Sunday, May 2, 2010

Musings on artistry (Part 3)—Being “in the moment”

When reflecting on artistry and expression, I recall a lesson I learned in ballet class about a month ago.  My ballet teacher—who once worked with legendary choreographers, danced in the original Broadway production of “West Side Story,” and rubbed shoulders with movie stars—was emphasizing the importance of being “in the moment.”

She had us do a simple port de bras: with the arms rounded and held down in front of the hips (like a pair of parentheses), you raise them up, preserving the roundness, to mid-torso level, and then open the arms wide.  While you do this, you are supposed to follow the movement of your hand with your eyes and head.

Now, in my less-than-humble opinion, I do lovely port de bras, with flowy wrists and soft fingers.  However, my teacher took one look at me, and said, “No, no no. You’re not seeing your hand.”  And it was true; I was inclining my eyes in the direction of my hands, but I was really half-admiring my reflection in the mirror.

“You have to see your hands!” she commanded.  So I did it again, but this time I actually focused on my hands.  I genuinely watched them move through space. 

My teacher’s response: “There, that’s so much better!”


This experience was a sort of epiphany for me.  Because “looking” without “seeing” is precisely what I see when I watch Yu-Na Kim perform.

In my opinion, Yu-Na Kim does all the choreographed movements perfectly; she gets all the facial expressions correct, but I feel like she is merely “doing” it without “feeling” it.  It doesn’t seem genuine to me. 

Akiko Suzuki, on the other hand, is also called an expressive skater, but everything she does seems genuine to me.  That’s real fire in her tango, and real joy in her “West Side Story” routine.

And this, I realize, is why I can love both gentle Mao Asada and fiery Diana Vishneva—because both seem to be honest in their performances, no matter how wildly different they may be.

Personally, I’d rather see Mao Asada genuinely caught up in her own performance, completely forgetting about the audience, than the “Look! I'm emoting!!” style favored by Yu-Na Kim.

The same goes for ballerinas—I love Vishneva and all her over-the-top drama because I’m convinced that she’s absolutely crazy—about ballet.  This is the artist who rehearsed the mere act of opening the door in “Giselle” five-hundred times (five hundred!) to make it perfect.  This is the performer who crashed into a scenery piece while exiting the stage but returned to finish the ballet, bloody knee and all.  This is the ballerina I can see dancing until she drops dead onstage.  So while other people may find Vishneva too wild, too passionate, I love it—she’s 100% convincing to me.

In contrast, Natalia Osipova, the Bolshoi ballerina known for her gravity-defying leaps and speedy turns, left me cold when I saw her perform in “La Sylphide” last summer.  Like the people sitting around me, I was amazed by her technique, but while they swooned, I cringed at every artificial expression that seemed to say, “here’s my cute face,” and “here’s my sad face,” and “Look-now I’m dying!”

Unsurprisingly, honesty in performance is another quality dancers admire about my other favorite ballerina, Julie Kent.  ABT soloist Cory Stearns said, “I feel when Julie Kent dances, she finds something so deep inside of herself and brings it out.”  Miami City Ballet principal Jennifer Carylnn Korneberg echoes, “I'd have to say that the ballerina I admire most from this generation though is Julie Kent. She has such an honesty, purity and selflessness about her dancing that takes my breath away.

So it seems that the quality of “being in the moment” rather than “showing me the moment”—the ability to not only portray a certain emotion but also to find something inside oneself to make it true—THIS is what I value most in terms of performing.

Truth and beauty.  That’s all I ask for.


  1. what a beautiful and fascinating three articles, Kimi-chan...

    Before I first noticed Mao back in 2006, I was a big fan of Sasha Cohen in spite of her own somewhat cold reputation because of her beautiful body lines and flexibility, so when I first saw Mao skate, I was delighted by her balletic lines and obvious love of music combined with an athleticism and skill for jumps that Sasha had obviously lacked.

    I also believe that Yuna Kim is pushed more by her family and her nation's expectations for her than she is by passion for the sport, worlds this year was proof of that for me, but I could be wrong. However, I think that is the reason why her skating seems more about entertaining and impressing than about any real joy or love of skating.

    May 4, 2010 4:40 PM

  2. Hi Elle a.k.a. L! Thanks again for reading and commenting! (I'm impressed you got through all three posts! ^_^;; )

    I haven't seen much of Sasha Cohen skating since I only started watching in 2006, but I do recall that her 2006 Olympic performance struck me as being that of a "genuine performer." But, as you mentioned, Mao has better jumps--and more than that, she has light, airy, PRETTY jumps, in keeping with her ballerina image. ^_^

    Like you, I can't really comment on Yu-Na Kim's motivations, but I do know that Mao skates because she truly loves it. And I think that there are many elements that Mao chooses to do/there are many decisions that she makes because she wants to satisfy herself as an artist rather than please the judges. And I respect that.

  3. thank you for the 3 great posts. I wish i could comment more on this- but now i hv to get back to studying for exams. But again, I totally agree with you abt your views on artistry. I think the favoring of Kim over Mao simply shows that figure skating COMPETITIONS are essentially political and inflexible. Judges want something that pleases the crowd in 7 mins (SP+FP), causes an uproar among the crowd= good is their formula really. Girl's programmes have to be elegant, timidly sexy, beautiful, graceful and so on. No room for other style of artistry (angst, energetic, anger, power). Mao's capable of doing all these styles because of her strong background in ballet.. whether she wants to play the crowd pleaser card, we will always respect her choice!!

  4. Thanks for reading and commenting, Erica Chan! ^_^ Yes, we will always respect Mao's choice!

    I wish there were a way to educate the public about what is truly good, truly beautiful skating and dancing. If only skating and ballet were more respected in my country they way they are in places say, like, Russia...

  5. Batsuchan! I'm glad I'm reading more posts from you ^_^

    I think you hit the target once again!
    I really think the most important thing that I love about Mao's skating is that it's genuine.
    I think that's why I'm not as bothered by what she skates to or what program she does, because that quality to her skating is always there.
    I really like this quote by Elvis Stojko during the Olympics (yes, although many don't think his thoughts are that great, I think that he, like everyone else, has valid opinions):

    "There is a sincerity that I like about Mao's skating. That's great. There is no arrogance. That's what I like about it. Asada’s skating has a quiet innocence that I find appealing. There’s no attitude, just skating. Her movement is graceful and lyrical as well, and her connection to the music is great."

  6. Thank you so much for that quote, sapphiresky! I forgot about it! It would fit perfectly in my post! Perhaps I will have to edit it to include it. Though I'm sort of working on a Part 4, so we shall see...

    Thanks as always for reading and commenting! ^_^

  7. Hi Batsuchan. The other day, I came upon a blogger who agreed with everything you're saying here. She thinks Mao is the real artist and dancer while Yuna is more of the performer. She even said she would have given Mao the gold at the Olympics ^_^. Here's the link.

    Btw, I love your blog and I am always eagerly awaiting for updates.