After considerable self-reflection, I have realized that there are three things I look for in terms of artistry: beauty, musicality, and expression.
“Beauty” stems from the skater or dancer’s technical prowess/physical ability—does she have beautiful lines and positions? Does she carry herself gracefully? Is she flexible; does she turn out? If I took a snapshot of this position, would it be beautiful? Is her execution flawless? Does she make the steps seem effortless?
I love both Mao and Vishneva because they are—to borrow the title of Vishneva’s solo show—“beauty in motion.” Vishneva herself said, “When you turn your technique into lightness, that’s what is worthwhile.”
And that is what I see when I see both Mao and Vishneva perform—an uncanny ability to appear lighter than air, like impossibly ethereal beings. They make even the most difficult, complex steps look effortless and beautiful.
These qualities appear to be the very ones that ballet dancers themselves admire. Two of the ABT corps de ballet members picked my other favorite, Julie Kent, as the dancer they most admire for these reasons. Melanie Hamrick said, “She is the essence of a ballerina and beauty; even if she’s doing something that is so hard, she looks weightless and effortless.” And Hee Seo echoed, “I think the most important thing—and it took me years to come to this conclusion—is that you have to be beautiful. Julie Kent is the most beautiful dancer in ABT. She’s not doing large, big pirouettes, but she is so beautiful.”
Julie Kent and Roberto Bolle in MacMillan’s “Romeo and Juliet”
Perhaps it is because of my ballet training, and perhaps because of my extreme attention to detail, but I value beauty in dancing and in skating very highly. And since I am very flexible despite sitting in an office all day long, I am extremely critical of the lady skaters who lack flexibility (which seem to be the majority). I instinctively look for beautiful body lines and extension, and I can’t help but cringe when I see awkward, ungainly positions.
And this is why I can be perfectly content watching top-class dancers or skaters practice even the simplest steps. There might be no music, they might be completely unaware of my presence and making no effort to perform, but the sheer beauty and apparent effortlessness of their movement is enough to keep me fascinated.
Beyond the exceptionally pretty technique, there is the innate musicality of Mao and Vishneva that I admire. Other dancers and skaters may seem to respond well to the music, they may seem to express it well, but in the case of Mao and Vishneva, I feel as if the music is flowing through them.
A friend of Rudolf Nureyev once exclaimed, “You are a Stradivarius,” while watching him dance on the grass without any music other than the beat of his own heart. “Inside you are singing, and the steps are coming.” This is what I feel when I watch Vishneva and Mao: their bodies seem to be the very instruments producing the sound.
To me, they are able to do this because they use their entire bodies—not just the arms and the face, but the entire torso and back—to express the music. I am used to watching ballet from the back of the balcony. I can barely see the performer’s face, but if she carries the music in her body—in the curve of her back, the tension her shoulder blades—then I can feel the emotion. Expression through the body is extremely important to me.
Mao Asada dancing to the music in her heart
(This is from the 'making of' video for Mao's 2009 Asience CM.)
But what about “performing”?