May 28, 2016

Work to Impress, Dance to Express

Multiple pirouettes, tricky steps on pointe and acrobatic jumps are eternal crowd pleasers, and rightly so - after all, it takes exceptional talent and years of training to achieve such technical feats. If you're a strong jumper, or a natural turner, that's what you want to show (off). Dance to impress the audience, and most of all, the judges. But there's more to ballet than athletic tricks, no matter how awe-inspiring. Otherwise, a ballet competition would be a sporting event, instead of a showcase for emerging artists. To dance is to express, to tell stories, interpret roles and music, convey moods and emotions. When a dancer knows how to marry impressive technique with beautiful expression... Then we have an artist - and a winner.

It's not so very different for the recreational dance student, albeit for different reasons. For most adult ballet dancers, it's not possible to progress to very advanced levels, certainly not to the level of a professional dancer. Time restrictions, age, physical abilities and limitations - all factors which determine how far we can go. But ballet is about the journey, not the destination. No dancer is ever done learning, and if you really think you're "done" - that's when growth and personal development stops. I love this aspect of ballet, because it's the same for everyone, whether you're a young competitor, a professional ballerina, or a middle-aged student like myself. There's always something to improve, refine, to make your own. I may never figure out quadruple turns or achieve higher extensions - but I can focus on quality, pointed toes, elongated lines, épaulement, port de bras, musicality, even artistry. To dance ballet is to love the process, the work you do in class - otherwise it would be just too hard. For me, there are no competitions, no prizes to be won... Dance itself is the reward.

I wonder sometimes, how it is for young competitors... So much discipline, drive and dedication goes into classes and rehearsals, countless of hours, sacrifices - when the actual performance lasts only a few minutes. Sometimes, the pressure shows. Dancing turns into performing a task, an exercise, a routine. Facial expressions can become static, smiles don't quite reach the eyes... But I want to see dancers who love to dance, not just workers or athletes. Please, you do not need to cram well-known variations full of new tricks. One or two can be fabulous, if the musicality and mood of the choreography doesn't suffer.

Then there are those dancers with magnetic stage presence and sparkling eyes. Something about them that makes you want to see more.

Stand-outs of Day Two of First Round at IBC Helsinki:

Eliana Vogel, to the left, and So Jung Shin to the right. Photography by Mirka Kleemola.

South Korean So Jung Shin (juniors, b. 1996) danced Odette's variation with elegance and soul, making the entire audience sigh... Beautiful lines and easy balances, regal in her countenance. So Jung Shin's Kitri was a nice contrast; fast bourrée entrance with arms allongé to the back - almost like a swan. Not sure how much of Petipa was left, but interesting nonetheless.

Eliana Vogel (juniors, b. 1999), USA. Don't be fooled by her tiny size, this 17-year old is surprisingly strong for her size, and mature for her age. Her Esmeralda was not circus-y, but elegant, and I loved the single fouettées in-between her tambourine kicks.

Yeojin Shim (juniors, b. 2000), South Korea (again). A very difficult variation from Harlequinade, danced with wonderful ease. Lots of hops on pointe, extra pirouettes. Her Esmeralda was quite different from Vogel's, although I appreciate both. Liked the surprise turn-kick at the end of her tambourine diagonal.

Gento Yoshimoto (seniors, b. 1991) Japan. Yoshimoto is a flyer! Crazy ballon and elevation, clean lines, very athletic - and that big smile! His variation from Le Corsaire would earn him Olympic Gold, if dance were sports. To be fair, classical male variations are meant to be showcases for bravado athleticism. But I did enjoy both of his performances, and after seeing him in class this morning, I'm sure Yoshimoto will proceed to the Final Round.

Yeojin Shim, to the left, and Gento Yoshimoto. Photography by Mirka Kleemola.

Byul Yun
(seniors, b. 1994), South Korea. Another dazzling variation from Esmeralda, great jumps. I don't now wherefrom these young men get all their ballon!


Arutiun Arakelian (senior, b. 1994) Armenia. Another athlete jumper & natural turner. He also made a nice save when he dropped his tiara (do men wear tiaras, or is there another word for it?) coming down from Corsaire's big jump into a the kneeling cambré. Seemed completely unflustered - and stayed in character.

Finnish competitor Suvi Honkanen (seniors, b. 1993) was a pretty Sleeping Beauty, delicate yet secure. For her second variation she chose a rarer variation from La Halte de Cavalier, which was a smart choice - and danced in a lovely manner.

Suvi Honkanen as Sleeping Beauty. Photography by Mirka Kleemola. 

1 comment:

  1. I think you're on the money when you say that it has to be about the art, rather than purely the execution. I suppose I know more about sport than about ballet (as to which I'm a pure amateur watcher), but there are points of contact. What I mean is that sport is at it's best when it's played from the heart, for nothing more than the glory of the competition. This is why I'd sooner go along to watch a country football match (Tatura Bulldogs v Shepparton Swans, anyone?) than a professional level match. The drive to compete and to win isn't because it's a career, or a job, but because the players are competing for their friends, their town and their team, and because the game, itself, is worth playing. It gives it a purity that brings something undefinably good out in athletes. I'm sure something similar must happen with dancers too.


To That Special Ballet Teacher

To that special ballet teacher, who not only teaches you about technique, but helps build your confidence, nurtures your inner artist, ...