The fact that People’s Artists of Russia, Honored Artists of Russia, former Kirov ballerinas and danseur nobles, those who grew up inside the Vaganova Academy, were trained and excelled in those traditions, performed on the Kirov stage and are now esteemed pedagogs within the Mariinsky Theatre – the fact that these people as well as many current company members are aghast at the circus antics of Somova onstage, to me, is a sign that all balletomanes –from those knowledgeable in the art who have spent hours immersed in it by training in the studio or teaching, to the newbies who haven’t much exposure and cannot differentiate levels of technique in various dancers -- should heed. That individuals with this much honor and esteem are in agreement over Somova speaks volumes to me. The question is why aren’t others paying attention to it.
Cygne you said, “Perhaps she will do better.” But what, exactly would “better” mean?
To me, it would mean two things:
1) Gaining an understanding of characterization, the appropriate expressions for certain characters at certain moments and how to portray characters’ feelings onstage. This is what sets a great ballerina apart from a mediocre one. It is also what sets a mature artist apart from an amateur. You will never see Lopatkina go onstage and throw out glances this way and that, a smile here, a frown there, with no connection between them, no meaning behind them. Hours of study are spent in the studio going over the nuances of every ballet. *why* does she take the Prince’s hand at this point? What is the character feeling at this point? How can the ballerina express that externally to the audience, whether or not she feels it inside?
The worst violation of this to date, that I have seen, came last year during the Festival when Somova danced Queen of the Dryads. IN addition to running down Kitri in the Dream sequence (literally, she tour-jeted into her in an attempt to get her own leg “higher”), Somova displayed a completely inappropriate burlesque “come hither” look. Yes, as Queen of the Dryads. My companion at the time saw it and was aghast. It was Carmen/Manon in Dryad clothing, I kid you not.
2) Lowering the legs and taming the extensions to return to the lines some semblance of classical technique. Acrobats put their legs behind their ears. Ballerinas – (*newsflash*) – do not.
To this second point, I wanted to add another thought. Ballet technique is built on the energy of circles. The energy that stems from the center of the torso, and runs out through one arm, one hand’s fingertips, into the fingertips of the other hand and back into one’s center. The energy that goes down into the floor so that you can push up off of it and jump. The visual circles are often the opposite of the energy-circles that go on behind the movement, but they are always there. The energy flows. It is not linear, and it is never (should never be) static. A great example of this is the promenade in attitude in “Sleeping Beauty”. The energy runs from the ballerina’s hip-knee-foot of the leg in the air, out of the leg, and continues around her. The energy from her torso goes out through her arm into her partner’s arm, forming that crucial S shape that has to be maintained for the promenade to work properly. Another circle could be drawn around the entire pose – the foot en pointe on the floor, up to the tip of the shoe of the working leg in the air, up to the dancer’s head (and or arm overhead) and back down to the working leg. The list goes on. The number of circles are often seemingly endless. And they are there for a reason.
When the ballerina takes that pose and lifts her leg so that her back is folded in half, and the leg is by her headpiece – that distorts both the line and the intention – in my book the REASON – for the pose itself. What are we displaying here? The circles are gone. We have lines in their places. The point of the promenade is to display those circles – and the promenade itself is a circle. If you turn a pole around, you don’t see anything but a pole. Is that art? The dancer could simply keep both legs down on the ground and turn around if we were to see a pole turning. But that’s not what Petipa choreographed.
This is just one example.
Somova has had five years to “do better”. I think if she were headed in that direction we would already have seen signs of it. But accomplishing just one of the two points above won’t be enough. She could easily lower her legs – it doesn’t take any intelligence to do that, it only takes some control and strength and a conscious thought process. But that would leave the dramatic aspect of her dancing to work on. Likewise, were she to wake up tomorrow with a largely improved dramatism, the leg issue would remain.
One final point. People mention her chin often. What she does with her chin is unlike what any other female dancer worldwide does. I took great offense to one critic comparing her with Lopatkina. Lopatkina’s chin, if raised, is done in a regal manner in tandem with the character. But her entire head, unlike Somova’s, is never tossed back. This is key.
There is a photo of Somova in Diamonds, arms 3rd high Vaganova, in soussous 5th en pointe. Her head is thrown so far back in the photo, you can see up her nostrils. Her arms are behind her when they should be slightly in front of her shoulders. The picture violates nearly every rule of classical technique and is a perfect example of the difference between a ballerina and …someone who isn’t one.
So, maybe she will "do better"? I don't think that's possible at this point. And I don't think giving her Forsythe will suddenly forgive her these errors. That choreography, yes, is meant to be shocking. But watch Kondaurova in "IN the MIddle". Her legs go where the choreography tells them do, but she doesn't do it in a show-off manner. The same can't be asid of Somova and therein is another difference. When you approach a step with the air of "Look at me" -- well, at least in Forsythe, it almost loses some of the intended shock appeal. Yes, so you can lift your leg, it's easy for you, we get it... but where is the tension and the surprise, the legato before the allegro? Where is the salt and pepper and spice?
As for this writer, I have not, to date seen a personal best of Somova. So if that is possible, it has yet to come.