The Born-Again Balletomane's Blog

Just another site about the love of ballet

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.



Those who have disappeared…and pay issues August 4, 2016

Filed under: ballerina,ballet — theworstat @ 2:02 am
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In the case of Evgenia Obraztsova, the news is entirely happy (and I kinda suspected it by the vague way she answered a fan’s question on her website; later one of my correspondents here confirmed it): she’s expecting.  That’s why she has disappeared from the stage.

In the case of Keenan Kampa, the beautiful soloist/coryphee at the Maryinsky, the news is less happy: Keenan Kampa on High Strung.  I had no idea that she’d been having heart problems in addition to the problems with her hip.

It’s a shame; the world has lost a potentially fine prima ballerina.  When she began with the Maryinsky, I didn’t see it, but toward the end of her tenure, I did.

With her beauty and presence I’m sure she has much to contribute in Hollywood.  And she’s still young enough to have a long career there.

Ballet is such an iffy thing.  In decades past, Evgenia, who has hung on through thick and thin (mostly thin during her years at the Maryinsky), would be facing the end of her career due to her pregnancy.  Nowadays, however, all kinds of dancers have all kinds of kids.  Everything seems to be working in Evgenia’s favor…finally.  She waited long enough.

But one never knows when an illness or injury will strike, as in the case of Kampa. Imagine training day in and day out for a decade or more, and then that happens.

Keeping that in mind, off I go to the next subject.

The excuse for paying some professional athletes so much is that they contribute to the bottom line and their careers are short.  I wonder why the same is not true, in terms of pay, for dancers.

A lot of it may have to do with the fact that dance tends to be a female sport, and women are notoriously underpaid.  Also, in the history of ballet, even the more famous ballerinas tended to also be mistresses of wealthy men, and so forth.  But this is a history that no longer applies today.

Another problem may be that ballet is expensive, and most companies not on a government payroll are operating on a shoestring, (nothing so substantial as a pointe shoe ribbon).

But even then, the pay in Russia is said to be so bad that soloists are living in groups in one-bedroom apartments.  And no one in the U.S. is getting rich by dancing, either, unless they’re Misty Copeland or someone else who has a side business.

It’s interesting.  Ballet companies are, after all, businesses, just as professional sports teams are.  So how is it that one can afford the megabucks salaries and the other cannot?  Would appreciate thoughts on this.

P.S. if you are commenting on this article, please refer to Kampa as KK.  A long while back I was getting trolled by someone who claimed to be her sister, and as a result everyone who used Keenan’s name in a comment got blacklisted.  This is why I remain so sensitive about trolls, troublemakers, and general idiots: in the end, everybody suffers for their selfishness.




Kondaurova, back then January 6, 2013

Filed under: ballerina — theworstat @ 2:51 am
Tags: ,

Rather sad, bleak and poignant interview, from 10 years ago, with the then-coryphee Yekaterina Kondaurova.


Whoa…More Wierdness… December 21, 2012

Filed under: ballerina,ballet — theworstat @ 6:07 pm
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RBV is a it again:

Skorik vs. Stepanova

This video shows both dancers dancing the same Lilac Fairy variation.

Stepanova is by far the better of the two.  The only problem I have with her variation is that she does not maintain a pose (especially the arabesque at the end looks more like she is glad the variation is over, rather than making any statement of the serene power and joy of the Lilac Fairy).  Also, the conductor’s tempo is agonizingly slow — so slow that it’s distracting.  I notice this a lot in Russian ballet videos, and it’s a habit I wish they’d get over.  The tempo is one place where I really prefer the full-speed-ahead dancing of the New York City Ballet, where, it seems, you dance at concert speed or retire.

The only other thing I wish from Stepanova is more of an air of command.  She still looks like a corps dancer plucked out at the last minute and given a solo.  She needs to take over the stage and in this case, give the feeling that she can easily tell Carabosse where to get off.  I just don’t see that yet — at least, not enough of it.  I’m sure it will come with time.

As for Skorik, I’ve long noticed what seems to be a problem with her right foot.  This showed up first in the film A Beautiful Tragedy and hasn’t improved since then.  The foot’s wobbly or something; she continually seems to be rising on pointe on the outside of her big toe, then falling off.  In watching videos of other ballerinas with beautiful feet, I’ve come to the conclusion that this may be in part a camera-angle problem; a lot of the women seem to be doing the same thing when in fact they are squarely over the toe box.  It’s just that Oxana actually does seem to come down off pointe very, very fast after rising up, which adds to the illusion that she is falling off the side of her toe.

In fact, both her feet, while lovely, look weak.  It’s said that such pretty feet usually need a ton of work in order to stay strong enough for pointe; perhaps that is her problem.  Anyway, she seems to be crashing out of her pirouettes rather than completing them with composure; her feet just smash to the floor.  Overall, her dancing looks a tiny bit choppy and disjointed; certainly it looks dispirited.  And she’s just too, too thin.  She’s rather hard to watch; one worries that she may shatter at any second.

And yet the director of the company loves the way she looks and despite vocal dissatisfaction from the fans, he continues to push her career ahead at breakneck speed.   Stepanova, by contrast, is edging up through the ranks as if she were looking forward to a 40 year career instead of a 20 year career.  Why?  She has a figure and she appears shorter and more compact than Skorik.  Certainly she is not in that Skorik/Somova Wet-Noodle Girl mode (then again, Skorik these days seems more like a dry brittle noodle).  This apparently does not put her in the position of being a company favorite, even if she is occasionally brilliant.  It’s a shame.

Anyway, the comments section reveal something that would really drive Eric Conrad nuts: at one point, RBV states that Maryinsky dancers are better than Bolshoi dancers.  LOL this argument is spreading and spreading.  Now we’ve got Russians belittling Russians.

Certainly no company in the world has port de bras like the Maryinsky’s, but that’s the only advantage I see over the Bolshoi.  That’s just me, however, observing from a tremendous distance.

My point today was to point out that the weirdness continues.  I guess rabid fans will be rabid fans, no matter what the subject.  RBV is certainly a rabid fan of the Maryinsky.

And certainly it is seeming more and more that he is at least partially right about Skorik.  In watching a lot of videos of her recently, I found I became so accustomed to hops, sudden stops, outright stumbles and extra steps that later watching another ballerina with her act together came as a sort of shock.  But somehow I don’t think the fault is entirely hers.  I don’t know much about that school in Perm that chewed her up and spit her out, but watching the film A Beautiful Tragedy, it seems that the teacher she had was inept at best, offering little more than verbal abuse.  In my experience, students learn very little from merely being called “stupid” and not being told why.  It also seems that this teacher was not catching and correcting some very basic errors on the part of her students, nor paying any attention whatsoever to port de bras.  (Yes, I know that school has produced some spectacular dancers. Nadia Pavolova comes to mind.)

Reports from fans who saw Skorik in the U.S. would seem to confirm that at the very least, her training was inadequate and her nerves, as a result, are brittle.  Fans were advising fans to avoid her performances and wait for some other ballerina who could be counted on to perform well.

However, one major ballet photographer did fall in love with her and declared her to be a princess in toe shoes.  A few other fans reported that she seemed “happier than usual” while dancing in the U.S. and some of her performances were downright sensational.  So maybe the Maryinsky director’s faith in her is not entirely misplaced.  But I still think she’s under way too much pressure, so much so that she is in danger of breaking down.

I heard little comment, by contrast, about Keenan Kampa while the company was in the U.S.  It remains to be seen how she’ll do; certainly we will not get the whole story from RBV, who already hates her.

I can say that it will be entertaining to watch RBV go weird about these dancers.  But I can’t say that it’s fun to be Oxana or Keenan right now, if RBV’s attitude is indicative of anything but his own prejudices.


The PR version October 8, 2012

Filed under: ballerina,ballet — theworstat @ 3:57 pm

Here is a drama- and xenophobia-free version of the story of Keenan Kampa and the Maryinsky.  It reads like a P.R. release.  But it does give another perspective:

Kampa at Maryinsky


Lost in Translation October 7, 2012

Filed under: ballerina,ballet — theworstat @ 6:11 pm

Here we go again. First, view the video:

Again, another attack video and again, massive misunderstanding.  I think this time Russianballetvideos tried to get around it by being heavily sarcastic, probably thinking stupid Americans would not get it.  Well, they did.  Big time.

Along the way, however s/he accidentally added credence to my claim about Russians and their attitude toward any ballet that is not Russian, and how that prejudice has crept into the minds of people like Eric Conrad.

Anyway, there’s another issue that I’ll dispense with first.  I once said something about Kampa– there was one line in an otherwise rather respectful blog article that mentioned her — that someone claiming to be her sister freaked out about and stopped just short of demanding that I remove, taking several long paragraphs and two long comments to do so.  (BTW, the offending remark is still in this blog; good luck finding it because most people don’t think of it as offensive.)  Now I see that the same person, or someone very much like her, is attacking Russianballetvideos.  The only difference is that RBV is letting the comments stand and even reprimanding this person sharply for trying to intimidate others into being nice to Keenan.

While I did not, and will not, allow this troll’s comments on this blog (I don’t feed trolls), for once I feel the same about this situation as does Russianballetvideos.  Whoever this loving “sister” is, she is not doing her alleged kin any favors by trying to censor every word said about Keenan on the Internet.  Keenan is, after all, very much in the public eye and subject to comment over a multitude of outlets.  All sorts of things are going to be said, and not all of it will be sweetness and light.  In trying to control everyone and everything, a troll like this one only comes off looking like an idiot.  Especially if she does not really bother to read (or in this case, view) what she has decided to try to censor.

But that’s not the point (and that’s just it, Sister, you are beside the point and I think that’s what you are afraid of). It’s much more complicated than a mere case of someone being mean to Keenan. The point is that Kampa is the lone American in a Russian company and so has been singled out as a proverbial whipping boy for a number of wrongs that have little to do with her.  Apparently RBV is (sarcastically) holding the entire Boston Ballet accountable (and of course viewing BB with complete and utter contempt) as well, which kind of shows you the mindset we’re dealing with here.

Of course Kampa graduated from the Vaganova academy…but the excuse now is that she didn’t spend a long-enough time there for it to make a difference in her dancing (three years and she learned nothing?).  Pretty much the same excuse is being hurled at Joy Womack over at the Bolshoi, and in my opinion, that’s an even harder charge to make stick.  Womack was transformed at the Bolshoi’s school.  There is no question.

Anyway, RBV has stated in the past that Vaganova is not the Maryinsky’s school, nor is it the only school the Maryinsky gets dancers from.  So what’s the big deal?  Are we now attacking every dancer who dares approach the Maryinsky if s/he didn’t spend the prior 9 years at Vaganova?  Since when?

Another issue (and one that RBV will have to alter in his/her video description) is that apparently Ms. Kampa came into the company claiming that she had been hired as a coryphee.  I admit I searched all summer to find her name anywhere on the roster.  Now I see it, and she’s in the corps.  And here’s what I say: GOOD.  Not because I dislike her, but because it’s proper that she start in the corps.  She was in the corps at the Boston Ballet.  It would be weird if she went from being a corps dancer in a regional company to being a coryphee in a major international company.  Think about it: another former BB dancer, a principal, joined the Royal Ballet some years back…as a soloist (she has long since been promoted back to principal).  It would have been an enormous slap in the face to the rest of the Maryinsky dancers if Kampa had come in as a coryphee…not that the Maryinsky shrinks from issuing slaps in the face to its dancers.  The problem, and the entire issue here that RBV is mistakenly attacking individual dancers over, is exactly that: disrespect.

Of course, the level she was hired for and how she’s being used are two different things, and the latest twist in RBV’s knickers is that apparently, Kampa is going to dance some fairly major roles in the near future.  And of course, his/her other “muse,” (and non-Vaganova graduate) Oxana Skorik, has been promoted to First Soloist while his/her own darling, the wildly talented Yulia Stepanova, has just now been promoted to coryphee after wallowing in the corps for a couple of years.  RBV has to be hitting the vodka pretty hard these days to get over that one.

I guess one could make an issue of the arrogance of Kampa’s claim that she had been hired as a coryphee.  However, as far as I know, this claim never really resonated in the U.S., where it would have had the most positive impact.  (I only found out about it on the internet after searching long and hard.)  Instead, it is claimed, it was published in a European magazine.  This leads me to believe that it may have been a misunderstanding and/or a misquote.  Or maybe Kampa really believed she had been hired as a coryphee and was horribly mistaken.  Or maybe someone in management changed their mind.  Who knows. This is Russian ballet, after all; and there are mysteries on top of enigmas.  It’s likely that we will not learn the absolute truth of it in our lifetime.

Anyway, to Kampa’s “sister,”: Hon I know you read this, and I know you are now thinking that I said terrible things about your sister and of course you will write me a comment about the length of “War and Peace,” which will illustrate nothing but the fact that you apparently read only about every third word I wrote and comprehended about a 10th of what you did read.  Leave this blog in peace, dear (I ask this although I know you lack the grace, maturity and self-assurance to do so).  Thank you.

And to RBV: get out more.  Honestly.  There’s a whole huge world of ballet out there that you’re missing.

But I do love your videos.


This is risky, but… July 24, 2012

I’m still intrigued by the extreme claims against David Hallberg which were made by Eric Conrad.  These claims, as you may know, seemed to extend beyond Hallberg to the danseuses Keenan Kampa (Maryinsky), and Joy Womack (Bolshoi).  Actually he only mentioned Womack, but the natural extension of that is Kampa, whose situation at the Maryinsky has been the forerunner of Womack’s at the Bolshoi.

The implication seems to be that since these three dancers are American, it follows that they cannot dance and are not worthy to be in Russian companies.  The fact that they were hired by Russian companies indicates nothing but a tremendous need for money on the part of the companies that hired them.  Corruption!  Shame!  Scandal!

Short of contacting Sir Anthony Dowell to ask his impressions of Hallberg (and I do feel those are pretty positive, but I’m sure Sir Anthony would not reply to such a request from a stranger) I put together my own timeline regarding Hallberg working with the Bolshoi vs. Natalia Osipova’s departure.  Conrad, as you know, claims she fled at the moment Hallberg was hired, fearing for her well-being because he dances so badly and is such a horrible partner.

According to reports I’ve read, it seems that Osipova and Vasiliev were planning on leaving the Bolshoi a bit prior to Hallberg starting to hang around there.  Can’t prove it, but it seems to work out that way.

It also seems to me that Osipova would rather dance with her fiance Ivan Vasiliev than anyone else, but is not averse to doing guest stints in the west…that is to say, she has no fear of being partnered by a non-Russian male dancer.

And yes, probably Russian dancers and critics are probably bitching and moaning about Hallberg being hired.  Russians bitch and moan a lot.  I know.  Half of my relatives are Russian.  This video (click on “video”) from a documentary about Darcey Bussell may show you a bit about Russians in general and Russian dancers in particular; it talks about what happened to Bussell when she was invited to guest at the Kirov (Maryinsky).  Fast-forward a decade and a half to the situation with Hallberg at the Bolshoi, and throw in the extra added fact that he’s been hired as a principal there.  Kaboom!

Even further back, in the days when it seemed like there was a Russian defector in every western ballet company, a rumor seemed to have gotten around in the U.S.S.R. that a corps dancer in any Russian company could defect and be hired as a principal in a major American company.  Several tried this route and found themselves in the corps of, say, ABT instead of the Bolshoi.  One tried to go back home.  I believe he was never heard from again.

Why am I telling this story?  To illustrate Russians’ long-standing attitude toward western ballet.  They have one of the most efficient training systems in the world, and they jealously guard it.  Even Conrad can tell you that.  Packaged with this is a sort of insular arrogance that colors their actions toward any foreigner who may intrude on what they consider their territory.  This has to be considered in the story of Hallberg.

I’m not saying this is something evil; in fact, I believe their reaction is simply human.  Keep in mind is that we in the U.S. would be bitching too if ABT had an ancient and fabled school that historically admitted Americans only, and all of a sudden they were admitting foreigners, and all of a sudden foreigners with foreign training were occupying principal jobs in the company.  (As it is, this kind of thing is tradition at ABT to a point where people have at times questioned the inclusion of the word “American” in the company’s name.)

Come to think of it, the New York City Ballet is kind of like that, except that they have never thumbed their noses at foreigners.

To my eye, none of this is fitting in with Conrad’s charges particularly well.  Another thing that does not fit in is the high praise Hallberg has received internationally. It is exceptional praise and it is across the board — that is to say that it’s very hard to find a dissenting opinion.

So what does fit in?  Yes, it does seem that Hallberg had some special “in” at the Bolshoi, as in, he must be friends with some higher-up there.

Yes, Russian companies are experiencing an unprecedented need for money since they are no longer supported by the government (as far as I know).

No, Hallberg’s style does NOT fit in at the Bolshoi.  He can, of course, overcome this…but not instantly.

I think it’s more a question of maintaining stylistic purity at a certain company than shutting out all foreigners because they are foreign, isn’t it?  And the way to do that is through education.  That brings us to Kampa and Womack.

Yes, at one point I thought Joy Womack was in the parallel “foreigners” class at the Bolshoi academy, The remarks of one of the academy’s teachers on YouTube sure made it sound like that.  Conrad indicates that the foreigners’ classes are taught by has-been and second-rate teachers; therefore, anyone educated in the foreigners’ isn’t really a well-educated ballet dancer.  However, Womack’s comments about her classmates’ reactions to her, which parallel Kampa’s at the Vaganova Academy, indicate that she was, in fact, in the Russian class.

Conrad seems to be hinting otherwise.  I’d like to see his proof.

I’d also like to know this: if being American automatically excludes one from being a fine ballet dancer, does being American also exclude one from being an excellent ballet teacher?  If so, someone needs to look in a mirror, fast.

Now don’t get me wrong: everything Conrad said may in fact be true.  But if it is, there is an overwhelming amount of information out there that conflicts with his opinions, and we can’t just take his word and shrug off the rest.  If he is expecting that, he is expecting too much.

I used to have a lot of faith in Conrad, even though I questioned him locating his school/office/whatever it is in southern California — never a well-known bastion of classical ballet.  I think some of his present frustration with U.S. ballet may stem from that, although I’m keenly aware of the pain-in-the-butt system we have here of ballet companies run, essentially, by socialites and overpaid P.R. representatives, as well as our lack of a coherent training system (outside of the New York City Ballet, whose entire existence kinda blows a small hole in Conrad’s theories about the natural inferiority of American dancers).  Yes, the training system, or lack thereof, is the result of too many decisions made by private enterprise, and the fact that we have never had government support of ballet.  Ballet, after all, is rather socialist, kind of like the military.  You can accomplish a lot of things in the free market, but fostering a great dance company for centuries is not one of them.

That brings us to the issue of Baryshnikov and ABT…but that’s for another post.  For now let’s leave it at this: Natalia Makarova accomplished in one production (La Bayadere), what Baryshnikov could not in nearly 9 years as artistic director of the company.  Just think about that for a moment.

But, enough.  The point is this: the things Conrad has said are extreme and cannot be accepted at face value.  We need an explanation.