Kickin’ it OLD SKOOL with the Bolshoi Kitris

29 Jul

I’ve mentioned before how you get a lot of ballet crazies who go on youtube and criticize any dancer’s technique that they sink their teeth into, but I’d like to discuss a different species, the crotchety “git offa mah lawn!” people who lament for the golden era in ballet when there was more substance in artistry and less of the “more” (i.e. more turnout, more pirouettes, more flexibility, etc.).  Oh BILLY ELLIOT, do I want to be one of those people.  As it stands, I don’t know enough about ballet history to bunker down with these sages and converse in such a way that makes me seem legitimately intelligent, but despite my typical aversion to history in general I am interested.  You see, history is one of those classes that is almost always taught through reading and lectures, and quite frankly that sucks.  When it comes to history, unless it’s dance history or ancient like Greek or Egyptian, chances are I’m going to be bored. 

I’m going to mount the soapbox here and say that this is something that annoys me about our education system too in that it fails to recognize the importance of different approaches to learning, especially via performing arts.  For example, I suck at anatomy, but have learned various things about it through dance.  I learned foreign languages by using theatre skills of memorization and mimicry.  Teach me about the Cold War in the context of how it affected the Bolshoi and Kirov and I’ll pay attention.  And yet the system seems to be satisfied with a “if you lecture them, they will learn” method, and I’m shouting this loud and clear: it doesn’t work for everyone.  Even without being used as an accessory in education, something like dance needs to have its foothold in academia.  If American society can turn sports and sport strategy, technique, etc. into a friggin’ science, then dance too needs to be seen as more than “an extracurricular activity” or a second major.  Money doesn’t inspire creativity or make life worth living…the arts do.  And in the economic hellhole that is America, inspiration is needed now more than ever.  /rant.

So back to the quest to become a crotchety sage, I’ve learned that one must know at least a few names, especially the greats that made the Bolshoi a household name.  It’s almost uncanny, but a few years ago, before I even set foot in a studio, the first ballet youtube video I ever favorited was a Bolshoi great.  I had no idea at the time who she was, only that I know what I liked and I liked what I saw.  It was a video of Ekaterina Maximova (who passed away earlier this year…something is SRSLY in the air!) as Kitri, and I’m actually quite proud of having selected her to be my first youtube favorite, because it makes me feel as though there is hope for me to indeed be knighted a crotchety sage.  Anyway, there was something darling and electric about her that just made me want to watch her 85 million times in a row, and we’re talking a sheety little black and white film from the 60’s on a small youtube screen, not even the luxury of a live performance or HD.  She was the fastest Kitri I’ve ever seen, for a variation that is normally about a minute long she did it in half the time, which is utterly insane and would never be done today.  But you watch her, and you think to yourself with a Russian accent in your head, “DAAAA! ZIS eez DANSE…from SOUL!” To me, Katya is the ultimate Kitri.  Typically it’s treacherous territory in the arts to proclaim one’s favorite, especially with the youtube piranhas, but hell, I adore her.

One of the other primas with the Bolshoi at the time, Maya Plisetskaya is another one who did the lightning round Kitri variation.  Now Maya is the perfect example of “less of the more” that I wrote about earlier.  She didn’t have the developpé a la seconde above her head, the coveted 6 o’clock penchée, or double/triple fouettes etc.  But her technique being far from inferior, what I love most about her dancing is how unfettered she was by the pursuit of perfection.  Her technique supported her art, instead of becoming the focus of it.  When you start focusing too much on “how high” or “how many” dance becomes so mechanical.  We have these legions of leggy amazonerinas and some days it really seems like ballet has become a factory instead of an institution.  A friend of mine once told me that she had a music teacher tell her that when you take the human element out of music, it ceases to be music.  I think the same can be said for some of these balletbots…what we need are more souls.  That is not to say we should feel guilty for admiring some of these gorgeous dancers, but remember that the approachability of a Maya Plisetskaya probably has a great deal to do with what made her a true artiste.

Anyway, in the videos I am posting below of Maya and Katya, Maya is partnered by the wonderfully delicious Maris Liepa, and Katya by her beast husband Vladimir Vasiliev.  And that’s no insult…I LOVE Vladdy-V.  Gigantor jumps and a Godzilla-presence to match.  Whereas I actually prefer Maris as Basilio because of his charm, the video of Maximova actually has Vladdy-V doing the slave Ali from Le Corsaire as well as a variation from Laurencia.  I can’t even comprehend the insanity that is the double arabesque turn-double attitude-QUINTUPLE pirouette en dedans that he did.  Being the curious monkey I am, I tried that with single pirouettes and basically couldn’t do it.  Long way to go if I aspire to be like him, but I am a lefty…that’s one step down, right?

 

Vladdy-V variations and Lightning Kitri (Katya):

 

DonQ full grand pas de deux w/Maris Liepa and Goddess Plisetskaya:

 

DonQ full grand pas de deux w/Vladdy-V and a hair slower than lightning Katya (in technicolor!):

 

More of Liepa/Plisetskaya, from Act I with Maya’s CRAZY DIVINE castanet variation:

 

So videos for your enjoyment and a little poll with no right answers because that’s the beauty of art.  Don’t you love loving ballet?  I do.

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