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Something about Anastasia March 12, 2011

Filed under: ballerina,ballet — theworstat @ 6:39 pm
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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.

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2 Responses to “Something about Anastasia”

  1. I saw Volochkova close up once coming out of a theatre. I remember doing an Austin Powers style double take at the amount of foundation she was wearing. “Wooahhh!” lol!

    (Maybe the weight of all that industrial Russian make up was why her partners struggled to lift her?!)

    But seriously, I looked up Volochkova on youtube (I’ve only seen her dance once live and that was a very long time ago). The first two I came up with were this and this.

    er….. oh dear….

    I do worry that ballet is heading in this general direction. Style over content. And a very cheesy style at that. I believe the offensive and awful wing of ‘Black Swan’ has helped to further waft ballet (the perception of it, especially amongst the general public and the young) in completely the wrong direction. And I cringe when I hear professional ballet dancers (and professional dance critics) say how all that publicity for ballet (for ballet?!) can only be good for the art.

    Although thankfully some of the more astute among them have been very scathing of the movie – such as Tamara Rojo and Nikolaj Hubbe.

    As for Fonteyn, Pavlova etc. I see your point but wasn’t the whole emphasis of ballet (as well as the science of dance training and fitness generally) different back then – even in Fonteyn’s era?

    Isn’t the general consensus that as the art form has advanced in terms of technique (of sheer athleticism) so much of that artistry, soul and charisma that people adored so much in dancers like Fonteyn has been left undervalued, undeveloped and underused by new choreographers ……. who prefer instead to choreograph their ballet dancers like a small child playing with pipe cleaners, bending them all around each other into a twisted mess on a black stage? (“look what I’v made mommy….”)

    Where once choreographers had moderate technique, soul and acting to play with, and ONLY that, they now have sophisticated morphing lighting rigs and plasma screens (yawn!) and of course much more bendy dancers! And in the case of those two Volochkova videos I found, fancy post production ‘digital glitter’ and fast digital editing allowing for plenty of close up face shots to ‘tell the story’ and give us the ‘magic’.

    I definitely share your fears that ballet could descend (IS descending) into mere ‘ballet fashion’ or ‘ballet themed entertainment’. It only takes a generation or two for such a seemingly gradual (and thus supposedly harmless) redefinition of a sophisticated and deep art form into a stylized and shallow ‘entertainment genre’ to become set in our culture and become the new norm. And if ballet gets dumbed down it won’t be called ‘ballet lite’ it will just be called ‘ballet’, just as we refer to today’s crap, empty, plotless, characterless, devoid-of-all-acting Hollywood movies as simply ‘movies’.

    And I fear the ‘big money’ will from now on always be trying to lead ballet in this dumbed down (easy to consume) direction. The problem (I mean for the big money interests) is that authentic ballet only really works in a theatre. Balletomanes may love watching dance on video but that only really comes across well if you ***already have*** a large ‘memory back catalogue’ of live theatre performance watching experience to draw on. The audience for authentic ballet is kept small (relative to movies and music etc) by virtue of the fact it is limited to live theatrical performances.

    However, Las Vegas style/ girlie show and glam/ camp Black Swan style ballet are much better suited to TV and the movie screen…. or the ipad, iphone, websites etc.

    And so the ‘big money’ will attempt to redefine ballet, just as it has successfully redefined film and music, in order to make it fit the big screen, the small screen (and now the even smaller screens) and thus get that bigger audience and thus the bigger revenue potential. And in doing so it will try to get rid of all that bothersome artistry and authenticity and soul and magic and replace it with cuteness, celebrity and other easy to manufacture and convey gimmickry.

    When I am feeling strong I will do my own post about all this (on my own equally new blog) 😉

    Meanwhile please keep writing, I for one would love to read more!

  2. theworstat Says:

    Hey if you do your own post about this, please send me the link! I’ve enjoyed reading your reply and apologize if this answer is waaaay late. I’m incredibly lazy with this blog, but knowing that you have enjoyed it I will endeavor to write more! Thanks!


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