The Born-Again Balletomane's Blog

Just another site about the love of ballet

Too much too soon January 30, 2012

Filed under: ballet,ballet class — theworstat @ 6:22 am
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Since I’m doing most of my ballet-watching on YouTube these days, I thought I’d comment on a disturbing trend I’ve noticed there: little girls in pointe shoes, usually dancing in competitions.

I mean very little girls in pointe shoes, some of them age 7 or even younger.

I’m not saying they’re not good; some of them are amazing (for children; I have to add that I do not especially enjoy seeing a child dance a role clearly meant for an adult).

I have several problems with this trend, the first being that baby ballerinas — I mean real babies, not the Balanchine variety, which was usually age 15 or older — tend to not reach their potential as adult ballerinas simply because they do not last that long.  Too often what is viewed as superior talent in a child does not translate well into adulthood; many more times, the girls just burn out.  (I’m basing this opinion on observations through the years of pre-teen and young teen ballet wunderkinds, who frequently seemed to disappear before they entered the professional realm or else went on to have lackluster careers, and also very young figure skaters I observed when I was a skater.  Of the latter, out of maybe a dozen genuinely promising child skaters I was familiar with through the years, only one made it to elite USFSA and international championships.  The rest flamed out, grew up with the wrong body, got injured, or couldn’t withstand the rigors of competition.)

I doubt we’ll see ballet become yet another form of childhood competitive dance like Irish dance, in which careers are usually over by the time the dancer has graduated from high school simply because there is nowhere to go from there.  In contrast, in ballet there is a well-established professional level that has been an older-teens-and-young-adults club, and that is unlikely to change.  But what could become a problem is that lots of talented kids could conceivably burn themselves out before they ever come of age to enter a professional company, or decide to be satisfied with a “career” of compiling a collection of trophies and medals before retiring gracefully into the adult world, leaving ballet behind in the realm of childhood sports — a place where ballet does not belong.

Another danger to ballet from this trend is the nonsense that has gone on in women’s tennis, figure skating, and gymnastics.  In all of these, some cheerfully stupid mythology arose that females have athletic ability only before they develop figures, and the rush was on to push younger and younger girls into the pros or into the Olympics.  It only stopped in all three sports when those supposedly superior athletes started suffering horrendous injuries from early-onset over-use.

Which brings me to the biggest danger — putting babies into pointe shoes.  The main argument I see in favor of this abomination is from know-it-alls who sniff from lofty noses that the teachers of these little girls “know what they are doing.”  (I should add before going further that this baby-ballerina phenomenon is not limited to the U.S., before anyone considers making the tiresome “cultural flaw” charge.)

I’m sure the teachers do know what they are doing — otherwise the little girls wouldn’t dance as well as they do.  However, there is still the issue of physical damage to the feet that can lead to a lifetime of pain.  One person, I can’t remember who, said that putting baby girls into pointe shoes is the modern equivalent of foot binding.  In some ways, it is.

Back in my day, few aspiring dancers dared slip pointe shoes on before their 10th birthdays.  Supposedly by then, we were told, the bones in the foot were “hard” enough to put up with the strain of dancing on pointe.  Not being a medical person, I don’t know how true this was, or is.  However, most of us came away with undamaged feet save for a missing toenail or two, and those usually grew back in time.  Yes, in those days bunions were a problem because as I remember, toe boxes tended to be more tapered than they are today (they had tiny platforms!).  In my case, this would push my big toes into severe angles.  It was a horrible sensation because my feet are actually square; it felt like my toes were being dislocated.  I didn’t dance long enough to develop bunions, but plenty of the more serious dancers did.  In fact, several years after quitting, I met a former Boston Ballet School pre-professional student whose feet were still, after a decade of not dancing, shaped like severely tapered pointe shoes.

Pointe shoes are somewhat kinder these days, but I really doubt that little kids’ feet are somehow magically stronger than they once were.  And so the danger remains, no matter how knowledgeable their teachers are.

All in all, I see this as a bad trend — bad for the kids and possibly bad for ballet.  I welcome opinions to the contrary.


Obraztsova Gossip January 23, 2012

Filed under: ballerina — theworstat @ 6:31 pm
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I see from my stats that yesterday someone landed on this blog while searching for “Russian tv promotion to principal obraztsova.”

Sorry, folks, this blog is a bad place to look for news like that.  I have no source for gossip, and even if a long-overdue promotion does not count as gossip, I still don’t have the information.  Further, let’s keep in mind that we are dealing with Russians here, and they put many layers on the truth. Go ahead and scream “racism” or whatever; I’m half Russian and I know better :-).

I did look at the Maryinsky’s website and saw that nothing has changed: she is still listed as First Soloist.  However, I also don’t know how up to date this website is, as Oxana Skorik is just now listed as a Second Soloist after having danced Odette/Odile a couple of times (she was previously listed as a Coryphee).  I know promotions at the Maryinsky are far from quick, but the apparent delay in reporting this one was almost ridiculous.

There was for a time someone posting lengthy, impassioned YouTube videos about Maryinsky gossip, but this person has been silent for months now. This individual did state at one point last year something to the effect that “Obraztsova is about to leave the Maryinsky.”  But she’s still there as far as I know.  Just not very much, it seems.

I know that Obraztsova has recently been doing guest stints with the Bolshoi, and the Maryinsky’s website is entirely ignoring that thus far.  They did mention her guesting with other companies (notably “Since 2010 she has been a guest soloist of the ballet company of the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Music Theatre in Moscow”) but are ignoring the fact that she danced Odette/Odile during those guest stints.  I guess that would be sort of inconvenient for them to admit, as the lead in Swan Lake is the one prima-ballerina role denied her at home — thus denying her that big promotion.  Odd as it may seem to us, in Russia, Swan Lake makes (or breaks) ballerinas.

It would be, to say the least, very amusing if the Bolshoi cast her as Odette/Odile.

And so, as far as I know, Obraztsova remains a First Soloist with her home company, even though she has long been a prima in the eyes of the rest of the world. There are some things you just can’t explain.

P.S. January 30 update: Obraztsova’s website is down.  The translation of the message screen is that the site has been blocked, and the owner of the site should contact the host to find out why.

P.P.S. As you can see in the comments, Parlonsballet has informed us that Evgenia Obraztsova is now a principal with the Bolshoi!


A little more on hyperextension January 22, 2012

Filed under: ballerina,ballet — theworstat @ 5:52 pm
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Not much to add today, but I did come across this video of Dame Alicia Markova, apparently in practice.  There are no huge extensions here, but once your eye adjusts you will marvel at her delicate lightness and classicism.

This, folks, is what ballet used to look like.

Alicia Markova

Here’s another video I discovered today, of Dame Margot Fonteyn as Odile:

Margot Fonteyn

Again, a satisfying lesson.  (BTW I take back much of what I said in an earlier post about her feet and extensions — these comments were based on videos of her in her declining years, which was the only reference point I had at the time.  At the height of her career, she was undoubtedly great.)


Here come de Opera

Filed under: ballet — theworstat @ 4:46 pm
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Excuse my lese majeste toward the Paris Opera Ballet.  They are to make their Chicago debut on June 27, 2012 at the Harris Theater.  I want to be there, but I don’t know why.  I’ve never even seen this company outside of a few wayward clips and one documentary — in French, not my strong point — on YouTube.  (And yes, I have made all of my judgments in this blog based on that; maybe my desire to see the company in person is also a desire to see if I’ve been right about them.)

Anyway, here’s the announcement, from last April I believe, in the Chicago Tribune:

Paris Opera Ballet in Chicago

This kind of brings me back to the old, old days when the Royal Ballet (GB) would come here for a week, every few years.  Alas, those days came to a close when the promoters could no longer guarantee that the RB’s trips to provincial Chicago would be profitable.  After that, we had to be satisfied with ABT’s 2-week visits every year.  And then ABT cut the length of its visits down.

Things are better now, honestly, with a major company having long since taken up residence here (the Joffrey), and several smaller companies active in the area.  But it’s still a thrill to know that the ancient, august Paris Opera Ballet is deigning to come here after never having done so before in the city’s 175-year history.

We can haz ballet?  I guess so.