The Born-Again Balletomane's Blog

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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.


2 Responses to “Oy Vey, What a Cambre’”

  1. Jennifer S Says:

    Both Smirnova and many prematurely proclaimed “stars” do no bother with turnout when dancing, only when they are posing at barre just as they go for extensions when posing at center class exercises. I believe part of this phenomenon stems from the recent view put forth by self-proclaimed yt ballet experts, that the greatest attributes of ballerina are her arms and upper body. Well okay, that means a ballerina can have horrible lower placement and crappy turnout but as long as they have contortionist spine and exaggerated lyrical, spidery arms, then they are “great”. This type of thinking is why the Russian ballerinas, most anyways, cannot dance with the type of precision needed in certain repertory. Is there a great Sylph in this current generation of Russians? This defect in training shows, it’s like yeah they have high extensions but does that have to do with choreography? Nothing, all it does is show an effect to impress newbie fans or impressionable students who don’t know better.

    Take the case of Somova, not great turnout but great side extensions though not front or even back extensions at least where she could hold them. Notice how her arabesques are always turned in standing leg with cheated, slightly open to the side working leg to give impression of greater height.

    I think not using turnout is very bad habit to adopt as young principal, because the heavy workload will mean injuries if the tendency is to cheat technique. Pretty soon the ligaments and muscles responsible for hip turnout get stiffer and next thing you know you’re cheating more and more turnout at the knees and ankles. Zhiganshina is already doing this in all her videos, really painful to watch both aesthetically and from a physical standpoint. Orthopedic surgeons must cringe when they watch ballerinas do that to the selves.

  2. Jennifer S Says:

    About lack of personality, I think it’s maybe related to lack of response to music or unable to project music. This is why Skorik, earlier Skorik I should say she seems like she’s st least trying, and Smirnova sometimes look kind of zoned out when dancing. Zoned out as in simply doing the steps and only snapping out of it when they have slip-up or mistakes, we see this especially with Smirnova, girl just dances through the music a lot of times it’s annoying and hence her reputation as unmusical. Balletomanes in NYC who saw her Nikiya and Swan Lake weren’t exactly won over to say the least. Substituting manneristic dancing for real, musical and choreographic expressions do not a prima ballerina make.

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