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December 04, 2011

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Excellent post, Haglund! Both have been on my to-read list for awhile, and even more so now.

What fabulous reviews! While we're on the subject of successors, e.g., to the directorship of the Mariinsky Ballet, I would like to nominate you, Haglund, for the post of (1) AD of ABT and/or (2) dance critic for the NYT and/or (3) book reviewer and dance critic a la Joan Acocella.

For myself, I was very disappointed in the Vaganova book. Although I completely agree with the main thrust of the book's argument, the unfortunate shift from artistry to gymnastics, I couldn't help but feel that this was a dissertation of sorts, published by a University Press, for some hope of academic promotion. It was mostly a series of quotations, surrounded by uninspired prose. I can't find my copy at the moment to examine it closely, but for me the cover picture doesn't begin to represent the beauty of the Vaganova style (was that intentional?), and although I may be way off base, that back foot seems to me to come perilously close to a sickle.

The portions that you quote from the Wolcott book, however, cause me to want to rush right out and buy a copy, or better, click on your link. There is so much more depth to his perceptions, and the prose is both limpid and graceful.

Thank you for reading both of these books and for writing such penetrating reviews!

Hi Angelica.

I think the photo on the jacket cover of Vaganova Today represents quite literally what the school strives to produce today. While there is a clear relationship among the lines of the body, there is less harmony than we've been accustomed to seeing out of dancers such as Asylmuratova, Makarova, and even Lopatkina. As you noted, the winged back foot isn't especially attractive. Nor is the supporting foot with so much of the weight to the back. Nor is the tension in the hands. If we want to know why arabesques are looking more and more like checkmarks and less arab-esque, here's your answer.

The foot is not even properly winged, if that's the dancer's objective--it needs to be more turned out. I've seen photos of feet that were beautifully winged, as was Diana Vishneva's in that gorgeous moment in Giselle caught by a brilliant photographer that appeared in the New York Times last ABT season.

Everything about that dancer's position looks wrong. Does the Bolshoi Ballet School follow the Vaganova tradition, and have those dancers capitulated also?

The Moscow Choreographic Institute aka Bolshoi Ballet Academy is affiliated with the Bolshoi. However, of late, the Bolshoi has been snatching some of the premiere graduating students from the Vaganova Institute.

The company directors don't necessarily take the students which the affiliated school may consider its best. Case in point (according to a NYT article): Ratmansky hired Osipova after watching the student exams even though the examiners had substantive negative assessments of her due to her lack of aesthetic. She still lacks it, but the less informed public perception is that since she jumps so high and is so circus-y, she must be the best ballet dancer.

Sigh. I just got the ABT subscription renewal brochure in the mail and I'm not even excited to open it.
It's interesting to me that Hallberg has fallen for Osipova, despite her lack of classical, well, classicism. At least for the moment, Fate has separated them. Next thing you know, the Mikhailovsky will recruit him. But didn't I already read something about that?

"James Wolcott was caressing the underbelly of the big city ship as it slowly sank into the sludge of hard times."

I second K in commending you on a great post, Haglund.

I'm probably going to pass on the Wolcott book. The quotation above illustrates why. There's something very stagey and poseurish about Wolcott's voluptuous love of NYC in the 1970s. I was born and raised here, in a "blue-collar" nabe, and the city's descent into crime and decay was disgusting and horrifying to us. One senses that Wolcott would curl his aesthete's lip at such conventional feelings. It always seems to me that the people who bemoan the sanitization of the Times Square area are people who moved here from some middle-class place, and who will move away once they get tired of la vie de boho. I don't have much patience for such people. All I remember of Times Square in the 1970s is being disgusted and propositioned. I don't care what this sounds like, give me disneyfication any day.

But I DON'T believe in disneyfying ballet technique, and I'm with you 100% in applauding ostentatious hyper-extension and hijinx in ballet.

Can we not blame our beloved NYCB for this, just a little? Was it not with Allegra and Co. that the 182 degree penchee, and the bendy, twisty, ankle up against the ear distortions began? Now, Allegra (most of the time), combined this with melting purity of line, and proper placement (when she wasn't being weird....) - but it has gotten out of hand. In any case, some of these distortions did start with the Great God Balanchine.

As for gymnastics as ballet, it reminds me of the obsession with jumping in figure skating to the detriment of pure figure skating. A pure, exquisite figure skater like Peggy Fleming would not be a champion today, the gold medal winner would be Janet Lynn. Remember them?

Hi Diana!

When I moved here at the end of the '80s, Times Square was still fairly seedy. They hadn't yet transformed the porn house marquees from XXXX-this&that to advertising poetry and Bible verses. I lived nearby on 39th Street off of 9th Ave - an area that was an occasional body-dumping ground for whoever needed to dump a body. The sidewalks south of 42nd on 9th were some of most urine-saturated sidewalks in the city. The only way to rid the area of the stench was to tear up the concrete. Across the street from my apartment was a "private club" with no name where each night around midnight black limos and towncars driven by muscle-y thugs dropped off well-tailored middle aged and silver-haired men for a quiet evening of whatever. It was a time to be careful in New York.

I, too, appreciated the "clean up" although it may not have always been administered cleanly itself.

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