For me, summer means ballet, and last year’s season gave me fresh fodder for determining what exactly I consider to be superior “artistry” and “expression.”
And after 2009 Worlds, when everyone was raving incessantly about Yu-Na Kim, I felt a need to analyze and articulate why I disliked her style so much. Although I had never been a fan of hers, I could readily acknowledge that she was very good: she has huge, powerful jumps, great speed and a discernable polish to her performances. Starting in the 2008-09 season, however, her style and expression really began to annoy me.
As I mentioned in one of my early posts, comparing Mao Asada and Yu-Na Kim is quite tricky. They lack the obvious physical differences that separate, say, gymnasts Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson. So by analyzing and articulating why I like Mao and why I don’t like Yu-Na, I have learned a lot about what I personally value in terms of aesthetics, expression and artistry.
I freely acknowledge (and have often seen) that other people will disagree with my opinions. I took ballet lessons from a very young age and played the violin; those experiences have definitely shaped my views on artistry. But I think that most people haven’t had the classical training I received, so they don’t look for ballet lines, and they focus primarily on facial expression instead of full-body expression.
Ballerina on ice
I had long known that I loved Mao because she is a ballerina on ice—such flexibility, such gorgeous lines, such graceful lightness. On the other hand, Yu-Na lacks flexibility (though not as badly as others), and although she might be “dramatic,” she generally is not that graceful, and she does not emote through her whole body.
And up until summer 2009, I figured that I favored Mao, who was sometimes accused of lacking expression in her face, because facial expression doesn’t really matter to me.
Indeed, I had a clear history of picking the graceful, beautiful, subtle performers as my favorites—even though others called them “cold,” “expressionless,” or “boring.” During the 2008 Summer Olympics, I was a big fan of Nastia Liukin, with her gorgeous lines and balletic grace, but others called her “bitchy-looking” compared to the “effervescent” Shawn Johnson. And it was not until I saw the willowy, ethereal Julie Kent that I became obsessed with ballet, even though others found her “cold.” Even my favorite violinist, Julia Fischer, is notoriously anti-flashy, anti-celebrity; she uses her superlative technical talent to let the beauty of the music speak for itself.
Last summer, however, the legendary ballerina Diana Vishneva turned my world upside down. Here was a performer who is known as much for her force-of-nature on-stage persona as for her “exceptionally pretty technique.”
Here was an artist who demands attention and so fully captivates viewers that the New York Times dance critic Alastair Macauley once wrote, “The sheer luster of her presence is often startling; I know of no dancer today who so gloriously seems a source of light.”
Diana Vishneva in Don Quixote
After the Opening Night Gala where I saw her dance live for the first time, she became my absolute, uncontestable favorite.
But this development created quite a conundrum for me. How could I reconcile my adoration of the soft, subtle Mao Asada and my love for the fiery Vishneva? And how could I so turned off by Yu-Na Kim’s diva-ish performances but awed by Vishneva’s ability to own the stage? How could I make sense of these seemingly contradictory preferences?