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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?

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One Response to “A Tale of Two Auroras”

  1. Jennifer S. Says:

    I disagree with typecasting in ballet as is currently being practiced, for many reasons. At the Mariinsky, the use of emploi in roles like Odette/ Odile, Raymonda, and Nikiya are mainly though not solely based upon height and purely subjective characteristics assigned to dancers. These assigned characteristics often operate on nothing more than looks. For instance, if a ballerina has a young looking face and petite build a la Obraztsova, then she is automatically cast in soubrette roles and would have difficulty breaking out of that mold no matter what. Sometimes these emploi assignments are wrong. Take the example of current Mariinsky project for greater things, Maria Shirinkina. Shirinkina has doll-like face but lack the insouciant charm and solid technique of a typical soubrette. However she looks the part and has right connections, so she gets plum roles like Aurora, a role that she is fundamentally unsuited for given her subpar technique.

    Then there are those who are cast out of soubrette-type roles because they are considered too big or tall. Thus you have principal dancers Ekaterina Kondaurova and Uliana Lopatkina who have never danced Giselle, Aurora, Cinderella, Juliet, Sylph in La Sylphide, and Kitri. The tall ballerinas are automatically cast as Nikiya, Odette/ Odile no matter how unsuitable they are to those roles temperamentally, artistically, and technically.

    Sure there is not one dancer who can dance superbly in all roles given to her, but at least it’s tantalizing for us fans to experience different takes on same ballets by different dancers. Mariinsky Odette/ Odiles are now so cookie cutter that they are pretty much interchangeable. Tall dancers with impressively long limbs going from one limber pose to another, such sights are not only predictable but boring to watch as they all seem to be coached from the same perspective. Now if a ballerina is not frigid enough as Odette then she is deemed a failure because frigid= noble for some reason.

    As for the comparison with typecasting in acting, I find that the comparison to be interesting but not conclusive. Many actors have won acclaim by breaking through stereotypes and typecasting. Remember Charlize Theron playing a lesbian, serial murderer? Very unglamorous role and not the first actress one thinks of when casting for that role. But she rocked it and got an Oscar for her efforts, in the process making those who doubt her acting chops eat their words. There are many such actors with similar paths to respectability.


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