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12 of the greatest ballerinas of all time


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On todays DanceLinks there is a link which I thought worth discussing.

 

There is a gallery on the Telgraph site under the title:

12 of the greatest ballerinas of all time:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/culturepicturegalleries/10663434/12-of-the-greatest-ballerinas-of-all-time.html

 

and the list is:

Anna Pavlova

Galina Ulanova

Alicia Markova

Margot Fonteyn

Nadia Nerina

Nina Ananiashvili

Sylvie Guillem

Darcey Bussell

Ulyana Lopatkina

Tamara Rojo

Alina Cojocaru

Natalia Osipova

 

As I said when I tweeted the link "Quibble away folks!"

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Am only a little surprised that not one of the Balanchine ballerinas (say Farrell) makes the list - especially given the incredible roles - now replicated throughout the world - that were built on them.  Also no Makarova ... and, for me, some surprise that there is no Gelsey Kirkland .... or at least a mention of one of those ... and what of the French stars???.  It's the 'all time' notation that troubles here I think.  Perhaps that's biting off more than anyone should by rights chew.  I wonder - IN TIME - if D. Bussell's name would remain on on just such a list.  Does the article mention specifically WHO made these choices?  

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I only started watching ballet in 1984 so I can't compare the dancers I have seen with the dancers from bygone eras.

 

I would include Marion Tait and Trinidad Sevillano from my memory banks.  Both these dancer, for me, inhabited every role I ever saw them do. 

 

I think I was very lucky that Trinidad Sevillano was dancing with London Festival Ballet when I first started watching ballet and I always loved watching her dance.  I don't think I realised how lucky I was until a discussion last year on another forum that led my into some YouTube films that made me realise how lucky I had been to see her dance so many times.

 

Again, Marion Tait is one of the earliest dancers I noticed, and of course she still shows the way in character roles.  What brought it home to me just how glorious she is was actually a rehearsal where she was coaching Rachel Peppin as Juliet.  Marion started to demonstrate the start of the balcony scene where Juliet is looking out for Romeo.  Suddenly we weren't watching Marion Tait, Ballet Mistress in a track suit, we were watching a 14 year old Juliet.  I only saw her perform Juliet once, in her final year as a principal dancer, but that performance is etched in my memory banks forever.

 

I was also very fortunate to see the great Altynai Assylmuratova dance several times and she was just incandescent.

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To be fair to the article it does say twelve OF the greatest ballerinas, not THE 12 greatest.  To me a great ballerina also needs to inspire great choreography so there are three names I think should be on the list.

 

Tamara Kasarvina

Maya Plisetskaya

Suzanne Farrell

 

sorry, I have not checked the spelling so apologies for any errors. 

 

I also find it hard that Lynn Seymour is not on the list.

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Any list like this is bound to be subjective and depends on how one defines 'greatest'. It is easy to conflate great with best known. I suspect that Margot Fonteyn is the best known ballerina in the world but not perhaps to people under the age of, say, 40. She was a household name rather than someone who was only known to ballet aficionados. Many people have some awareness of Anna Pavlova. Sylvie Guillem is widely known because she has had a very long career, has branched out into contemporary dance and has toured extensively all over the world. Darcy Bussell has become very well known largely because of her appearances on Strictly. Today, Natalia Osipova is probably the most famous ballerina among the ballet-going public and people who are reasonably interest in the arts. I don't think that that the others are known at all by the general public.

 

As for what makes a ballerina great... There are so many possible factors. I would expect her to be a muse for choreographers but some have more opportunity for this than others, depending on how much new choreography her company commissions. On-stage charisma is also very important. Perhaps what defines a great ballerina is someone who breaks the mould or takes her art forward in some way.

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I was also very fortunate to see the great Altynai Assylmuratova dance several times and she was just incandescent.

 

 

Yes, I saw her as well, and she was wonderful.  The list is very much geared towards current or recent RB dancers, isn't it?  In other words, ballet dancers that the readers might possibly have heard of. 

 

I am slightly puzzled that Nadia Nerina is mentioned but Antoinette Sibley is not.   No French dancers? 

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Just adding another name.  I remember a recent thread where we discussed the title Prima Ballerina Assoluta, and there was one name that I didn't recognise, so had to go and find a clip on youtube.  That was Phyllis Spira, one of the official prima ballerinas, who came from South Africa.

 

Nobody ever seems to mention her.

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I agree that any list of the greatest or some of the greatest is bound to be subjective, unless there is a strict list of requirements to meet. It is no different to those greatest love song lists, or the best whatever of you name it. They are either going to be limited to age groups or just names most people may have heard of or just impossible to agree on.

On the Darcey Bussell doc last night, Pavlova was described as not a very technically proficient dancer, or words to that effect. She had great charisma though and in a random survey, I would guess that most people will have heard of her even if they don't know anything about her, except she has something to do with a pudding.

I would put Irina Kolesnikova on the list. But as has been said, it is very subjective and the Telegraph list gives no hint as to who complied it or how.

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I've been thinking about this.  Would the dancers considered great in the olden days match up to the greats of today or does greatness transcend generations because of something indefinable.

 

The technique of current day dancers has moved on from what was required (I believe) even 50 years ago but when I watched the Darcey Bussell documentary last night with clips of Margot Fonteyn and Anna Pavlova, for example, the magic was there even on a small screen.

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For me the greatest thing Pavlova did was to inspire a very young Frederick Ashton. Whatever were her limitations he put her into pretty much every ballet he ever wrote via the Fred Step. Few artists anywhere in any discipline have that kind of immortality.

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Oh absolutely, Janet.  Clips of Pavlova performing the Dying Swan still bring a lump to my throat, while more recent offerings leave me cold. 

 

Incidentally, why do people now say that Pavlova was not technically proficient?  She was trained at one of the greatest schools, and was promoted to soloist straight away, I believe, and that doesn't happen to dancers who are poor technicians.  Her later public performances may not have displayed technical brilliance.  However, she may have deliberately gone for less technically demanding dances, to allow her to tour as extensively as she did.

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'..> No French dancers? <...'

 

I've got one, Fonty: Elisabeth Platel.  I saw her only once, when she appeared at the Lowery with the POB as Nikiya in 'Bayadere' in what was - if memory serves - the very first performance of any kind at the Lowery.  She was simply mesmerising, and I remember thinking at the time that she was probably the first real 'ballerina' - in the strict sense of the word - that I'd ever seen.  Not just her beautiful line and her exquisite dancing, but her authority and command over the entire stage. When she pointed her accusing finger at Solor and Gamzatti just before her  snakebite death, the entire theatre, not just the guilty pair, seemed to freeze.  I felt quite cheated that she retired before I had a chance to see her in anything else.
 

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Although I agree with you about Elisabeth Platel, and I would also mention Pontois, I think we must point out that Sylvie Guillem is deservedly on the list and is also French so the nation is represented.

 

Could we start a similar thread for 12 of the greatest male dancers?

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Since the accolade “12 of the greatEST ballerinas of all time” presumes mighty, supreme achievements inaccessible to those outside this list, some names included in the list would raise eyebrows…


 


In my view, plucking the names out of a pool of great, brilliant, talented, ‘glamorous’ or simply useful ballerinas of all time, schools and nations is a thankless and pointless exercise because you will never find a single ballet-lover in the entire world who agrees with all names in any such list.


 


The good point here is that the richly illustrated ballet topic in a large-circulation newspaper might awake interest in classical ballet and reach ballet-fans of the future.

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Although I agree with you about Elisabeth Platel, and I would also mention Pontois, I think we must point out that Sylvie Guillem is deservedly on the list and is also French so the nation is represented.

 

 

Sorry, TwoPigeons, you are right, but I was thinking of dancers from the POB, whose names may not be widely known in this country for that reason. 

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Having finished my ironing I am going to be even more subjective now.  I have been lucky to see dancers whom I would regard as ballerinas, some I think of as stars.  I can instantly think of three greats whom I would regard as both.  The list is probably longer if I think about it but my gut reaction is

 

Fonteyn

Makarova

Guillem

 

To be really controversial I would regard Viviana Durante as a ballerina and Darcey Bussell as a star but not necessarily a ballerina.  I will now retire with my tin hat on in case of incoming missiles.

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My list;

 

Kchessinskaya, Pavlova, Ulanova, Plisetskaya, Markova, Fonteyn, Alonso, Farrell, Thesmar, Karsavina, Kirkland, Taglioni.

 

 

"Great" to me could also include (include but not be limited to)  influencing the history of dance, not just the performing of it.  And/or bringing something unique to the art.

 

As for the more recent stars of the ballet stage.....I think that jury is still out.  

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I think versatility has to come into it somewhere. There are so many GREAT dancers but once you start to bring "all time" into it somehow gets much more complex as you have to be "judging" dancers you may never have seen but only read about.

 

I never saw Pavlova dance but would feel one would have to include her because she did so much to enhance the cause of ballet and was obviously great in her time......by all accounts!!

 

Really one is probably choosing one maybe two from each generation (10 -15 years) who rose above their peers in some way and would have to have been the muse of a choreographer or formed a great partnership or been brilliant in many varied roles to fully qualify.

I would include the above three two pigeons.....and Diana of course......can't decide yet about Sibley or Seymour.....both great in their way......but not so sure either about Darcey( much as I love her)

In a few years I think Nunez and Osipova will be there but will have to wait and see.

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This is an interesting topic and naturally any list of any field (actors, singers etc) would be subjective. Not so long ago I remember a list of the greatest actors of all time and no1 was Judy Dench who of course is extraordinary but it was focused on british actors and even in that respect was not complete ( the great Peggy Ascroft was not on the list for example). To go back to this list, I would say several criteria could be taken into account. The appeal of a ballerina, popularity, versatility, charisma and influence. There are some dancers who have reshaped the language of dancing and the very image of female dancers. Two names which come to mind are Sylvie Guillem and Plissetkaya (the latter unfortunatly not included on the list).

So the influential dancer, whether male or female is important in my opinion in shaping such a list. Today when asked many dancers (confirmed) or even aspiring ones around the world whom they considere as a model the answer usually is Guillem for female dancers and Baryshnikov for male dancers. And if I were to make a list of great male dancers Baryshnikov, Nureyev and Vassiliev would definitely be there). With regards to this list,  no objection at all (to the contrary) to the inclusion of Fonteyn since she did have that mythical status of a great international ballerina with huge appeal. And thinking about some of the very great ballerinas of the last century some of the names which immediately come to my mind are also Kirkland, Carla Fracci, Yvette Chauviré and Makharova. These I would include over let us say Osipova (who still has a long way to go) and even the wonderful Rojo or Cojocaru.

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There are so many "great" dancers mentioned I haven't been privileged to see beyond a few filmed roles. I think the concept of "greatness" is a difficult one, but to me it suggests more than technical accomplishment. Perhaps it's about legacy i.e. the influence a dancer has on those who come after, and perhaps about an ability to change perceptions about the ballerina role. When I look at some names mentioned, it is probably too early to be able to access if this is the case. I guess we all have our personal favourite dancers who may have moved us, but does tha make them "great"?

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I wonder how many people would be thinking that Darcey Bussell was so great if she hadn't had so much non-ballet-related publicity. Actually I wonder how many people would have even heard of her, outside the small group of ballet aficionados. It almost seems insulting that she's on the list and Lynn Seymour isn't.  

 

I'm having a hard time figuring out the inclusion of Nina Ananiashvili and the exclusion of Maya Plisetskaya.

 

Also, not that I was a great fan, but Eva Evdokimova was an assoluta for a reason. I think she's possibly going to stand the test of time better than Darcey Bussell and even Nadia Nerina. And IMO it's way too early to be including Natalia Osipova on a list like this.

Edited by Melody
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