East vs. West

November 28, 2001

As Web Editor, it is my happy responsibility to go to cover shoots and edit the behind-the-scenes videos that give you a glimpse of the process.  I recently edited two videos featuring two very different ballerinas, from very different places and schools.  It made me realize that contrary to the opinion of many teachers and dancers, there is no one way to move beautifully.  The ballerinas I’m talking about are NYCB principal Sterling Hyltin, and the Kirov’s Yevgenia Obraztsova.  


To me, Sterling embodies much of what I think inspired Balanchine’s love of American ballerinas.  She’s got that freedom, that flair, and an adventurous, irreverent spirit.  Her dancing is unconstrained by notions of tradition, and her mind and body are open to new ideas.  This was evident in the way she posed for the camera; the poses she struck had a jazzy quality, though according to her, she has never taken a jazz class in her life.  Interestingly enough, she also said that she gravitates toward that feeling, because it makes ballet a bit easier for her.  I suppose what she means is that when you feel like you don’t have to be incredibly vigilant about maintaining a certain style, you are more free to to let your body move and expand in different ways.  I think this idea certainly rings true for many dancers, since we all know how immovable the obstacles are that our own minds place in the way of our dancing.  When your mind is free, your body is too.


However, Yevgenia (“Genia” to her friends and teachers), presents to us the beauty of the other side of the coin, the one where we see the glorious effect of adhering to tradition and style.  The pure classicism of her positions, and the understated grace of her arms and head were an inspiring sight.  She is a completely finished product of the eight-year Vaganova system, and the constant reinforcement of that technique was clear during her shoot.  All of her poses, in contrast to Sterling’s, showed how ingrained the refinement of her training was; each movement was absolutely complete.  Her natural talent and qualities aside, this was enough to take our breath away.


The lesson I drew from comparing these two shoots was that keeping an open mind when watching ballet is an absolute must.  Every ballerina has so much to offer, and so much that makes her unique and beautiful.  It makes the experience of being a dancer and watching dance so much richer when you can appreciate everyone you see for what they have to offer.