Here’s a video of Carrie Imler from PNB dancing the coda to Black Swan variation from Swan Lake. Her chaine turns are insane.
Not for nothing do her colleagues describe her as a ‘fierce‘ ballerina
I was thinking after watching it a few times “it’s magnificent, but is it art?”. Would it work in performance? I began to wonder that, impressive as it was, if this extreme type of physical ability which we see a lot of in ballet might be at expense of art, not to say at variance with Ivanov’s intent.
I concluded that even though it might temporarily call attention to itself that it may not be to the detriment of art, even though it might be at variance with dancing that Petipa/Ivanov knew.
True, Lev might not have ever imagined this kind of physical ability were possible, but intents and interpretation change: doxa is artistic death. If the choreography of a ballet is often called a text, this might be called a type of hermeneutics: meanings are meanings made anew. Art evolves and physical boundries find themselves deformable, indeed sometimes fragile and breakable: yesterday’s extreme extensions are now the norm. (One wonders – “if not here, how much further?” until someone, Usain Bolt-like, Carl Lewis-like, Polunin-like startles us anew.)
When tremendous physicality such as Imler’s (or Polunin’s or Baryshnikov – and you may supply your own favourite of course) is married to artistic depth, then we get magic. Of course, physicality alone – or perhaps more accurately this type of extreme altheticism, steps taken to superhuman perfection and polish, will get no dancer anywhere just by itself. However as a statement of Odile’s supernatural power, the tornado of chaine turns are effective,*
Each artist highlights and adapts steps to suit. Osipova is gifted at this: the ability to play with steps to play with our sense of time or our sense of awe works a subtle alchemy upon the watching heart. Steps and movement become drama, much like how a gifted Shakespearean turns words into meaning, blank verse into poetry and soliloquies into things of profound beauty.
Ratmansky’s recent return to Stepanov tries to rehabilitate another way of dancing: demure, not dangerous. Would we rather have thrill and danger? or no falls or slips? or an artist who like Sara Mearns lives onstage and who might fall and fall twice, but who is forgiven because the light of her creations burn twice as bright, twice more beautiful?
Each beauty is legitimate, and each (the demure, the “standard ballet” as we have it, and the Macaulayian/Mearnsian Dionysian approach of Mearns and Osipova.) Each has merits. This is the beauty of ballet as we have it today. As long as stories are told and told well, I’ll have my dance whatever way it dances.
*Let’s not forget too that Imler was doing this in class and might have been having fun with the part, and let’s also take a minute to notice her arms in 5th/ “fouettes a la couronne”? which was a lovely touch.