Singing with the Body: Altynai Asylmuratova

Happy birthday Altynai Asylmuratova!

When the former Mariinsky Theatre prima ballerina was appointed director of the Vaganova Academy, she gave an interview with a quote that I found very interesting.

“When you watch a video tape of dancers of the old generations, for instance Galina Ulanova, Marina Semyonova, or a bit later Natalia Dudinskaya, you can see a certain coordination of body and arms, a musicality – you might call it ‘singing with the body’ – and above all an emotional depth to the dancing which no longer seem to exist today. The technique was present alright, but it was never there just for the sake of technique. The accent was first and foremost on emotion. However, now it’s all about high legs. I consider that a serious problem. All we seem to think about today is how high the legs can go, but there is hardly any concern anymore about form, plastique, harmony, and about what’s coming from inside, about soul.”

I’ve been reflecting on what it means to “sing with the body” and to dance with soul, conveying true emotion. I agree with her that much emphasis today is put on feats of flexibility and strength, over the quality of performance. I love flexible bodies and beautiful lines, but where do you see expression on faces and true feeling like hers?

I recently watched a video of a lovely professional dancer performing the Dying Swan. She was stunning in her (especially back) flexibility and tableaux-like manner or holding positions. Then I watched old footage of Anna Pavlova performing the piece. There’s a reason she was so great. She performed the choreography just as well, but in contrast to the modern dancer, she seemed to wrestle and struggle with death, fighting her impending fate, demonstrating the existential crisis of dying. It is a captivating video and nothing I’ve seen has compared.

Ask yourself, are your hamstring stretches more important that facial expressions? Do your arms frame your leg movements, or convey your character? Try embracing true singing with the body and elevate your ballet to new levels!

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