing aspects and moods. But you are right that some performances hew more closely to "classical" ideals (balance, form, discipline) than others. 

7 hours ago, CharlieH said:

This is not a “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” matter. You’re either a classicist or you are not. It’s something that’s increasingly rare to find.

One of the reasons pure classicism in ballet or music is hard to find is that it often sinks into a dry and boring academism, an uncomfortable fit in our age of iconoclasm and spectacle.  It takes a very compelling performer indeed to overcome the seeming irrelevance of precise and balanced forms!  Interesting discussion, thank you.

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4 minutes ago, Quinten said:

One of the reasons pure classicism in ballet or music is hard to find is that it often sinks into a dry and boring academism

In the hands of a true classicist this is a moot point. For me, there is nothing so thrilling or rare as a dancer "speaks" classical ballet as a native tongue and makes it look as natural as breathing. To answer to topic of the thread, I don't think I've seen anyone today who meets CharlieH's requirements completely. If I have missed a latter-day Noëlla Pontois or Anthony Dowell, my sincere apologies to them! But there are a few rare dancers who understand ballet in their bones, put a very individual stamp on classicism, have an acute grasp of style, which nearly always springs from profound musicality, and phrase movement in such a way that it looks organic and inevitable, if not necessarily ideally classical. For them I'm deeply grateful.

(As for Tiler Peck, I have a sneaking suspicion that the day following her retirement from the stage is the day I stop going to the ballet, because what comes after her is a wasteland of underfed contorionists.)

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Another reason that classicism is hard to find in ballet -- it's actually not very difficult to find in music -- is that there is a lack of imagination or interest in instilling it with life.  It's a revelation when this happens, and that's not tied to classicism: it's just as prevalent in neoclassicism, as evidenced by the rather phenomenal number of dancers who think they are following Sylvie Guillem's example, with any of her impetus.

The last classicists whom I saw live were Carrie Imler and Thomas Lund.

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2 minutes ago, Helene said:

Another reason that classicism is hard to find in ballet -- it's actually not very difficult to find in music -- is that there is a lack of imagination or interest in instilling it with life.  It's a revelation when this happens, and that's not tied to classicism: it's just as prevalent in neoclassicism, as evidenced by the rather phenomenal number of dancers who think they are following Sylvie Guillem's example, with any of her impetus.

Perhaps a reason for the apparent lack of imagination or life in classically correct musical or dance performances these days is the intense scrutiny made possible by video and recording. Make a mistake and you're toast -- this of course has the effect of making you more careful and less spontaneous than you would be if the  stakes were not so high.  Only a very high level performer, perhaps an Uliana Lopatkina or an Itzhak Perlman, is so secure in his or her technique that they can put in on "automatic" and concentrate on the expressive aspects of the performance without jeopardizing the technical.  I know when I perform that there's only so much brain capacity I can free up for expressive purposes without having a disaster.  The fact that anybody can get up on a world stage and attempt to execute a classically correct performance while being (or even only appearing to be) spontaneous and expressive just knocks me out.  Prodigies like Perlman and Guillem may do it out of the gate but I can understand how it takes years and years before some artists, like Lopatkina or Novikova, for example, get the right balance.  Let's give them a break, note their successes, cheer them on when they get it right. 

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Video and recording applies just as much, perhaps even more, to neoclassical and contemporary performances, especially as the latter start to resemble competition dancing, and then the tail starts to lead the dog, like the Guillem wannabees.  Dancers have a choice to either stick to the appropriate style and learn what it is trying to express, and express within the style, or to distort the style and impose contemporary elements onto it that are antithetical to the style. And if they are getting their motivation from YouTube comments and message boards, they aren't artists, in my opinion.

While this varies by period to period and composer to composer, there's a reason why composers mark their scores with tempi.  And, since we have notations of the many of Petipa's classical works, the choreography that is encoded in much of them would be impossible to perform at the dragging tempi that I've heard for almost five decades.

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Viktoria Tereshkina? Her dancing sounds very much like the great Imperial dancers like Legnani and Kschessinskaya. Extremely strong legs and feet, great at par terre footwork, the Prima Ballerina as a beacon of technical strength and security. And for those who say that Tereshkina doesn't have the most beautiful body line, well, the same criticisms were applied to Legnani and Kschessinskaya.

 

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Tereshkina would have been my third, but I've only seen her live a few times, and all but once in the neoclassical rep the Mariinsky brought to City Center during a three-week stint in the '00's. (The classical excerpts were performed before I flew in.)

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I've been very lucky as regards Tereshkina, seeing her first as an eighteen year old dancing an impeccable Gamzatti and having the opportunity  of seeing her many times in the UK and Germany.  I always think of her first and foremost as a technician and have never seen her make an error on stage.  She is truly remarkable and has also been lucky in her career, miraculously remaining in favour when other talented colleagues are consistently side lined. 

Male dancers?  How about Igor kolb and Steven Mcrae?

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I wondered about Tereshkina as well. Also , in a different vein, Cojocaru, who seems to me to bring wonderful harmony to the nineteenth-century repertory and indeed everything she dances. And while she dances with great purity, she certainly infuses her dancing with character and feeling.

Among male dancers today, I think about Chudin perhaps and one or two others, but it is a harder call for me

However, of the three I just named Cojocaru is the only one I have seen multiple times and in a range of roles.

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Oh boy. Now I am veering into knock down territory.

On the basis of a James I saw him dance a few months ago and a couple of sloppy Lenskys last month, with lots of turning on a flat foot, I have to disagree about Chudin. Tereshkina has phenomenal technique, but she comes across as hard. I don't get a sense of the concealed effort that lies at the heart of classicism. I love Cojocaru, but I wonder if she isn't a little too free form stylistically to be a true classicist. She is a great artist, no doubt there.

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I love that quality of Tereshkina's.  I think it's an unusual dancer that can pull it off, but she, for me, is that rare dancer.  But I've always liked dancers that others have found hard or cold.

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3 hours ago, Helene said:

 

3 hours ago, Helene said:

while this varies by period to period and composer to composer, there's a reason why composers mark their scores with tempi.

I've never worked under a conductor who has said, e.g., Mendelssohn marked this at 140 mm to the quarter so let's speed up (or slow down) to meet that marking.  They're much more likely to say well, that's what it says, who knows if it was really Mendelssohn and not the editor who put that in, who knows if he had the same kind of metronome, maybe it wasn't working when he clocked this movement , etc., etc. -- but mostly what they say is, I don't feel it that way, let's make it 144.  And then the very well trained classical musicians under the baton have to get out their own metronomes and get it up to speed.  The critics might say well that was a bit fast, I prefer to hear more of the detail, and might even say, it's an offense to Mendelssohn, but most of the time they're not going to give the conductor any ultimatums.

Forgive me, but I genuinely don't understand why there would be a more restrictive standard for ballet.  

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