I guess you could say Anastasia Volochkova is the one who got this blog started. The idea came to me while I was watching a video of her in her Maryinsky days, which led to me watching (this was on YouTube, after all), a much more recent video of her. I wasn’t terribly impressed with either, but the latest video seemed to indicate that she’s drifted toward the realm of the Las Vegas show dancer. Not that that’s bad, but it’s really not what a highly-trained ballerina normally strives for. Nor should it be.
About half the more-recent video focused on her beautiful, albeit makeup-caked facial features. Certainly facial beauty is an asset for a ballerina; that’s not the problem. Relying heavily on it to sell oneself is the problem. Why? Because while facial beauty is a great gift for a ballerina to have, it can be created if it does not naturally exist. There are too many other serious considerations in this art form to focus excessively on one’s face. Leave that to models, actresses, and Las Vegas show dancers.
As for the rest of the video…well, she was wearing a classical tutu for some reason. I didn’t see anything particularly classical about her performance. It was all posturing — you know, sorta like in Black Swan, but without the sprayed-on sweat, or any type of sweat at all. To the untrained eye (especially one that merely enjoys looking at pretty girls), it may be awe-inspiring. To people like me, it is nothing other than obviously wrong.
Actually in neither video did she show much technique, acting ability, taste, or style. And it’s clear that she either has terrible feet or doesn’t properly break her shoes in (or maybe they just don’t fit? I really couldn’t tell why it looked like she had crunched-up paper bags on her feet). Having less than spectacular feet has become a crime these days. I didn’t think she looked fat, but then again I dislike the current dancing-skeleton norm. Most shocking, especially for a Russian dancer, was that she didn’t show much turnout in the latter video.
In an attempt to be fair, however, think about some great ballerinas of the past:
(1) Margot Fonteyn: shapeless feet and often sub-par extension. Would never be allowed to graduate from a serious ballet school in today’s world.
(2) Anna Pavlova: no turnout; weak technique. Say what? The great Anna Pavlova, who is still, 80 years after her death, the only ballerina most people can name? Yes. Look at the videos of her.
(3) Fat? That’s another charge leveled at Volochkova. However, any number of ballerinas of the past were fat. In fact by today’s standards, they all were. So let’s just say I’m not at all impressed with the “fat” charge in this case — at least not any more than I am impressed with the “too tall” charge (which has also been aimed at Volochkova), since there are several other ballerinas in recent history and still active who are as tall or taller than she.
(4) (coming back to the present) Alina Somova: weak turns, can’t balance to save her life, wasn’t much of an actress for a long time but is improving; however, why she is a principal and Evgenia Obraztsova is not is still a mystery to me.
In Russian ballet in particular there seem to be many such mysteries. According to Volochkova’s version of events, she was the first and only Vaganova Academy student to simultaneously study there and dance solo roles with the Maryinsky. (Research shows that while this apparently hadn’t happened often in the long history before and hasn’t often been repeated in the almost-two decades since, she wasn’t the only one.) Obviously someone saw great ability in her. Then again, they may only have looked at her Hollywood-starlet face and figure and decided to apply a wishful promotion.
It has to be that. Ballet is so demanding on so many levels that no one can ever be even close to perfect. But I have never seen so many flaws come together in one once highly-praised dancer.
Ballet is always in danger of degenerating into a girlie show; I think this is why seeing Volochkova almost scares me. She’s already there at the girly-show level, as if to say, “look, I’m beautiful and I have toe shoes on, so I’m a ballerina.” One gets to worrying that this sort of posturing might all too easily become accepted as the norm.
But I’ve noted that she’s been savagely criticized by a broad spectrum of people. Perhaps that indicates that the public has wised up and there is nothing to fear as far as what she does being confused with ballet. One can hope, anyway.