The Born-Again Balletomane's Blog

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Little Girls Dancing Big Roles December 30, 2012

Filed under: ballerina,ballet,ballet class — theworstat @ 6:42 pm
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(Please note that the child being discussed in this post will not be named.)

Recently I posted a link to a YouTube video from a school where very tiny girls are taught big ballet tricks.  One of them, an 8 year old, danced the lead in the school’s production of Swan Lake.  Although the choreography was slightly dumbed down, it was still very difficult.

Very notably and probably not very surprisingly, the little girl gave the appearance of swan-like loveliness: lots of flapping of arms and darting about.  This was enough to fool a majority of viewers into thinking that she really knew what she was doing.

But technically — again no surprise — she was a disaster.

More recent videos of her show that she has improved enough to win a prize at an international competition (she actually has a smattering of a turnout now and her feet are more arched), but the question remains: how long will she last?  In the earlier video her feet were weak and looked painful.  She had no turnout.  She could not sustain anything.

Again, no surprise.  Let me talk about figure skating for a bit.

In the 1980’s it became impossible for a female skater to win an elite competition with only double jumps.  As the old school figures competitions (drawing pictures on the ice with the edges of one’s blades) dropped away, the emphasis on turning multiple times in the air before landing increased.

As a result, many older, more seasoned skaters were  forced out of competition.  There were two competing theories about this: (1) the kind of skater needed for jumps was older and had huge thighs and (2) the kind of skater needed for jumps was prepubescent and weighed about as much as a thimble.

The world being the way it is, Theory #2 won handily.

Over the next two decades we saw tiny skater after tiny skater win the Olympics with what amounted to triple hops (they could not really jump), no edges (blade-edge control is necessary for safe and correct skating), flabby musicality, and no actual technique overall.

What else did we see?  Hip injuries.  SEVERE hip injuries.  It turned out that doing such extreme weight-bearing activities as landing triple jumps was very, very bad for little girls.  Finally, after much prodding, girls under 16 (or was it 15) were banned from elite competition.  Nowadays you don’t hear so much about hip injuries, although I’m sure there’s still a lot of that going around at the lower levels of competition where the girls are younger and triple jumps are the norm, if not required.

I have no doubt that even though proper ballet training strengthens the hips, the same is true in ballet.  And it is well known that being on pointe too early can damage the feet.  Yet very few of the viewers of the videos showing this little girl questioned anything.  A few comments even snorted, “her teachers know what they are doing.”

I’d like to counter that:  They do not.  Want proof?  Just watch the girls dance.

And I daresay in about 20 years, just watch them try to walk.

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New ballet forum December 29, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — theworstat @ 6:22 pm
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To make discussion easier, I am in the process of setting up a new ballet-talk forum.  Please note that the same rules apply to the forum as apply here.  I will be out for the day but will attend to the forum this evening, at which time I’ll share the link.  Right now I’m having new-moderator woes, lol.

Update:  Here’s the link for the new forum: http://bornagainballetomane.freeforums.net/index.cgi

There is, as of now, one important topic…and that is the forum rules.  I ask that everyone read this.  After that, please feel free to post and discuss as you wish.  Thank you for joining.

 

Some Womack News? December 28, 2012

Filed under: ballerina,ballet — theworstat @ 4:04 pm
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Happened to stumble across the news that there is a chance that Joy Womack will be promoted to Soloist in the next month or so.  Mind you, the Bolshoi has a bewildering number of Soloist levels; I’m guessing she will be at the lowest level, which is probably equivalent to Coryphee in the companies that have that level.  But it’s still pretty startling news, since she’s only been with the Bolshoi a few months.  She must be doing very well.

It’s exciting to think that she may be one of the great ones instead of merely very good.  Time will tell.  Of course I wish her the best.  I’d love to see a video of her on the Bolshoi stage as a professional; there are none now…but I’m sure many are forthcoming.

 

 

The Vaganova Issue December 25, 2012

Filed under: ballet,ballet class — theworstat @ 6:03 am

We’ve been having a long and fruitful discussion about the acid-tongued YouTube vlogger RussianBalletVideos.  One of the issues this person seems to have is a strong prejudice for Maryinsky dancers who spent their full 8 to 9 years of training in the Vaganova Academy — so much so that he finds any way he can to use less than a total Vaganova Academy education against his less-than-favorite dancers (right now, those are Oxana Skorik and Keenan Kampa, but he has other victims as well).

A quick search of the Maryinsky website reveals something interesting: roughly a quarter of the female (and maybe up to — or more than — half the male) soloists are not Vaganova Academy trained.  One of the female principals was also trained elsewhere.  Didn’t look at the bios of the male principals, though.

No comment this time.  Just thought it would be interesting to throw this out there.

 

Whoa…More Wierdness… December 21, 2012

Filed under: ballerina,ballet — theworstat @ 6:07 pm
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RBV is a it again:

Skorik vs. Stepanova

This video shows both dancers dancing the same Lilac Fairy variation.

Stepanova is by far the better of the two.  The only problem I have with her variation is that she does not maintain a pose (especially the arabesque at the end looks more like she is glad the variation is over, rather than making any statement of the serene power and joy of the Lilac Fairy).  Also, the conductor’s tempo is agonizingly slow — so slow that it’s distracting.  I notice this a lot in Russian ballet videos, and it’s a habit I wish they’d get over.  The tempo is one place where I really prefer the full-speed-ahead dancing of the New York City Ballet, where, it seems, you dance at concert speed or retire.

The only other thing I wish from Stepanova is more of an air of command.  She still looks like a corps dancer plucked out at the last minute and given a solo.  She needs to take over the stage and in this case, give the feeling that she can easily tell Carabosse where to get off.  I just don’t see that yet — at least, not enough of it.  I’m sure it will come with time.

As for Skorik, I’ve long noticed what seems to be a problem with her right foot.  This showed up first in the film A Beautiful Tragedy and hasn’t improved since then.  The foot’s wobbly or something; she continually seems to be rising on pointe on the outside of her big toe, then falling off.  In watching videos of other ballerinas with beautiful feet, I’ve come to the conclusion that this may be in part a camera-angle problem; a lot of the women seem to be doing the same thing when in fact they are squarely over the toe box.  It’s just that Oxana actually does seem to come down off pointe very, very fast after rising up, which adds to the illusion that she is falling off the side of her toe.

In fact, both her feet, while lovely, look weak.  It’s said that such pretty feet usually need a ton of work in order to stay strong enough for pointe; perhaps that is her problem.  Anyway, she seems to be crashing out of her pirouettes rather than completing them with composure; her feet just smash to the floor.  Overall, her dancing looks a tiny bit choppy and disjointed; certainly it looks dispirited.  And she’s just too, too thin.  She’s rather hard to watch; one worries that she may shatter at any second.

And yet the director of the company loves the way she looks and despite vocal dissatisfaction from the fans, he continues to push her career ahead at breakneck speed.   Stepanova, by contrast, is edging up through the ranks as if she were looking forward to a 40 year career instead of a 20 year career.  Why?  She has a figure and she appears shorter and more compact than Skorik.  Certainly she is not in that Skorik/Somova Wet-Noodle Girl mode (then again, Skorik these days seems more like a dry brittle noodle).  This apparently does not put her in the position of being a company favorite, even if she is occasionally brilliant.  It’s a shame.

Anyway, the comments section reveal something that would really drive Eric Conrad nuts: at one point, RBV states that Maryinsky dancers are better than Bolshoi dancers.  LOL this argument is spreading and spreading.  Now we’ve got Russians belittling Russians.

Certainly no company in the world has port de bras like the Maryinsky’s, but that’s the only advantage I see over the Bolshoi.  That’s just me, however, observing from a tremendous distance.

My point today was to point out that the weirdness continues.  I guess rabid fans will be rabid fans, no matter what the subject.  RBV is certainly a rabid fan of the Maryinsky.

And certainly it is seeming more and more that he is at least partially right about Skorik.  In watching a lot of videos of her recently, I found I became so accustomed to hops, sudden stops, outright stumbles and extra steps that later watching another ballerina with her act together came as a sort of shock.  But somehow I don’t think the fault is entirely hers.  I don’t know much about that school in Perm that chewed her up and spit her out, but watching the film A Beautiful Tragedy, it seems that the teacher she had was inept at best, offering little more than verbal abuse.  In my experience, students learn very little from merely being called “stupid” and not being told why.  It also seems that this teacher was not catching and correcting some very basic errors on the part of her students, nor paying any attention whatsoever to port de bras.  (Yes, I know that school has produced some spectacular dancers. Nadia Pavolova comes to mind.)

Reports from fans who saw Skorik in the U.S. would seem to confirm that at the very least, her training was inadequate and her nerves, as a result, are brittle.  Fans were advising fans to avoid her performances and wait for some other ballerina who could be counted on to perform well.

However, one major ballet photographer did fall in love with her and declared her to be a princess in toe shoes.  A few other fans reported that she seemed “happier than usual” while dancing in the U.S. and some of her performances were downright sensational.  So maybe the Maryinsky director’s faith in her is not entirely misplaced.  But I still think she’s under way too much pressure, so much so that she is in danger of breaking down.

I heard little comment, by contrast, about Keenan Kampa while the company was in the U.S.  It remains to be seen how she’ll do; certainly we will not get the whole story from RBV, who already hates her.

I can say that it will be entertaining to watch RBV go weird about these dancers.  But I can’t say that it’s fun to be Oxana or Keenan right now, if RBV’s attitude is indicative of anything but his own prejudices.

 

Back to ballet…maybe December 14, 2012

Filed under: ballet class — theworstat @ 6:14 am
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I’ve been working out a bit at home, with an eye toward going back to ballet class after a 30 year break.  Really, though, it’s not 30 years…I did have one class about 8 years ago, a private lesson.  The instructor didn’t like my feet (they’ve never been what you’d call pretty; they’re sort of in the Margot Fonteyn category if you consider that her feet were the only drawback she had), but other than that she was pretty darn happy with me.  But the lessons would have been expensive — she wanted to teach me privately — and so I never went back.

I’m expecting no such deference this time.  But I am working harder.  I’m balking at stretching, but am doing all the plies and releves and all that good stuff.  I have a few ballet-class videos and am trying to follow them…and suffering the same old brain farts I had 30 years ago.  Some things never change.

In the last few days, just for fun, I’ve tried those Sansha Recitals on.  I admit this is mainly to protect my sensitive right foot (Morton’s neuroma, what joy).  But of course I couldn’t resist rising onto pointe, carefully, hanging onto a chair and keeping both feet on the floor.  I did a few exercises that are supposed to help strengthen the ankles, because my ankles have always been incredibly wobbly.

I’ll stop here and report that while this particular Sansha model is not terribly pretty (the sides are way high up on the foot), it is amazingly comfortable.  My big toe stays the way it wants to be…completely straight and not pushed into any sort of weird angle.  And the platform is wide enough to give a feeling of confidence.  Overall, while one would never mistake it for a bedroom slipper while up on pointe, at least it isn’t a torture chamber like my pointe shoes of yesteryear were.

Anyway, after that, for yucks I took a few tiny steps away from the chair.  That lasted approximately one foot of travel space before I crashed, lol.  But I DID get all the way up over my boxes.  It just took such tremendous strength to stay there that it was too much at this point — especially as I have been ill lately.

Anyway, if anyone ever tries to tell you that being up on tippy-toes is easy and the pointe shoes do it all for you…send ’em to me.  They’ll be sorry they ever said anything so stupid.

 

A Tale of Two Auroras December 12, 2012

Filed under: ballerina,ballet — theworstat @ 11:25 pm
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First, Margot Fonteyn:
Rose Adagio

Then, Svetlana Zakharova:
Rose Adagio

Now, before I go further, note that I am not going to be saying that either dancer is “bad.”  In fact, to be able to dance the Rose Adagio at all is a certain marker of success for any dancer,and both these ballerinas go well beyond merely being able to do the steps.

I don’t know if what I’m having a problem with in the Bolshoi version is the choreography or Zakharova herself. Whatever the cause, I’m just not getting “giddy teenager” out of her dancing here.   I definitely got that out of Fonteyn’s interpretation, and also out of Aurelie DuPont’s, Olesya Novikova’s, and numerous others’.

You can see in the discussion below that there is some mention of port de bras (Zakharova’s arms never rise into fifth position toward the end of the adagio as she balances; apparently Fonteyn was the one who made this a standard of sorts).  I wouldn’t have noticed it if it hadn’t been pointed out, but it does make a lovely complement to the rose canopies that are sometimes behind Aurora as she dances and adds to her youthful daring.

What bothers me in the  Bolshoi version is a sort of excessive formality that takes away from the ballet’s story, which is, at this point, that Princess Aurora is young and beautiful and checking out her suitors with charming innocence, totally unaware that there is a curse looming over her.  But again, is this dancer or production?

The thought has occurred that maybe acting is not Zakharova’s strong suit, or that maybe some roles just aren’t hers.  (I don’t much like her Kitri, either.)  It could be the latter, as her Black Swan is one of the greatest in the world today.  Certainly that was never one of Margot Fonteyn’s best roles.

This brings us to the old issue of typecasting.  It’s said that Evgenia Obraztsova never got her Swan Lake at the Maryinsky because she was too short and had been typecast as a soubrette.  As not being Odette/Odile translated for her into not being a prima ballerina, this was a painful exclusion for her and eventually drove her to the Bolshoi.  But I’m wondering…you see, back in the day, in certain companies, one could rise to the top of the company without ever dancing roles that one was physically or personally unsuited for.  It’s clearly not true in the Maryinsky, but it still appears to have some truth in the Bolshoi.

And I’m thinking, why is this a bad idea?  Not every actress will play every role.  Why shouldn’t this be true in ballet?