The Born-Again Balletomane's Blog

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Stepanova promoted…3 times September 16, 2016

As everyone probably already knows, Yulia Stepanova has not only been promoted to prima at the Bolshoi, but in that achievement sailed over 2 promotions (she’ll never be a First Soloist or a Leading Soloist).  She catapulted straight from Soloist (better known as Coryphee in many companies) to Principal.

I kind of suspected that she would be promoted at the start of this season, but I never expected anything like that.  Instead I expected her to spend a brief time at First Soloist before languishing at the Leading Soloist level for a few years, kind of like Smirnova did.

Someone mentioned on another site that Stepanova’s promotion(s) is/are unprecedented.  If anyone has gone up three levels to the very top in one year, it hasn’t happened recently.

Certainly she must be much more remarkable than just having expressive arms.  It’s definitely not her feet, which like Smirova’s are rather uninteresting, (which should prove to some people that feet are not everything as there are now at least two Bolshoi primas with retro-feet — feet that would have been great in earlier decades but not now, in the banana-foot age). It’s how you use your feet, not so much what they look like, after all.  However, so far I haven’t seen anything really special in her use of her feet, or anything else but her upper body and arms.

I would like to see a full-length video of her dancing Swan Lake, and another of her dancing a contemporary ballet.  Then I’ll have a better idea.

Anyway, the judgement has been made by the powers-that-be at the Bolshoi, and once again this leaves the Mariinsky with egg on its face.  It seems that company is fading further and further from the limelight and may disappear altogether once the current generation of stars retires.  Fortunately a few of them are fairly young, and that could add another decade or so during which the Mariinsky has a chance to turn itself around.

If it doesn’t, it will serve as a harsh reminder of how fragile ballet is.  One lost generation, and the entire art could be lost forever.  The Bolshoi now seems to have realized this.  The Mariinsky had better wake up.



16 Responses to “Stepanova promoted…3 times”

  1. Lisa B Lai Says:

    Without diminishing Yulia’s accomplishment (and with confidence that she will live up to the promotion in every way), I think it’s fair to say that factors in addition to the quality of her dancing led to this unprecedented promotion. First of all, the English Bolshoi website says that she was promoted from Leading Soloist to Principal. This seems to imply that there were intervening informal promotions. Other factors have more to do with Vaziev than Yulia, I believe. Vaziev’s message to Mariinsky here is, “you screwed up (by obstructing Yulia’s career) — here’s how to manage the career of a talented dancer!” He’s saying to the Grigorovich camp that he will elevate Vaganova trained dancers if he believes they have talent, even if they lack “Bolshoi style”. But mostly, he’s doing what he’s done before: spotting talent and quickly elevating the dancer to a level where they will be challenged. (Alina Somova, remember?) It’s now up to Yulia to “bring it” — to go beyond her comfort zone and become the best she can be. Unlike Somova at the time of her elevation, Yulia has enough experience under her belt to now be able to concentrate on sharpening her technique, incorporating Bolshoi-type skills (those crazy lifts, eek!) and what I personally am hoping to see, further evolving her artistry and unique relationship with the audience.

    • theworstat Says:

      Thank you for your insightful reply; looking forward to hearing more from you.

      • Lisa B Lai Says:

        You’re welcome. I did want to address your statement that she must be more remarkable than just having expressive arms. I do think there is more to it than that, and it seems that people who really know ballet have championed her because of the “quality” of her dancing. (Here I’m referring to Andris Leipa, Vladimir Vasiliev and Ludmilla Semenyaka and not you-know-who). The arms are only a part of it; it can be summed up, I think, as extraordinary musicality and naturally coordinated movement. Many criticize Yulia for what they perceive to be a lack of musicality, but in actuality what they are uncomfortable with is the lack of what I call “beatiness”, i.e. moving or ending a moment “on” the beat in such a way that the “journey” between the beginning and ending is perfectly regular, neither getting faster nor slower. True, this is pretty much how a corps has to move, in order to stay together, and Yulia does this when in the corps as can be seen from her many youtube videos. However, on her own she will sometimes, for example, start a movement late but end it on time. This results in a speeding up of the intervening movement which creates a phrase with emphasis at the end. There’s a good example of this a few seconds into this video where the soloists behind her, as a group, start to lower their arms on the beat, before Yulia. Starting late, Yulia does the same move but faster, ending up back at the top together with the corps. Yulia gives emphasis to the movement (down UP) that reflects and enhances the musical phrase. Sing along with the music, or do the movements both ways yourself, and you’ll see that it’s a very natural thing to do what Yulia does. If we see ballet only as moving from pose to pose, or as essentially acrobatic, we don’t miss this sort of thing. But I think people who saw dancers of the past look for this kind of sophisticated musicality and are happy to find it in Yulia. I’ll do another post with examples on naturally coordinated movement in a while.

    • Danse Noble Says:

      The main factor in her speedy promotion is that the Bolshoi really (and I mean REALLY) needs a ballerina just like her, a type of grand ballerina in the best of Russian tradition. Something that has become nearly extinct. She is the only ballerina of this type to appear anywhere in many-many years, and the only one at Bolshoi after Zakharova who doesn’t have many years left. Everybody is aware of that at Bolshoi, particularly Grigorovich, so talking about “Grigorovich’s camp” being in opposition is not correct here at all. To the contrary, Grigorovich is one of those impressed. It is rather some nervous and ill informed ballet fans who are not aware of all of that. In view of the precious years of her career already lost and wasted by Fateev, the theatre doesn’t want to lose any more time from what is left of her career and in order to take the full advantage of her presence at the company, in order for her to become the face of Bolshoi, she simply had to be in the rank of prima ballerina, which is fine, since the rank in ballet is not some kind of “reward” or “award”, it is a measure of professional capability. For this she doesn’t need to be better than other prima ballerinas (even though she is already better than some and not worse than others), especially that she is seen as having potential to be better in the future and in many ways; neither she needs to prove anything to anybody, those who were her most stringent judges already passed their verdict. One also must take into account that the rank of a Soloist was 1 to 2 ranks below her actual level. In normal circumstances she should have been by now a Leading Soloist anyway.

      After a string of debuts in the Spring and in the Summer, she will now have an opportunity to perfect in repeat performances the parts she danced once. A typical expectation is that anything she dances 6-7 times, she turns into a diamond (like two of her out-of-this-world Lilac Fairies in May which are now given by ballet pedagogues as a model of perfection and academic purity). She will also have further debuts — “Giselle” and “Raymonda” are waiting, though with her elegance and finesse she would be also an ideal Aurora. A lot of excitement awaits ballet lovers in near future, there is no doubt about it, those who value Art over acrobatics and gymnastic prowess are especially excited. Choreographers are already lining up offering her principal parts in their works and much more will follow.

      • Lisa B Lai Says:

        Thank you. Your first-hand knowledge is so helpful! One clarification: I talked about “the Grigorovich camp” because although I know nothing about what Grigorovich is thinking, I did get the impression from Bolshoi Babylon that the group of dancers opposed to Filin and his importation of Vaganova dancers believed that the Bolshoi style, as epitomized by Grigorovich’s ballets, was in danger of being eclipsed. There is still a lot of handwringing about this on social media as you know and a tendency to blame the Vaganova dancers. I’m glad you’ve pointed out that Grigorovich doesn’t see it that way.

  2. theworstat Says:

    Thank you again. My problem in judging Yulia is that I have seen nothing but brief snippets of her work, and when watching was concentrating on her arms and upper body. You have brought a whole new light on things. Looking forward to your next post.

    • theworstat Says:

      I watched the video. I don’t know enough about Yulia, so I have to ask: is this a Yulia thing, or perhaps is the prima coached into this? Of course, this is a Ballanchine ballet, so being a prima is of secondary importance to total obedience to the music…

      • Lisa B Lai Says:

        I don’t think it’s the kind of thing that can be taught, actually. That’s why they call her “the natural” and imo it’s one of the things that makes her prima material. They try to coach them to do this type of thing but if they don’t have the innate musicality it doesn’t have the same effect. Balanchine understood very well the pull and tug of the musical phrase, being obedient to that and not just to the beat. We could probably find some good Farrell footage showing that.

      • theworstat Says:

        Will be looking.

  3. theworstat Says:

    Never was a Farrell fan, but I did watch the pas de deux from Diamonds tonight. I see what you mean about musicality; her body sings a prima’s song. She is the music, not the other way around. My comment about being a slave to the music in Balanchine probably means more with the corps de ballet, I guess.

  4. theworstat Says:

    Just for interest’s sake, here’s Obraztsova:

    • Lisa B Lai Says:

      I adore Obraztsova. Her body movements are gorgeous all the time, her phrasing is unique and she is so charming! In her earlier years she sometimes got ahead of her music, which told me that to her movement for movement’s sake was probably more important than the music. Nevertheless, she expresses the musical line beautifully. I don’t get the same sense of the music flowing through her as I do from Stepanova. (Others may disagree of course, this is just my impression.) Many similarities between the two dancers, but also very interesting differences. I really hope to see them dance together this season. Stepanova would be a gorgeous Lilac Fairy to Obraztsova’s charming Aurora in the Bolshoi in Cinema airing in January. Fingers crossed!

  5. Wow! I’m beginning to wonder if Yulia’s fans have some alert any time someone posts about her. I noticed this in another blog where the comment activity quadrupled because the author was not a big fan of hers.

    I like Yulia and loved her interpretation of Nikia. But her fans really need to calm down.

  6. Lisa B Lai Says:

    More Yulia, this time as icy Myrtha in Bolshoi’s Giselle this past summer.

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