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- When did you start working with a skater, you can determine how wide the range of his artistic, choreographic possibilities?
- In figure skating, the good news is that you can create a choreography that will hide any flaws. If an athlete is inexpressive, we can compensate for plastics, and to focus on it. Put the motion that will express their individuality that is necessary to convey to the viewer.
Suppose take Plushenko. His charisma is so powerful that no matter what image of Jack chose, “he includes himself,” his inner strength and inner euphoria begins. It’s so captivates the audience, they forget that even a given image, which invested director. To them it does not matter. With Eugene in this sense simply to work…"
(mildly edited google translate)
This is from a recent interview (Sept. 2013) with Yuri Smekalov, award-winning ballet dancer and choreographer, about his work as a figure skating choreographer. As a Plushenko fan, obviously I am super gratified that an artist of Yuri’s calibre spoke so highly of Evgeni, in particular of his often-mentioned charisma. Maybe I am reading between the lines, but I think there is also an interesting point here regarding the relationship between the skater and the choreography, especially as it applies to Plushenko. To me, that point has to do with the ultimate source of artistic content in a figure skating performance.
Here is an excerpt from the ISU’s outline of its judging system (link). In the section on PCS, the Perfomance/Execution and the Interpretation components, which are often seen as the “artistic” measurement of a performance, Performance/Execution is defined as
the physical and emotional involvement of the skater/couple as they translate the intent of the music and choreography
The Interpretation component is defined as
the translation of the music to movement on ice
These are not necessarily bad definitions. In particular, I am glad to see that they acknowledges intent, i. e. artistic content, in the sense of meanings/emotions/new ways of seeing the world can be evoked in the viewer. However, I’ve always felt that there is a serious limitation to these definitions, in that it appears to presuppose that such “intent” comes from the music and the choreography, and that the role of the skater is as a translator, whose job is to express these intents that come from outside of him or herself. While this is, of course, one way a skating program/performance can achieve artistic force, I feel that this assumption define the relationship between the skater and the program (i. e. music and choreography) in a restricted way: to be “artistic” is, in very large part, about performing the music well. Now I am by no means whatsoever an expert on the modern theory of art, but based on what little knowledge I have gleaned… Well, I’ll go ahead and say it, just as my own opinion: I must suspect that the view of art revealed in these definitions is also not quite the most informed one.
When it comes to Plushenko, I feel that these definitions are in general not really well-suited, let’s say not toward judging, but let’s say seeing his skating. Many fans, upon seeing him skate, speak of aura, charisma, presence. These words of Yuri’s point to this direction as well. I don’t quite think that it is literally true that the specific image “does not matter”—after all, if it really didn’t, Evgeni and his team would not be nearly as incredibly picky about programs, or about “feeling every move”, as they are. But I think what is being suggested is that when Plushenko skates, the ultimate source of artistic content is him, and the music, the image and the choreography need to play more the roles of vehicles that give form to whatever it is that comes from within him. Of course, in terms of competition needs, the program has its own constraints and things that it must do, but artistically speaking, between the skater and the program, in his case it is the skater that takes the lead, and that is, I think, a fundamentally different kind of relationship from some of the assumptions that seem to be underlying the ISU’s definitions.
A side note: in terms of “charisma” vs. “content”. It seems to me that people often often an opposition between them. But I think in many situations, this is a false dichotomy. It is possible that charisma is content, in that it can be the most direct and intangible expression of the inner life of the artist, and his or her emotional connection with forces that cannot be described otherwise. In the best sense of the word, charisma is soul, and what can be more significant content than that?
I’ve been seeing a lot of skepticism (and from some, derision) in various places about Evgeni Plushenko’s statement that his new free skate program will be a “medley” of his previous competitive programs. I confess that I myself was also quite skeptical when I first heard the news earlier, yet now, looking at what Plushenko said in his most recent interview, I find myself growing more and more positive in some ways, at least just about the concept itself. I’ve been thinking out aloud to myself a bit about that concept in the last few days, and I wanted to maybe throw together a few of those thoughts here.
I think the concept of this program has the theoretical possibility to be truly amazing. I also cannot imagine how on earth they could possibly pull it off. I think it is probably by far the riskiest idea, artistically speaking, he and his team has ever attempted.
C. Stephen Jaeger, Enchantment: On Charismatic and the Sublime in the Arts of the West. Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 2012. p. 3
The sublime, in aesthetics, is roughly speaking a sense of power, vastness and/or grandeur that awes and overwhelms. Although there are many variations in its definition, it is generally seen as a distinct concept from “beauty”, or at least the more “traditional”, pre-modern definition of beauty, which tends to be used as something more directly pleasing to the senses, associated with words like “grace”, “prettiness”, “charm”, etc. (For the 18th Century British philosopher Edmund Burke, often quoted in such discussions, “beauty” is associated with qualities such as smoothness, balance, delicacy, relative smallness.) In contrast, the sublime is usually characterized by a component of “negative” reaction in the audience—discomfort, fear, shock, bafflement, which may be momentary, perhaps only for a fraction of a second. It does not allow the audience to merely sit back, relax and enjoy, but pulls one out of one’s comfort zone, hints at forces that are overwhelming, perhaps incomprehensible, perhaps infinite. In the words of the British literary critic A. C. Bradley, the sublime, in art and nature, “forces its way into the imagination and emotions”, and “imposes on us an unconditional demand”.
Yes, it’s a big, high-and-mighty concept in and of itself, but I began to learn of it through my attempts at understanding Plushenko’s presence and performances on ice, and to me, finding this concept was somewhat like a light switching on before my eyes. I do think there are times when he has come to, or approached the sublime on ice. Or to put it more generally, I’ve started to believe that it is often a concept that is highly useful, perhaps sometimes necessary in order to fully appreciate his skating artistically.
Another thing: in the views of some, the movement of Romanticism can in large part be characterized as a shift away from the pursuit of “beauty” (in the sense above, for instance of Burke) toward the pursuit of the sublime, a trend that has been called the beginning of modernity in art. I haven’t thought much about it yet, but I want to mention this idea since I’m starting to get the preliminary notion that to many figure skating fans and experts currently, what constitutes artistry in skating may be strongly correlated to the qualities that Burke listed as components of beauty. However, if this is the case, then I must say that such a definition of what is “artistic” in skating appears to me to be highly inadequate. We are in the 21st Century after all, and that the general definition of art and beauty has expanded far beyond Burke’s. In particular, given that one of my other current pet theories is that there is often a strong Romantic component to Plushenko’s art, and at times a modernist one, I suspect that such a definition of artistry in skating is especially inadequate when applied to him.
Sorry, this is still all extremely general and somewhat vague…There are some specific examples I’ve been thinking about, but I’ll have to work on them individually…(and do more research)
In a previous post, I was going on about Tango Amore. I felt that though its seductiveness, its passion and its I-want-you-to-love-me was loud and clear and in-the-face to me, for the longest time I wasn’t certain about whether (or how) it said “I love you”. I came to the conclusion that it was because I wasn’t certain about the amount of vulnerability he revealed or did not reveal in that program.
But I thought about it a little more, and now I feel I was guilty of trying to interpret Plushenko according to my own ways of thinking.
"Charisma" and "charismatic" are among the words I see most frequently when it comes to descriptions of Evgeni Plushenko’s skating. Not only from fans; I’ve seen even his critics say (some times in a rather grudging tone) "yes, he’s got charisma". So what does it mean? 1. in the context of figure skating as a performance art; 2. more specifically, in the context of Evgeni Plushenko? I don’t know if these questions even have answers—many have expressed the idea that there’s something different and special about Plushenko’s skating, but it seems hard to pin down. But if these questions can be at least explored to some extent, then one can also ask: where does it come from?
Anyways, here’s the standard definition, from the sociologist Max Weber.
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