The Born-Again Balletomane's Blog

Just another site about the love of ballet

Oy Vey, What a Cambre’ November 4, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — theworstat @ 11:57 pm

And so we were discussing Olga Smirnova, and Jen responded by describing some of this dancer’s shortcomings, and immediately what flashed into my head was a moment from a YouTube video (which of course I now can’t find) of Smirnova’s debut as Nikiya with the Bolshoi.  The scene was The Death of Nikiya, which is, of course, filled with cambre’ this and cambre’ that.  Smirnova almost snapped her torso in half on every single one of them.

It was a young ballerina mistake; Somova used to pull *bleep* like that all the time, and so did Zakharova (whose Nikiya nowadays is no longer given to overstatement).

When she graduated from Vaganova, Smirnova had been on the radar of Russian ballet aficionados for a few years already. Barely out of her final class at the institute, she was being hailed as a classicist of the first rank.  This is silly, of course, but a video of her at the time does show some basis for this assessment:

While watching her, you never for a moment forget that this is a young kid with a lot of learning to do.  But the basics are there (except for the pirouettes).  Her quick rise through the ranks of the Bolshoi seems to have stripped some refinement from her, or maybe the pressure has caused her to overstate things a bit and forget that the arms and legs must move in harmony from the lower back and blah, blah, blah.  But she can do it.  And she does have a turnout.  (That neither she nor Zhiganshina seem terribly concerned with using their turnouts these days may be an issue with training or demand; hard to say which; one photo Xenia posted on her FB page shows her in a lovely arabesque…with a totally turned-in standing leg.)

What’s more concerning to me with Smirnova is the same thing that concerns me about the Mariinsky’s Oxana Skorik: an almost overwhelming lack of personality.  It’s pretty hard to be a ballerina if all you can do is steps.  You have to add the “you” to it.  With neither of these dancers does there seem to be much “you;” Skorik seems to have had it crushed out of her and Smirnova’s entire existence seems to be one of towering ambition and very little else.

Of course, towering ambition does not an assoluta make; on the other hand, Skorik could go far as a grand tragedienne — a role that seems to be innate to her — if she can just let it show to her advantage.

They’re both young and both have far to go.  It just goes to show how many dancers who show promise end up failing at the starting gate.  Getting all the way to prima these days is no accident; you really have to have it all.  And even when you do, someone will always be there who doesn’t see it.  Too many of those, and all your hard work is for nothing.


A Tale of Three Prodigies November 3, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — theworstat @ 7:08 pm

Okay, two were genuine prodigies; the third was either a genuine prodigy or was/is trying very, very hard to sell herself as being one.  I’m talking about Olga Smirnova, Xenia Zhiganshina and Joy Womack.

Two of the three started out in the Vaganova School (Zhiganshina actually started out earlier in one of those very questionable “little girls in big roles” schools where they put the kids on pointe at age 5).  Two of the three were in the rare position of having major ballet companies fight over them (Smirnova and Zhiganshina).  One negotiated her way to 2nd soloist at the Bolshoi, straight out of school (Smirnova).  One was already dancing with the Mariinsky well before she graduated from Vaganova (Zhiganshina, who is now in the corps of the Bolshoi).

The third one, Joy Womack, is a tangle of controversy.

Mind you, 90% of the controversy could be because Joy is American.  Russians are notoriously willing to stretch the truth about outsiders like that, and Joy has found herself being accused of everything from doctoring videos to make it seem as if she was in the Russian class at the Bolshoi’s academy, to having her daddy pay her way into the Bolshoi (makes sense only to a point if you consider Joy’s accusation that the Bolshoi wouldn’t give her soloist roles because she wouldn’t pay for them; also her claim that a generous stranger paid for her foot surgery while at school).  She’s also faced some very ugly accusations of sleeping her way into the Bolshoi — very strange because she got married to get into the Bolshoi and is always spouting the Jesus stuff.

And then when she left the Bolshoi came the weird accusation that she couldn’t do steps properly, nor memorize anything.

My own observations of this dancer have been that she is very competent, except for her pirouettes, and so far seems to be an excellent prospect for a major company’s corps or coryphee level.  Yet she has pushed her way to first soloist with a tiny company just blocks away from the Bolshoi.

As tangled as her story is, I guess the best thing is to cut it in half and believe half of that.  The core of the whole thing seems to be that she is the only non-Russian in this story; otherwise, we’d have the truth about her with no problem.

Of course, this being Russia…maybe not.


Dancing in a closet November 2, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — theworstat @ 7:09 pm

I do know that at some time in the past year, the Mariinsky hired a gaggle of dancers from sources other than the Vaganova school.  That’s okay, since the Vaganova was never the Mariinsky’s “official” school anyway.  But given the sheer number of hires (someone told me it was around 40, but I can find no proof of that number — seems more like 5 or 6), and the excuse given (there’s no way one school could provide all the dancers needed for the Mariinsky to fill two stages), and the fact that a lot of dancers were added at levels above the corps…well, I’m wondering if this had anything to do with the sudden defections of at least 3 coryphees — one of whom was finally on a clear path to promotion in the past season (good ol’ Yulia Stepanova).

As far as I know, RBV has been silent.  It could be that he’s waiting, as his latest account has been shuttered by YouTube for copyright violations (edit: nope, it’s still there and active).  But I’m sure he’s also heartbroken, as one of the coryphees who fled was none other than his true love Yulia.

Anyway, all that aside…off to Moscow we go.  Joy Womack has been posting little videos and pictures of herself as Odette/Odile, making her debut in what appears to be a closet.  I swear I’ve seen bigger stages in elementary school assembly halls.  As usual, she doesn’t give much info about who/what/where/when/why.  Also, once again the video was shot from offstage, leaving the viewer with little to go on as to the quality of the performance.

What I did notice, not just on Joy but on other dancers, was very, very messy pointe shoes.  Some companies forbid dirty pointe shoes, but apparently others say nothing.  I do remember that Maria Tallchief’s pointe shoes were almost always scuffed and stained.  But I hadn’t seen pointe shoes looking this shabby since her day, honestly.  It left me wondering if this was actually a dress rehearsal or something.

Another tidbit that may be interesting (or not) is that Joy apparently no longer is wearing the brand of pointe shoe that she had done so much modelling for in the past year, but is wearing Gaynor-Mindens instead.  This may be an attempt to be chic, as many of the ballerinas in the major Russian companies are now wearing GM’s.  But it also indicates that for now, at least, her shoe modelling days are over.

Anyway, I’m off to work so no time to pull thoughts together, but I will attempt to do so later.


So anyway, I was wondering, along with the rest of ballet fandom, about Yulia Stepanova’s future when I happened across a fan discussion on another site.  In this discussion they were musing about the flight of three coryphees from the Mariinsky right at the start of the season, going along rather peacefully when someone piped in: “Well, American Ballet Theater is going to be short three ballerinas next spring.”

So what do you think of that?  Three Mariinsky coryphees (one of them is a guy, anyway, I think), jumping across the Atlantic to become ABT principals!  Not in this lifetime.  Not that they will not join ABT, but it won’t be as principals.  Any new principals will be well-known international superstars appearing as guest principals (much as my beloved Evgenia Obraztsova is now permanent guest principal with the Royal Ballet), or promotions from within the ranks.  It’s more likely that the new dancers would be hired as soloists, as ABT does not have a coryphee level.  Whether they let dancers languish in the corps after dancing the lead in Swan Lake, I do not know.  I only know that back in the day, that would not have happened.

A quick look at the roster of the Mikhailovsky showed it to be almost desperately short of female soloists and principals, so it’s a possibility one of the girls could show up there — most likely Stepanova.  In the near run, I do know that Stepanova is supposed to be appearing in a gala with the Kremlin Ballet in January.

Kampa, another Mariinsky defector, seems to have plans to stay in the U.S. and promote her upcoming film.  In truth I sort of thought this would happen, as an interview with her last spring mentioned her seeming rather “wistful” at the idea of having to go back to Russia in August to begin the new Mariinsky season.

I can see Kampa with ABT or else with the San Francisco Ballet.  Or maybe she’ll go back to the Boston Ballet, who knows. I only hope she’s not retiring.

Anyway, it’s late and I guess I’ve gone on too long, but it sure is fun wondering out loud.