International Ballet Competition in Moscow – Warning Signs – Part VI

Dear Readers:

After a brief detour for Joy Womak’s backstory, we return to Anna Gordeeva’s review of the International Competition of Ballet and Choreography, which just completed its 13th run in Moscow last week.  Here is/was the schedule of events, as posted prior to the competition.  Now that we know Joy’s story, and how she left the Bolshoi under a cloud, we can better understand her nervous psychological state as she once again mounted the Atrium and Historic Stage of the theater she had once loved, and dreamed of.  In Joy’s own words, her departure from the Bolshoi was like breaking up with a first love.  And, at a more mundane level, any of us ordinary working people who have been harassed or undervalued in the workpace and left in a huff, filling the air around us with the bitter aroma of Burning Bridge — we working stiffs can understand just how fraught it is TO GO BACK TO THAT PLACE!

Moscow competition: Younglings learn to perform under pressure.

And Joy Womak, an American girl with a Russian soul, returned to the scene of the crime with a burning desire TO SHOW THEM!  To show them just how wrong they were about her.  They scorned her, they told her to hang her head and return to the humble chorus line, they said she wasn’t good enough to be a soloist, well, now they will see that NOBODY PUTS BABY IN THE CORNER!

Like Gordeeva points out:  Since her stormy departure from the Bolshoi, Womak has been dancing with the Kremlin Ballet Theater.  This is less prestigious than the Bolshoi, to be sure, but so what?  Womak gets to dance the major solo roles for females, and does a very good job at it too.  In truth, she had nothing to prove; and in retrospect, her return to the Bolshoi was a mistake.  Gordeeva chalks it up to a desire for revenge, which, like Confucius say, can never lead to anything good.  Here is my translation of Gordeeva’s review of Womak’s erratic performance at the competition:

Joy Womak as Kitri

Her disillusionment with the Bolshoi and her desire for revenge had such an effect on the ballerina, that it changed the way she danced.  The “Bolshoi style” of dancing is beautiful in its very serenity; but Womak lost her serenity.  She came to the competition to prove to her former colleagues at the Bolshoi, that she is hot stuff — and she came out for each dance with such an expression on her face that the grimace was scary to look at.  The sweet Princess Aurora [Sleeping Beauty]?  The love-infatuated Odalisque [La Bayadère]?  More like a warrior Valkyrie!  Cramming into her dance all of her hopes and all of her disappointments, she launched into her fouettés with such manic energy that, poor girl, she couldn’t sustain it, and she FELL to the floor!  The audience, which until that moment had been watching open-mouthed at this extraordinary exhibition of will power, started to feel sorry for her.  The jury felt sorry for her too, and passed her through to the second round.  In which she danced without any technical errors, but with the same (frantic) intonation.  In the third round Joy started to calm down, she remembered to be elegant, she remembered the cantilena (gentle musical flow).  Unfortunately, this was the role of Kitri [Don Quixote] which does actually require a more aggressive cadence.  In the final analysis, that Joy Womak, that young maiden who first stepped out onto the stage of the Bolshoi glowing with the simple-minded happiness of a girl who has fulfilled her dream — that person no longer exists.

In the end, all that Womak received was a certificate of participation in the competition.  No prize.  And the biggest irony of all:  She was battling ghosts.  Nobody from the Bolshoi, none of her former teachers or colleagues was even there to see her:  They were all away on tour in Japan!  The life of the legendary corps somehow went on without her.

Talent From the Hinterlands

Leaving Joy alone to dance against her shadow enemies, Gordeeva next moves along to a happier story.  One encompassing the promise of youth and new beginnings.

In the group of younger competitors (14-18 years old), one fine morning a young man named Ivan Sorokin stepped out on the stage.  Ivan is 14 years old, but he is so small and thin that he looks even younger.  Ivan hails from the boondocks:  from Syktyvkar in the Komi Republic.  Syktykvar does not have an ancient ballet school or long traditions:  All it has is an artistic gymnasium, which was built less than 10 years ago!  Moscow ballet veterans would turn their noses up and say that this boy is “from the middle of nowhere”, and yet the moment he began to dance — it was as if Mowgli suddenly started speaking in classical Latin.  Precise technique, a sense of style, a muscality…  The name of this lad will soon be known throughout the world of ballet.  Sorokin was passed on to the second round where he danced equally well — with a breathtaking lightness and clarity.

And then something went wrong:  The boy’s name did not appear in the list of contestants for Round 3.  The jury explained at the press conference:  The young man and his coach had no inkling that he would make it as far as the third round and simply did not prepare a third program for him!  And so he just left, he who would have been, most likely, the grand prize winner!  He caught his train and returned to Syktykvar.  But not for long:  There are already plans to bring him back to civilization.  He has offers from both Moscow (School of Choreography) and Petersburg (Academy of Russian Ballet).  Rumors have it that he already chose Petersburg.  (A good choice!)

Next installment:  We’ll finish up with the choreographers and then opine about the things that are wrong with Russian ballet and Russian theater in general…

[to be continued]

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