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Video portrait of Olga Smirnova


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 I wish Michael Sugrue could be hired by the RB or ENB to do the same for their dancers...

 

 

While in total admiration of Mr. Sugrue's fine work, this is one area where the UK is currently rich with similar talents.  I would love to see one of our extremely talented filmmakers now young in their careers be given a similar opportunity (where deserved) to highlight say one or two of our current ballet leading artists (who are, after all, themselves largely drawn from an international pool) and who find themselves resident for the moment in the UK. Trouble is that films like the fine one made by Mr. Sugrue tend to be labours of love.  They are certainly not what is frequently deemed 'commercial'.  What was most appealing, I think, was the concentrated focus on (i) the relationship of Ms. Smirnova with her dedicated coach - such as goes for all major dancers at the Bolshoi - (and, in fact, the same woman who was latterly coach to Ms. Osipova, soon to join the Royal Ballet) and (ii) the specific focus on her specific preparation of one role.  This film didn't try to bite off more than it or the viewer could chew.  It didn't attempt to be all things to all people.  For me that's what made it potent.  Mr. Sugrue's commercial background in this regard paid considerable dividends methinks.  

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It's a beautiful film, and thank you so much for posting the link. While it doesn't show much of Olga's dancing, I'm sure she's a lovely dancer. But it really bothers me that these Russian Bolshoi/Mariinsky ballerinas seem to be so joyless, and always seem to talk about their art like it is some form of torture that they have to master. Maybe not all of them are like that, but whenever I've watched documentaries of, for example, La Zakharova, it's all about "working constantly" "never eating or sleeping" "striving for perfection" blah blah blah. You can see the tension in their necks and strained (but beautiful) faces. Perhaps I am prejudiced, or only seeing what I want to see, but when I watch the delightful Royal Ballet you tube videos (too few of them this year) it seems like the dancers there approach their art with so much more joy, and they seem to have fun while also working really hard. I especially loved watching the Behind The Scenes live streaming from the Royal Ballet last year, where you could see the dancers joking around and laughing and teasing each other. Maybe it happens the same way at the Bolshoi or Mariinsky too, I just never get a sense of that. And it seems to me to be reflected in the dancing. When watching Marienela, Carlos, Steven McRae, Ed Watson, Sergei Polunin (while he was there) etc, I don't feel I am only seeing perfect beautiful super human dancers, but that I'm really seeing dancers, who bring joy and life to their art.

I'm sorry for going on for so long; I read here often but never post because I feel I know so little compared to all you regular, wiser posters. But today I feel really quite fed up with this approach to dance (and that horrible lurid film, Black Swan, really perpetuated this myth) as if it is something the ballerina has to almost torture herself and die for. It is dance. Dance is about joy and emotion.  

.OF COURSE ballet dancers work hard, and ballet is a really punishing and difficult art form; I get that; but I don't see why the Russian ladies have to be so martyred to their quest for perfection.. 

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Although I do love the Russian style I do agree with you on this SMballet. When you watch all those videos of the students in Russia whether at Perm or Vaganova there doesn't seem to be any playful interaction (unless this has been edited out of course) it does all seem a bit mirthless and self sacrificial. Perhaps this is the price for all those ultra high extensions?!

But I agree the connection to joy in dance comes across much better in UK even though dancers are not always from UK.

 

One of the exceptions to this is of course seems to be Osipova which is maybe why she is attracted to the Royal Ballet

 

Unfortunately I don't know much about the American ballet companies and how they come across. Perhaps it is just a Russian thing.

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I have a "Butterfly" theory. Butterflies are 'not tall' ballerinas and I love them along with tall ballerinas. Included with Natalia Osipova, are Anastasia Kolegova (Mariiinsky), Ekaterina Krysanova (Bolshoi), Evgenia Obraztsova (Bolshoi, formerly Mariinsky), Maria Kochetkova (SFB, Bolshoi trained), Alina Cojocaru....

 

One of the things that Butterfies seem to do is *Smile* -- *Alot* ! :)

 

The ladies listed here are all 'Russian sphere' dancers. I used to call them Osipova-Obraztsova Dancers.

 

Anastasia Kolegova, for one, brings a smile to my face the minute she appears, no matter what character she's performing.

 

They all are bundles of 'Russian' Sunshine. 

 

It's a fun generalization anyway.

Edited by Buddy
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Many thanks for the welcome, Janet, though I've been reading here for a while, just never posted anything before.

And Lin, I agree, Osipova does seem to be an exception. She's delightful to watch.

But, the more I think about it, the more it bothers me that these lovely, talented, beautiful Russian ballerinas seem so tortured by their art and by their constant quest for "perfection". For god's sakes' they're dancers, they're not fighting to find a cure for cancer or a solution to poverty or anything like that. They dance for a living!! Shouldn't that be something to be joyful and happy about? The video of Smirnova (which began this post, and, for me, this odd train of thought), listlessly picking over her two carrots-for-lunch-and- dinner (while her own teacher wondered if she ever finds time to eat) while talking about how she's always thinking about how to perfect herself and her moves, made me feel very queasy. Zakharova always gives off the same vibe to me. Maybe it is my problem. I just can't take ballet, or any art form, that seriously. It is an exalted art, which I love, and which I feel deserves to be celebrated and enjoyed and adored, but not worshipped.

This also, if I may bring up another only tangentially related point, ties into the slight discomfort I felt when reading the fascinating "audience behavior" thread: while I agree with what all of you were saying (about it being rude to talk during the entre-act - though I actually did not know myself about this; I thought it was really an intermission --  or to bring very small children to the opera), I really dislike the reverent church-like atmosphere which prevails in the upper-houses-of-entertainment in London like the ROH. I am not British (as you can tell by my awkward writing - please forgive!) and I was raised, and first saw ballet, in a third-world country where cultural norms about audience behaviour are SO different: and this brings me back to my original point, about joy in art. The audiences I grew up watching dance in  -- even the "higher" dance form of ballet (my first experience of which was unforgettable: the Bolshoi visiting my poor home town!) -- seemed so much noisier, less polite, less hushed and reverent, but also so engaged and enthusiastic, clapping all the time, whooping and cheering, etc etc, than the audiences here in London. In Cuba, where I am lucky to have watched ballet as well, being in the audience is a riot. It is just a competely different experience, and, at least for me, though I realise this is so subjective, it was so much more fun than the hushed-temples-where-pins-can-drop-and-be-heard of London.

It all goes back to this idea I had, while watching Smirnova's video, about the lack of joy and celebration of life which seems to me, perhaps completely erroneously, such an important facet of dance. 

Sorry for having gone on for so long, and so disjointedly.

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Maybe it's the age-old concept of artists suffering for their art!!!

 

Reading SMBallet's postings above reminded me of the wonderful Neil Innes, who used to open his shows by saying "I have suffered for my art for years. Now it's your turn."

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This is a cultural difference I think.

For example many years ago (I keep saying that must be getting old!) I learned Flamenco dancing for a couple of years in London with Tani Moreno.

I took my mum to see one of her shows which was in a smallish place just cant remember where now,not a big theatre then, and the largely Spanish audience was noisy all the time which we weren't used to but ended up enjoying as people shouted out their acknowledgement or agreement to the words of songs or clapped along at points. At first we thought they were being disrespectful but soon realised this was the norm and wasn't putting off the performers in fact at times there seemed to be an interaction with the dancers and audience.

 

When I'm watching the brilliance of the dancing in a ballet like Don Q as recently with Osipova and Vasiliev I'm much more likely to shout hurray at certain points than I would ever dare do when watching the brilliance of the dancing in say Swan Lake!! So the MOOD of the actual piece plays a part too. You would hardly shout out hurray in the second act of Giselle for example but cold be if wanted much more happy clappy in Fille!!!

But Western European audiences are by and large much more reserved as a rule anyway part of our general cultural background.

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You say cultural differences, I say respect.  When I come to the theatre I expect to watch the performance and the performers I paid to see, not to appreciate the variety of ways people are experiencing the joy of art. I want perfection too and I want the performers to want to show me their best. Critisizing someone for how much they, in your subjective view, suffer (or, in my subjective view, care about what they do), don't enjoy themselves, don't smile enough, etc is strange. The behind the scenes work is what it is - it's not for you to see and if you do see it, it's not for you to judge. Do judge the performance though. 

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SMBallet said " I am not British (as you can tell by my awkward writing - please forgive!)". 

 

Well actually I couldn't guess and I only wish I was half as articulate as you SMB!

 

Welcome to the Forum ENBlover and thanks for posting your thoughts.

 

I know I have been whinging like mad on the audience behaviour thread but I have been thinking about what SMB said.  I want to watch and enjoy a performance without distraction but I have got to admit that I often enjoy schools matinees when the children are so enthused and actually I get carried away by their enthusiasm too.  Sometimes within an audience there is a palpable excitement that doesn't necessarily mean the audience is noisy, distracting or disrespectful but we can become one body of excitement (if you see what I mean!).

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I am American but I also have lived in Asia, my appreciation for the arts, especially ballet, have always been drawn from a hodge-podge of influences both Western and Asian.  That said, I definitely consider the current trend of worshipping serious to the point of dourness, self-sacrificing Russian ballerinas as epitomized by Olga Smirnova in The Prodigy, to be backwards thinking and stereotypical.  It's off-putting in so many ways.  First of all, it cements the stereotype of ballerinas as obsessively self-sacrificing maidens wedded to their art, to the point that they exist in cocooned world of ballet impenetrable from outside influences and ideas.  I agree with poster above, SMballet, in that Smirnova comes across as joyless and uninteresting beyond her devotion to ballet.  Since when is the ballerina to be exalted for being joyless, serious, and borderline obsessive-compulsive?  A well-crafted short documentary aside, that is the dark undertone I got from watching it.  

 

What's more, Smirnova says and implies of a life without friends and without life outside of the ballet studio and stage.  Even at lunch Smirnova looks dull and serious.  Every idea and influence Smirnova has, it implies, she gets from within her sealed-off world of ambitious talent climbing the ballerina ladder at the Bolshoi.  This type of devoted obsession, in my opinion, is insipid rather than inspired.  All this time alone in the studio or within her own mind thinking of ways of perfecting poses or certain movements in order to stand out from other talented dancers, is taking away time that could be used to experience and explore a fuller life outside of company life, artistic or not artistic.  A young, talented dancer should have charisma, that is a given.  But in my view, she should also possess intellectual and artistic curiosity in the world around her or at the very least try to live a life outside of ballet, rather than to just seal herself off within the confines of studio and stage.  Being young should predispose a dance artist to embrace a breadth of worldly ideas, especially given the interconnected world we live in today.  So it's a throwback to see a young dancer like Smirnova who seems to embrace an old-fashioned, slavish, and narrow devotion.  Such a devotion inadvertently turns ballet as art form into mere craft, because there is no creative input or influences from things unrelated to ballet and its world.  Such thinking has given us, in my opinion, the current Russian aesthetic of looks or the physicality of dance over the usage of pure, classical technique to express drama, characterization, and ideas.  

 

Sorry if my assessments seems rather harsh, I know I am of the minority opinion here nevertheless.  But as a former ballet student from the late 1980s and ongoing ballet fan, I just feel the need to offer a countering view.  I also should note that I do prefer ballerinas who are capable of expressing joy and a love of dance when they dance, whether inside studio or on the stage.  I equate such intangible qualities or vibes to be on par as the sense of aloof coolness, which has been used to describe Smirnova, if not more.  Of course I am not saying a ballerina should always convey same moods or same quirks in their own personalities, but that today there is an overwhelming view that a excessively sinuous ballerina giving off aloof and cool vibes on stage automatically equates with definition of True Ballerina in the pinnacle of her ballerina art.

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What is backwords about worshipping seriousness? What is insipid about devotion? What do we know about her life experiences? Should a comedian be funny in real life? Did you see Smirnova dance in real life or are you basing your judgement on the little video upthread? And could one's lifestyle/level of devotion/attitude/sexual orientation/eye colour be a predictor of one's talent/artistic abilities/expressiveness?

 

I don't think an artist owes you or any audience an explanaition about how he/she chooses to eat, practice or think of his/her art.  And nobody is asking what the audience thinks.  It's ultimately your choice what to watch or don't watch.  There's a breadth of happy-go-lucky dancers in Russia, the UK, Japan and the US. 

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I haven't been able to follow all this discussion, but I hope that my thoughts are still relevant. I've always been an advocate of taking some form of ballet in a more natural direction. This would include giving highest consideration to the health of the body as well as the mind.

 

Having said this, I have to allow for the artistic reality that some of these artists chose to enter, the amazing beauty that can result and the great satisfaction that they can feel from it . It's a world that we maybe don't understand and don't chose to be a part of, but its their choice and for them it might be immensely rewarding.

 

I put health and happiness above everything. Different folks have different ways of seeing things. I would hope for a middle ground, where artistic dedication and its perhaps transcendental rewards are equally balanced with health and happiness. 

 

Maria Kochetkova's ongoing blogs, for instance, show an artist who deals with all the 'heaviness' and also has a delightful outlook on life.

 

Olga Smirnova talks about her immense love for what she's doing and its beauty as well as offering her thoughts about the 'other stuff'.

Edited by Buddy
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"What is backwords about worshipping seriousness? What is insipid about devotion? What do we know about her life experiences? Should a comedian be funny in real life? Did you see Smirnova dance in real life or are you basing your judgement on the little video upthread? And could one's lifestyle/level of devotion/attitude/sexual orientation/eye colour be a predictor of one's talent/artistic abilities/expressiveness?"

 

I don't think an artist owes you or any audience an explanaition about how he/she chooses to eat, practice or think of his/her art.  And nobody is asking what the audience thinks.  It's ultimately your choice what to watch or don't watch.  There's a breadth of happy-go-lucky dancers in Russia, the UK, Japan and the US." 

 

 

ENBlover, the video in my opinion, shows a young artist sequestering herself within world of ballet, and only ballet.  That to me is backwards-looking, as it harkens back to a time when ballerinas were expected to not have a life outside of dance and to only immerse themselves within confines of studio and stage, basically ballerinas as nuns.  That sentiment started to die down once Balanchine era (when he demanded such devotions from favored dancers) died down.  I don't know how you inferred attitude or sexual orientation from my post, so I can't respond in tones apropos to your suppositions.  And yes, if you make a video showing fans glimpses of your private thoughts and offstage life, then it is well within our right to comment on it, especially if you say you don't have that much going on outside of ballet.

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"....the video in my opinion, shows a young artist sequestering herself within world of ballet, and only ballet.  

 

I personally think that this is okay, if in fact it's the case, if she can handle it. I certainly wouldn't demand it.

 

Along with some things that have received our perhaps proper questioning, she overall seems to love what she's doing and she creates magnificent beauty. I consider the video to be essentially a lovely portrait. 

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Welcome to the Forum, Terpischore!

 

I've only just watched the film (terrible admission to make!).  It strikes me that, as ever with film that can be (and obviously will have been) edited and many more hours shot than released, the film shows what the film maker wants to be seen.  A lot of people like to think that artistes (of any genre) respect their art form and take it seriously and perhaps that is perhaps the image that the young lady and the film maker have tried to achieve.  She did display the most joyous and natural of smiles at the end of the film.

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Quote:
Smirnova says and implies of a life without friends and without life outside of the ballet studio and stage.”

“...if you make a video showing fans glimpses of your private thoughts and offstage life, then it is well within our right to comment on it…”

 

Yes, we are within our right to comment but have to remember, as Janet McNulty mentioned, that the “film that can be (and obviously will have been) edited.” It could be the director’s idea to show a ballerina as nothing else but a picture of complete devotion to the art of ballet. We don’t know if he ever asked the 22 y.o. dancer how she would like to be portrayed.

Sometimes we are also prone to misinterpretation and to making assumptions. Olga didn’t imply a life without friends. She just said that she doesn’t have many friends. She has been living in Moscow for 2 years only, was working hard, and I can not consider it abnormal to have a limited social circle.

I can assure you she is a normal young lady. At the moment she enjoys being in London. With her girlfriend, a Bolshoi’s young soloist, she visited several museums. With another friend she spent her first day-off at Windsor, had a tour of the Castle and hired a horse to take a ride in Windsor Great Park.

If Smirnova looks serious, it is not a great sin. Ulanova was serious too. Lopatkina is also serious. However, it is not true that all “Russian ballerinas seem so tortured by their art”. Obraztsova is always smiling. Krysanova is a very cheerful girl. Alexandrova has a resounding laughter. Lunkina, bless her heart, was always giggly. And so on and so on. Generalization here distorts the real picture.

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Quote:

“Smirnova says and implies of a life without friends and without life outside of the ballet studio and stage.”

“...if you make a video showing fans glimpses of your private thoughts and offstage life, then it is well within our right to comment on it…”

 

Yes, we are within our right to comment but have to remember, as Janet McNulty mentioned, that the “film that can be (and obviously will have been) edited.” It could be the director’s idea to show a ballerina as nothing else but a picture of complete devotion to the art of ballet. We don’t know if he ever asked the 22 y.o. dancer how she would like to be portrayed.

Sometimes we are also prone to misinterpretation and to making assumptions. Olga didn’t imply a life without friends. She just said that she doesn’t have many friends. She has been living in Moscow for 2 years only, was working hard, and I can not consider it abnormal to have a limited social circle.

I can assure you she is a normal young lady. At the moment she enjoys being in London. With her girlfriend, a Bolshoi’s young soloist, she visited several museums. With another friend she spent her first day-off at Windsor, had a tour of the Castle and hired a horse to take a ride in Windsor Great Park.

If Smirnova looks serious, it is not a great sin. Ulanova was serious too. Lopatkina is also serious. However, it is not true that all “Russian ballerinas seem so tortured by their art”. Obraztsova is always smiling. Krysanova is a very cheerful girl. Alexandrova has a resounding laughter. Lunkina, bless her heart, was always giggly. And so on and so on. Generalization here distorts the real picture.

 

The documentary was well crafted piece that strove to portray Smirnova as a serious young woman who devotes herself to ballet, her chosen art.  The fact that it did its job too well, meaning it turned the subject into a bit of a caricature of an obsessive-compulsive ballerina in the eyes of some viewers, is something that should be accepted as well.  Do most of us who see the documentary know about Smirnova as a "normal young lady" as you put it?  Were we supposed to know that before watching the documentary and refrain from drawing conclusions from it?  I stand by my view that it is not a generalization to make conclusions based upon the short documentary, as the overwhelming seriousness and compulsive devotion leaps out at this viewer at least.  If there is a marked discordance between Smirnova the dancer and the image she would like to project in the video, then this video did nothing except to reinforce her very aloof and icy stage persona.  Smirnova's cool stage persona makes it easy for one to make conclusions about her being a perhaps too serious-minded and joyless dancer.  Of course one can say that these are just misinterpretations and assumptions, but aren't such video profiles done in order to shape and promote reputations of dancers in the minds of fans and critics?  It's a great way to provide personal narrative for the dance artist, since dance is such a visual and emotive art.  However it cuts both ways, a dancer must expect people who watch it to make inferences from the portrayal, good, bad, or indifferent.  

Edited by Terpischore
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Oh no, I feel a bit responsible and ashamed for bringing this up. Though I am very grateful for Terpischore's interventions, which are far more intelligent than mine, and say exactly what I really have been thinking and not being able to articulate. The Smirnova video bothered me, for the reasons I mentioned above, but I didn't mean to detract at all from Smirnova's capabilities as a ballerina. It is more an ongoing problem I have with how young ballerinas in the Bolshoi and Mariinsky seem to treat their art, and, I think, an ongoing problem I have with how that art itself is treated by  spectatators in London (as opposed to my part of the world, and Cuba, and Latin America more generally). It is my problem, I shouldn't have brought it up in this forum where I am a new, young (under 25) and inexperienced reader. Don't want to detract from the amazingly informed, and informative, discussions you all have.

 

Oh, and I'd also like to apologise for anything I might have implied about Smirnova's character; it is just how she, and many other, Russian ballet stars seem to come across in interviews and documentaries, as really suffering for their art, torturing themselves and their bodies to strive toward perfection, and having no life outside ballet, the studio, and the stage. But there is SO much more to life than one's art, and, in fact, as has been said above, how can one understand art without first having sampled some of the delights and sufferings of real life? How, oh how, CAN anyone understand Giselle going mad, without having fallen in love and finding out that the person one loves is not true? How can one dance Swan Lake without ever having been heart broken? How can you have your heart broken when all you do is work all day? But I realise, even as I write this, that I know nothing at all about the personal lives of any of these wonderful ballerinas, and maybe, while I'm pointificating away, the lovely Olga Smirnova is nursing her heartbreak and trying to forget all about that unworthy guy while she's in London being celebrated for her talent. And maybe Zakharova has lived a hundred thousand more emotions in her life off stage than I can imagine. I should not have generalised; it was wrong of me.

 

One last thing: ENBlover I understand what you are saying but, i can't help feeling, in my heart, that this is not what ballet is about. Have you ever watched ballet anywhere outside Europe/America? It is truly a different experience in South America, South Asia, and East Asia, and I don't think it's fair to say that the audiences there love ballet any less. The love is just expressed differently and sometimes, here in London, I miss the raucuous, warm, noisy, audiences I grew up watching ballet with.

Edited by SMballet
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