February 13th, 2018

Dueling Carmens II

Commenter “Steve57” asks:

I was goofing around on the intertubes. I came across this nugget [of ballet dancer Diana Vishneva as “Carmen”] and I was captivated…

She wasn’t one of the “Dueling Carmens” you wrote about in June 2013 (Svetlana Zakharova and Maya Plisetskaya) . I was wondering what you thought of her as a performer.

Happy to oblige.

First, here’s the Vishneva video Steve wanted me to watch:

There’s no question she has tremendous appeal. She’s lovely, has a beautiful body, and certainly puts a lot more sexy fire into it than most other modern-day Carmens. That’s good, and important for the role.

But for me, there’s no comparison to Plisetskaya, whose sexuality was smoldering and serious and almost dangerous as Carmen. Why is Vishneva smiling? She’s charming but it comes across as light to me.

Here Plisetskaya is again, in a performance recorded 51 years ago (a different variation, however; it’s the one I had in my original post and I think it shows off her gifts particularly well. And if you’re getting bored and/or are pressed for time, please scoot down to the last four clips at the bottom of the post, with much shorter excerpts of both dancers):

Both dancers are exemplars of the Russian tradition of dramatic dance. But I prefer Plisetskaya; your mileage may indeed differ on this.

Here is one of Plisetskaya in the same variation as in the Vishneva clip, and it’s not as socko IMHO. Yet I still prefer it to Vishneva because of Plisetskaya’s interpretation of the role:

There’s no question that Vishneva has the more astounding technique. But Plisetskaya’s technique is sufficient for her art. Unlike Vishneva, Plisetskaya’s extensions were never gymnastic and exaggerated. She was trying to seem like she was doing something a real Carmen would or at least might do—an actual woman, not an acrobat, although a woman who’s a trained ballet dancer. Gymnastic extensions in ballet bother me in general (see this); I’m not picking on Vishneva in particular at all. To me they spoil the line by drawing attention to themselves and away from the flow of the dance.

There’s a reason extensions like that used to be discouraged and actively frowned on by the people who train ballet dancers. Nowadays, however, they seem to be required. But every time Vishneva kicks that leg up to about a 180 angle I think of the circus or acrobatics, not dance. There’s a place for the circus and for acrobats, of course, but for me that place is not in ballet.

One more thing that’s a bit of a technical observation. There are ordinarily two types of dancers, although that’s a generalization. There are the rubbery and naturally elastic ones who have no trouble with getting legs into positions that seem humanly impossible. Then there are those whose tighter and more resistant muscles and other soft tissue (although they can’t be really tight or really resistant; they have to yield to stretching) tend to go along with having more strength. It’s not that flexible people aren’t strong, too, but they tend not to have a very good jump (most men are less flexible than women and they can ordinarily jump higher). Plisetskaya was known in particular not just for her acting ability but also for her soaring, powerful jump. It’s no accident.

Here are some small but in my opinion telling details of their performances for special comparison. In this clip of one sequence of movement, Plisetskaya gives it a completely different focus and meaning than Vishneva does:

Plisetskaya always seems to be stalking prey in this role; she’s a predator. Vishneva not so much (at least, that’s the way I see it). Plisetskaya’s front kicks, for example, have a knifelike quality of attack. Vishneva’s are impressive, but to me they say “Look ma, I’m dancing!”

Here’s another little vignette for comparison. Note how Plisetskaya emphasizes the Spanish style more than Vishneva does:

[NOTE: Here’s the original “Dueling Carmens” post.]

9 Responses to “Dueling Carmens II”

  1. Steve57 Says:

    You are an angel.

  2. Irene Says:

    First off, hope you’re feeling better, Neo.

    Secondly, thank you for isolating all these clips for comparison.

    When Vishneva danced at City Center in “Beauty In Motion” back in 2008, it became so painful to watch we almost walked out for the same reasons you outlined in this post.

    This is how the NYTimes review captured it:

    “Act III, Dwight Roden’s “Three Point Turn,” is wall-to-wall neo-academic, pseudo-erotic cliché for three couples (Ms. Vishneva with Desmond Richardson, Maria Shevyakova with Mr. Lobukhin, and Ekaterina Ivannikova with Mr. Sergeev). Everything onstage — the high extensions, the pirouettes, the lunges, the lifts — is big, showy, fakey, with no contrasts in scale.

    “Everyone onstage dances like hell, and when we get to hell, it will be full of ballets like this. Its loud rock score, by David Rozenblatt, sounds like a refrigerator copulating with a hot tin roof.”

  3. neo-neocon Says:


    Well, that certainly sounds dreadful!

  4. Steve57 Says:

    The 26th and i do not know the Army numbers its s



  5. Steve57 Says:

    I’m sorry. I had too many tabs open. I intended my last for where it was appropriate.


    The last cavalry charge of the United States Army.

  6. Steve57 Says:

    I was curious if you agreed with me that Svetlana Zakharova was by far the most seductive. Unless you are attracted to danger, in which case you have to go with Plisetskaya. But I enjoy waking up in the morning. But Vishneva seems entirely too pleased with herself. Which is a turn off.

  7. Steve57 Says:

    How far along the way to an art critic have I come?

  8. Steve57 Says:

    The thing I expect about art is that it should interest me.

    …Tollers are named for their ability to entice or lure waterfowl within gunshot range, called “tolling”.[5] The hunter stays hidden in a blind and sends the dog out to romp and play near the water, usually by tossing a ball or stick to be retrieved. The dog’s appearance is similar to that of a fox. Its unusual activity and white markings pique the curiosity of ducks and geese, who swim over to investigate.[6]

    When the birds are close, the hunter calls the dog back to the blind, then rises, putting the birds to flight, allowing him a shot. The Toller then retrieves any downed birds. They are particularly suited for retrieving in cold water climates because of their water-repellent double coat.[6]…

  9. Steve57 Says:


    You had to have at least one Golden Retriever or Lab in your life. Frendliest dogs you’ll ever meet. And the best hunting partners.

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About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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