June 18th, 2013

Dueling Carmens

Compare and contrast.

And enjoy.

Both of these dancers are Russian, and both are excellent. The first is Svetlana Zakharova, and although the clip doesn’t have a date it looks relatively recent (the dancer only turned 34 a few days ago). The second is of Maya Plisetskaya, a dancer I’ve written about several times before. It was taken in 1967 when she was 42, probably not at the absolute peak of her powers as Zakharova is in her clip, but not all that far off either.

As I said, both are excellent. They emphasize different things and have different qualities, and Zakharova demonstrates the more extreme extension and flexibility that has become the hallmark of ballet today. But to me, one of them is Carmen and the other is not.

I’ve cued the first video to begin at the proper time (2:41) for this particular “Habanera” variation, which finishes at about 5:54. The second video is complete in itself and contains only that variation. See what you think:

Note that Plisetskaya is not the least bit afraid of looking awkward in certain poses, because gracefulness is not her paramount aim. Note also that Zakharova’s partner looks a bit like Putin, doesn’t he? And you might want to compare the difference between the way Zakharova falls backwards towards her partner at minute 4:59 and again a few seconds later with the way Plisetskaya does the same thing at minute 2:14 and again a few seconds later. Surprising, isn’t it, since Plisetskaya’s version was probably over forty years earlier?

3 Responses to “Dueling Carmens”

  1. Artfldgr Says:

    Gymnastics has influenced it so much, the first is as if she is doing a floor routine… the second, is a neat trick to pull off, the appearance of a talented untrained person by a trained person, and so appears more natural and not staged and a more youthful exuberance to hide the nature of the character

    though i will say the arrangement of the score, and the cinematography also makes a difference…

  2. FenelonSpoke Says:

    I much prefer the second, older dancer who really brings life to the character.

  3. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    The words (like a Rorschach blot) that come to mind for me with each dancer are; Zakharova – the grace of precision and for Plisetskaya – muscular, athletic, emotional, evocative.

    I must confess that I prefer Zakharova’s performance. Which I find interesting because in singers they are comparable to Streisand and Ronstadt and, I strongly prefer Ronstadt’s emotional performances to Streisand’s perfect phrasing, diction and tone. And in opera, though no connoisseur, I strongly prefer Callas for her ability to convey emotion.

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