The Born-Again Balletomane's Blog

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Moscow Ballet Competition June 15, 2017

Filed under: ballerina,ballet,Russian ballet — theworstat @ 4:24 pm
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Here’s an article on the opening of the Moscow Ballet Competition; I’ll try to follow up on this in the coming days:

Moscow Competition


Be Careful What You Wish For March 4, 2017

During my YouTube haunt tonight, I found a new video by Joy Womack in which she blamed her on-tour loneliness on the fact that she didn’t come up through the corps and didn’t “bond” with anyone; also, she reiterated the “jealousy” excuse when talking about how her colleagues freak out whenever she pulls out a video camera.

At this point I don’t know what to say except that it’s getting old.  It’s obvious that she needs to leave Russia, but it’s not so clear as to whether she’ll be happier in another company elsewhere.  A lot of her problem is herself; until she realizes that, it’s going to be same-old, same-old.

ASIDE: the music she uses in her non-performance videos is hideous.  I keep fast-forwarding through it.  Where does she find this stuff?  It’s either repetitious to the point of where you want to scream…well, it’s always that way…or there’s some girl singing in a voice that sounds like she just sucked on helium.  Sometimes it’s just plain weird (once she had background music where some guy was reciting poetry or a speech or something).  Never does it have anything to do with what’s going on on-screen.

Often, this screechy background music is just plain TOO LOUD.

Anyway, on to my next rant…a video series called The Joffrey Elite.

This is a reality series and follows that sick, sad, sorry old formula to the last drop of BS.  The story is that a group of students are selected by the Joffrey Ballet School (NOT affiliated with the Joffrey Ballet!!) to become “the elite,” which is a group that performs at those silly team competitions that are springing up around the country.  You know, like Dance Moms, only with pointe shoes.

Along the way they have the usual staged backstage dramas (“you’re on probation!”) and the usual happy endings (“we got first place in our first competition!”), coupled with the requisite silly challenges (“we didn’t score 100%!”).  At one point I felt like shouting, “you didn’t score 100% because your students aren’t very good!”  Because they aren’t.  They are students: young, unfinished dancers ostensibly training for the lofty rigors of classical ballet.

If that’s actually who these kids are, this series will cost them eventually in real-world terms.  Let’s put it this way: why are serious pre-professional ballet students wasting their time on high school drill-team choreography?  Are they aspiring to be cheerleaders?  Meantime they are losing serious classroom and rehearsal time in the most difficult of all the disciplines of western dance.

Aside from that, the series is so trite and predictable and just plain stupid that it made me wonder why the Joffrey Ballet School got involved in this in the first place.  This particular school has a reputation that outstrips that of the Joffrey Academy (the school that is affiliated with the Joffrey Ballet), which is a young institution that just underwent a major management shakeup and as a result of all this, hasn’t gotten very far in its first 6 or 7 years.  The Joffrey Ballet School, in contrast, has a solid history that goes back to 1953 and has earned a reputation for producing fine dancers.  Kids fight to get into that school.

So why risk it?  What’s the end game here?  Are they wishing for fame and fortune by going down the reality-tv route?

This is not, after all, the Joffrey School’s first foray into the questionable world of reality shows.  They had a presence in the deplorable Dance Moms series as well.  At this point, I guess I can assume it’s a pattern.  But as I asked, why?  Is it doing them any good?

Is it doing ballet any good?

I can only hope that this doesn’t spread to other schools.  I know one company has already succumbed (Ballet West), but I’d hate to see it spread to other companies as well.  The one thing that may stop it is the dancers themselves.  One hopes that if Joy Womack is getting in trouble with her colleagues for filming everything they do while filming herself (a new form of collateral damage), maybe dancers across the U.S. will stand up with their unions and stop the reality-show trend in its tracks.  After all, it could end up making ballet look like one big, fake, stupid drama, kind of like professional wrestling.

One may argue that it exposes a whole new audience to ballet. But when you consider a typical reality-show audience…well, maybe ballet is better off without it.


Reality Ballet January 30, 2017

The following is a comment from a regular contributor.  I found it interesting.  Please read through it; I’ll add my thoughts below.

From atlanticw

I find the entire Joy Womack situation bizarre. I noticed she has not been promoting her prima bars in a long time and I thought it odd. I then checked the company’s Facebook account and apparently they stopped producing the bars in September 2016-claiming their manufacturer closed unexpectedly. The prima bar site is now stating it will start selling some sort of vitamin supplement which goes along with her physician parent’s business. The more likely scenario is that no one was buying her stuff and they just quit producing. As if the world needed another granola bar-particularly one that was very expensive.
She left to guest star at some ballet school in Salt Lake City and posted that she was taking classes at Ballet West. Now she is taking classes around ABT. Sounds like her plan was likely to attempt to get in somewhere in the US and it’s not panning out. As someone who used practice US immigration law, I find it difficult she had no idea her Russian visa would be expired. While all governments are unique, deadlines are pretty much set for those things and the terms are clear. Absent any issues at the actual border crossing her visa would be valid until it expired- and she should have known very well its date.
I did see she was attempting to get a Russian green card. She has alluded in the past to not being sponsored by the Kremlin which again is bizarre. I feel that a state run ballet company can sponsor someone if they really want to get it done and they just clearly didn’t care enough.
I can never really tell her skill level but from videos I don’t think she seems like an exciting dancer to watch. That, paired with her attitude and the liability she poses but her youtube channel I can’t see many companies really going for it. It is true that stars like Misty Copeland are all over social media, but she doesn’t seem to be bashing people or sharing every single little detail about her life like she’s a Kardashian or something. Joy would have been better off staying more anonymous and then attempting to audition around the US. She’d be lucky for a spot in a regional company like Ballet West. For a company that even had its own cheesy reality show (breaking pointe) they still probably couldn’t even deal with her antics.
To me, she literally embodies the generation Z/younger millennial desire to be ‘instagram famous’. Everything is about perception and optics, yet nothing to back it up.

Regarding the Prima bars, I too noticed she stopped mentioning them months ago, but I never bothered to take the extra step to go to the website and see why.  Who knows what the backstory is…there always seems to be so much that doesn’t add up in her case.  I did see the two recent videos promoting “bodyhacking,” and was alarmed.  She could really fall into an expensive trap there.  I used to work in a medical setting and know how tight the restrictions are and how careful one has to be about making even quasi-medical claims.  The FDA has driven numerous small supplement companies out of existence for making spurious claims, and clients are quick to sue when promised miracles don’t happen.  It’s a very tricky sector of the market; if one enters it at all it’s safer to do it in only one state (restrictions vary widely from state to state), and engage in doublespeak whenever possible.  That is to say, don’t make any solid claims whatsoever.  Leave it all between the lines.  Womack’s “body hacking” videos didn’t do that.

Whether it is true that her entire career is nothing but a cover for a marketing scheme, or that she thought she could bluff her way into superstar prima-ballerinadom by becoming famous on YouTube and social media (and sell stuff on the side!)…well, as Atlantic says, it’s impossible to tell because we in the West haven’t really seen her dance.  Yes she rose quickly to principal status at a small Russian company, but there have been rumors about her father’s political influence that haven’t been answered.  Then again, this sounds ridiculous, but there were questions surrounding Evgenia Obraztsova’s mother’s influence as Genia began advancing at the Maryinsky.

The rare bits of feedback from audiences inside Russia haven’t always been positive, but the fact is that some Russians seem to have a problem supporting non-Russian dancers.  Not that they don’t or won’t; see David Hallberg as a recent reference.  But Keenan Kampa, really the most similar case to Womack’s in terms of training and outcome, admitted that the hostility of the Russian audience was part of what drove her from the Maryinsky.  Of course she had also developed a heart problem as well as a severe hip injury, but one wonders if she’d have left even if the physical problems hadn’t occurred.  I now believe she would have.

Aside from the career-ending physical problems, the main difference with Kampa is that we had seen her dance.

One has to wonder what was in Womack’s mind once she entered the Bolshoi’s school (an event which is still a source of controversy; although she was undoubtedly a student there, I still haven’t seen clear evidence about whether she was in the Russian class or the foreigners’ class — she continues to insist she was in the Russian class, yet at least one teacher at the school said she was in the foreigners’ class, and of course there are fellow former students and others who say she was in the foreigners’ class).

Did she begin to think that she might sell her wares in the U.S. on the basis of her being an American graduating from a Russian school and soaring into prima ballerina stardom in Russia, the cathedral of ballet, in a just few years?  If so, she never realized that the market just isn’t there.  Most people in the U.S. aren’t interested in ballet except for a few dancers  who are genuinely unique (Misty Copeland comes to mind), and those of us who do love ballet would want to see her dance, live, before becoming convinced and then maybe buying something more than a ticket.

Another point is that we do know ballet here in the west, and we no longer easily accept that the Russian ballet school is infinitely superior to all other schools (in the upper body, maybe, but the Brits and others are pretty good at that part too — so what’s the big deal?).  We have too many brilliant schools of our own.

Because of facts like that, hiding behind the former iron curtain was never going to help her for long.  She had to — and still has to — come out and show us something.  Snippets of Swan Lake, even lengthy ones, aren’t going to do it unless you’re like Svetlana Zakharova, a genuine prodigy who explodes like a flash of lightning on camera, no matter what you actually think of her dancing.

For most dancers ballet performance requires, sooner or later, living proof. Cameras flatten everything and distort it, and individuality, unless sparkling, is often lost.  I’ve been depending on videos of dancers for a long time (as I no longer live close enough to a large city where professional ballet performances are held) and let me tell you: on video, very few classical dancers make an impact.  It’s as if ballet on video is a whole different art form.

Womack did say on one video that she felt that if she left Russia, she would no longer be unique.  She said something to the effect that there were “thousands like her” in the U.S.  I thought that said a unintentional mouthful.  All I can add to that is that much of what I see her doing on videos is fouettes.  Nice, powerful fouettes, even if she travels like crazy (to be fair, most dancers do).  But what about everything else?  I watched the snippet of her in class with ABT, and although almost no one ever really looks outstanding in class..she didn’t either.  I had to struggle to pick her out; as it turned out, she was the girl hanging around doing a million fouettes after everyone else had trotted off, and she was apparently holding up the following group in the process.  That’s the way it looked, anyway.  To be fair, the camera angle was so narrow that it was hard to tell what was really happening.

Interesting to read the stuff about her visa.  That part boggles my mind, and it’s good to hear from someone who actually worked in that field.  Again, it seems there is another low gray cloud surrounding Womack’s story, to the extent that she’s given a story.  David Hallberg has never had a problem with his visa, has he?  And I don’t hear anything to that effect from other American dancers in Russia, either…not that they blast everything over social media.  And so we are left wandering in the dark.

This “visa problem” is also rather interesting in light of the fact that the Kremlin Ballet apparently recently cracked down on her video habit.  The two could be related, but I’ll allow that they’re probably not.

Anyway, what I’ve seen of her dancing leaves me feeling that she might be a good fit at a major company as a soloist (or a coryphee if any company in the U.S. has them; I think SFB does).  Her interpretations of roles seem to be at the soloist level — very carefully reciting her advanced lessons, but with no lightning bolts of insight and no unique language of her own.  (Again, I am left to judge via snippets on video.)  It could be that she is just too young to achieve that, but then again, one thinks of the very young Giselle Berthea (still a teenager and currently in ABT’s corps, but not in the corps for long if what’s said about her turns out to be true): apparently the kid was born that way.

Maybe that’s the entire issue with Womack’s dancing: perhaps she wasn’t born that way, (and that’s okay!) but is trying to make us believe she was.  Like I said, we have no way of knowing until she shows us.  And like Atlantic says, maybe she’s damaged herself so much on social media that she’ll never get a chance in a U.S. company, or even one in Europe.  This could be why she’s hinting at putting her own touring company together…if indeed, that’s what she’s hinting at.

Who knows…


Rose Adagios and New York, NY January 25, 2017

Went to YouTube last night and watched part of the Bolshoi’s Sleeping Beauty, which had initially been broadcast a few days before.  Olga Smirnova was Aurora…at least, she was dancing the role.  It’s always hard for me to get used to a Russian Aurora, since I’m  expecting that bubbly airhead and instead am faced with a stone-cold classicist who barely pays attention to her suitors unless one nearly drops her, or doesn’t quite get there in time during one of the balances.  Of course I’m kidding, but only just.

Smirnova was a quintessential Russian Aurora.  As Aurora gets more grown up as the ballet progresses ….I mean, she wakes up after something like 100 years…I’m sure Smirnova’s interpretation was just great by the end of the show.  But as it was, it seemed like she was taking class from a very strict teacher and wasn’t much worried about appearing to be a giddy teenager.

Whatever.  Sleeping Beauty puts me to sleep, anyway; it’s all those damn fairies.  Just when you think you’ve seen all the fairies it’s possible to behold…DAMN!  Another bloomin’ fairy.  It gets old very fast unless one is into looking closely at the soloists for future prima ballerina possibilities.

And on to other things…as ever, Joy Womack.  I wondered and wondered what was going on with her.  She left Russia in November and never went back except for one day — and that was to be her application day for a Russian green card.  Apparently she didn’t get one; she’s now stranded at her brother’s place in New York City, unable to return to Russia due to visa issues.

It’s turned out not to be such a bad thing.  Of course she probably won’t get an offer from ABT, as in one of her previous videos she didn’t really badmouth them, but she did mention that they do not generally promote their own dancers beyond soloist because they have so many guest artists.**  Not a great move if one is thinking of future job prospects; prospective employers generally don’t like to have their flaws pointed out.  But she’s taken class with them at least twice, so they’ve now seen her up close and personal.  And considering her newfound love for NYC…

…To be fair, she is not talking about joining ABT.  She’s having a ball taking classes at Steps on Broadway and is speaking almost like she works for Gaynor Minden.  What she did say about her future performing career was intriguing: she is thinking of “putting together a team,” whatever that means, and touring.

Judging from that, it sounds like she means to be a freelance ballerina.  Like I said, what she really meant by that remains to be seen.

It does sound like she is no longer obsessed with carrying on with her career in Russia (Katisized, you were right!).  It could be that she’s finally accepting the caustic reality that her situation there was never secure and didn’t look to improve beyond being a prima in a tiny company.  It could also be that she’s decided to look past Russia strictly because of the visa issue.  And it could also happen that when/if her visa finally comes through, all this NYC love will become a passing fancy and she’ll be back to trying to hammer her Russian dreams into reality, unhappy and drained as that seems to leave her.

I observed that she seems much, much happier right now than she’s ever been (almost like a giddy Aurora!) except for during one brief working trip to California a few years back.  If this is so, maybe there’s a message for her in that: forget your Russian dreams, kiddo; your bouquets are all right here at home.

Freelance possibilities aside, it would be most interesting to see her take a place in a U.S. company and watch how she looks in the same mirror as home-grown dancers.  Obviously if she got into ABT or the San Francisco Ballet, she would likely have to step down to soloist.  Would she be able to step up again?  That would be fascinating to see.  Plus, we would finally really get a chance to closely observe her dancing, live and in person on a steady basis, and make solid judgements based on that.

She is not famous for being clear about anything.  The only thing for certain right now is that she can’t go back to Russia at the moment, and maybe she shouldn’t even try.  There’s no use in continuing to try to build a house of cards, no matter how solid the foundation seems to be.

** That is true now, and has been for decades; it’s too early to tell whether having attended the JKO school will make any difference in an ABT corps member’s or soloist’s future, or if the company will ever stop relying so heavily on guests to fill out its principal roster if indeed it gets more than enough talented kids out of JKO.  It sure didn’t work with the previous ABT school, which folded in the early 1980’s — but then again, that school was never as serious and well-organized as JKO; it had no set ballet curriculum (the JKO school does), and no junior division to speak of; it consisted mainly of preprofessional classes, which may or may not have been open — meaning that anyone could attend (although I do remember seeing a call for auditions at that school).  The only really major dancer I can remember whose training was strongly attributed to that school was Fernando Bujones.  And I may not even be remembering that correctly.

Of course Womack never attended JKO, and she does not have enough standing as a prima ballerina to join ABT as a stellar guest artist, either.  And so she would have to start out as a soloist or worse, a member of the corps.


Everything there was dark and dirty October 8, 2016

I finally watched Bolshoi Babylon tonight.  My take-away: don’t be a twit.

First I have to say that as an American living in the U.S., it’s impossible for me to grasp the deep importance of ballet to Russians.  In the U.S., ballet is a niche art that is becoming a niche sport as the numerous competitions spread, grow, and flourish (whether they lead to exciting ballet careers is a question for another article, but I do visualize there eventually being a ballet Olympics or something, and ballet dancers appearing on Wheaties boxes with their gold medals; art need not apply).

What the film did provide for me was a closer look at Filin, who appears to be a right little twit — not that that in any way excuses the physical attack on him.  It also clarified that Dimitrichenko’s apparent recent remarks indicating that Vorontsova was never his girlfriend/wife were a bald-faced lie.  And that Tsiskaridze is another twit.

Everyone, in fact, seems to be a twit.  There seems to be no peace in Bolshoi-land, only factions of twits hissing at other factions of twits.  Maybe this has calmed down a bit since Filin was deposed, however.

As for Joy Womack, anyone following her (who hasn’t seen the film) is probably under the impression that she appears in it at some point.  She has mentioned that she was interviewed for the film, in fact.

She doesn’t appear at all, and seems to be mentioned only obliquely (at one point near the end Filin says that no one has offered proof that he was demanding bribe money).  Somebody else — don’t remember who — said that there were a lot of dancers without talent demanding bigger roles, but that could have been a reference to a lot of people.  My only question is, why are there so many untalented dancers in the mighty Bolshoi?

Of course, certain elements of artistic talent rely entirely on the viewer’s perception.  The other day I was reading Ballet Alert’s discussion of Womack.  As is predictable, it went back and forth between those who think she hung the moon and those (one claiming to be Russian) who said that they, and the Russian audience, did not think much of her at all.  There was one video posted of her black swan performance with some tiny company somewhere, with a miserable orchestra and a partner who appeared not to have graduated from any recognized ballet school…or any ballet school at all.  In the same discussion of the same video, comments ranged from marveling at her musicality (which I admittedly didn’t see), to those who didn’t see the same thing I didn’t see.  Some mentioned stiff port de bras (which I did see), and others mentioned tremendous command.  To say she’s controversial is to make one vast understatement.

But it’s interesting to note that since she’s been promoted to principal, the discussion has gone almost completely silent.  She may now be a big minnow in a small pond, but that pond is in the same neighborhood as the Bolshoi and lives in the same soil.  Pretty hard to keep sniping.  Then again, as someone pointed out, she never mentions her reviews.

Anyway, on World Ballet Day she issued a video that sounded like a 21 year old making a sophomoric mission statement.  Note that no one asked, but she views herself as a leader, and she moans about her fellow dancers’ lack of extra-curricular conditioning regimes, and…and…and…

In a way it leads me back to Filin being a twit.  Somehow being raised in that insulated little world of ballet doesn’t always make for great leadership qualities.  Womack has a lot of maturing to do in a lot of ways, and she’d do well to watch that film again and really, really observe Filin.

P.S. to view Bolshoi Babylon online, you’ll probably have to pay a few dollars.  I got to see it for free because I have Amazon Prime, so that’s another option.  As for Womack’s WBD proclamation on Youtube, here it is: Womack Manifesto

I thank the commentors for their insights and urge you to read their remarks.


Rethinking Dmitrichenko August 29, 2016

Released from prison

I admit that I’m shaky on the history of the Dmitrichenko/Vorontsova/Tsiskaridze/Filin thing.  I’m even more confused after reading the above-captioned article, in which Dmitrichenko more or less denies anything happened.

At the time of the acid-throwing incident, I was having trouble reconciling the repeated statement that Vorontsova was Dmitrichenko’s common-law wife.  She was, after all, just 21.  In the U.S., in states where common-law marriage is recognized. it takes seven years to establish a such a union.  Of course, this is Russia we’re dealing with here, but…

Again I think of Joy Womack, and the endless controversy surrounding her time at the Bolshoi.  Will we ever get to the bottom of it?  Probably not.  (However, I was struck by the similarity of Womack’s situation to that of another Bolshoi outcast — Vorontsova.)  Again, this is Russia we’re dealing with here.  Lies are huge, and become the truth.  The problem is that there are so many of them that they seem to cancel each other.  In the end, we are left with nothing.

At the time of the incident, I remember being shocked by the callousness of Tsiskaridze claiming that Filin either wasn’t really injured, or was faking the extent of his injuries — I forget which.  But knowing the murky depths of Russian interpersonal politics…well, it’s impossible to arrive at a plausible truth that works for all the players.  Even now, there’s an oft-repeated rumor that Filin has been seen driving a car.  And he continues to work in ballet.  That requires sight.  Yet no less than the uber-honest Obraztsova says that yes, Filin’s injuries were and are real.

All that said — that is, the complete truth will never be known — I will focus on Dmitrichenko’s dancing (about which I know little except for a few videos), and his career.

There’s no doubt, based on the little I’ve seen, that Dmitrichenko has star power.  He seems to be the ultimate drama king, riveting to watch.  He definitely could have a career as a character dancer that would last decades.

The question of his career is the huge one, and it all hinges on whether or not the story of the acid attack and his involvement in it is even a bit true — and the extent of Filin’s support base within the Russian ballet community.

Dmitrichenko wants to get back into the Bolshoi.  Filin is still working there (with students now, apparently, and not directly with the main company).  Doubtless there are dozens or even hundreds at the Bolshoi who can’t stand each other, yet continue to work together…but attacking someone physically is another matter entirely.  The current director, or whatever his title is, says that Dmitrichenko can audition just like anyone else.  The question after that is how much influence Filin still has, and how much danger he would actually be in.  (My guess is not much — even if Dmitricheko got back into the Bolshoi, why would he repeat such an attack on someone who no longer wields much power within the main company — but what do I know?)

Could Dmitrichenko go elsewhere?  Who knows.  Womack did, and so did Vorontsova, (and both have done well in their new environments), which proves that there are those in the Russian ballet world who are willing to thumb their noses at the Bolshoi.  Of course, in Russia there are lots of other companies, and no doubt lots of strong souls like the director of Womack’s company.  But there are not many companies where Dmitrichenko’s considerable star power wouldn’t be wasted on a vastly reduced audience.

This is a situation I’ll be watching with interest.  Its outcome will give me a glimpse into the murky depths (and that’s what they are) of Russia’s ballet soul.








Off the music December 13, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — theworstat @ 11:33 pm

I keep getting Joy Womack news flung in my face.  Yesterday was no different; either she or someone else posted a trailer for her upcoming (in Russia at least) film.  The trailer’s description was riddled with grammatical errors (at least, the English translation was), which leads me to believe it is solely a Russian project and will not be seen here.  The trailer featured Joy speaking warmly of Nikita, her (ex?) husband, and admitting fault in the way she dealt with the Bolshoi.  She said that any bridges there have been thoroughly burned.  Maybe this was meant as a healing gesture, but I have long had the impression that her days in Russia are over and it’s time to come home and go into the corps of ABT or some smaller, local company. Her relative fame could even land her a leading role in some really tiny company, who knows.

Today she posted a video of herself dancing the Sugar Plum Fairy with the Kremlin Ballet.  Inadvertently, she may have posted the very reason the Bolshoi had no use for her as a soloist unless she paid them off (and it also left one wondering why she was hired as a leading soloist at the Kremlin Ballet).

She is, judging by this video, nothing more than a corps dancer.  Period.  In the video, she was badly off the (recorded) music and did not express it in any way.  And the Sugar Plum Fairy is no Giselle, a fragile girl delicately dancing to the happy music in act 1.  The SPF is a magical creature.  She commands the music with twinkle and charm, and casts fairy glitter as she dances. She is a little girl’s dream of a grown-up ballerina, all tutu, tiara, and shiny pointe shoes.

At least, that’s what she should be.  In the hands of anything more than a coryphee, that’s what she is.  But Joy’s SPF did none of that. She appeared uncertain in some of the steps, was, (as I mentioned), off the music, and worst of all, did not twinkle and spread charm.

An admirer suggested, as I have long felt, that perhaps Joy has done all she can do in Russia (after all, someone else from the U.S. made it to principal dancer there long ago — so it’s been done) and it is time to head elsewhere. Personally I’d like to see her start from the bottom in New York and see what a big company there can do with her.  Russia will never give us an honest answer.  There is too much going on behind the scenes.

She may be afraid of the answer; who knows.  Maybe her little company in Russia and her frequent modeling jobs there are comfortable refuges from the current truth about her dancing, which doesn’t seem to be pretty.

So while it’s possible that we will never see real improvement, it’s also possible that we will in the end be left wondering if real improvement was ever possible.  And considering that she’s such a determined dancer who is surrounded by so many questions regarding her true ability, that’s a big disappointment.  She is possibly selling herself short by staying in Russia.