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.