Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Artistry Fallacy

I have just watched the women's all around finals and read some of the responses on the gymnastics message boards and I have to air some long-held grievances around the issues of dance and artistry. Among fans and gymnastic writers there seems to be a pretty obvious bias -- that if a gymnast is seen as having a more balletic style and body type, she is deemed artistic and therefore a good dancer.

As I was reading International Gymnast's previews of the women's teams and all around, Wieber's weakness was listed as "artistry" in addition to bars (which I agree is by far her weakest event). I wouldn't consider Wieber to be lacking in artistry. She performs with excellent form and technique. And her floor exercise is well-choreographed to the music and Wieber does an excellent job of engaging with the music and the audience as she performs it -- eyes off the floor and into the audience. To my mind, performing skills that are more than mere arm waving to the music and acknowledging the audience is a sign of good artistry. It's just not a balletic type of artistry.

If we followed the gymnastics logic about dance then hip hop dance would not be considered artistic. Really, nothing aside from ballet or a dance style that is done with a perfectly upright and rigidly held carriage would be considered artistic. This view is unfair to other styles that are less polished but by no means less artistic and less in tune with the music.

Victoria Komova, by contrast, is a gymnast with enormous dance potential but suffers from bad choreography and an introverted performance style. There is a lot of arm waving in her routine and a lot of it are merely flourishes -- added in to merely do something as opposed to being truly intentional and interpretive of the music. There are also several "rest" moments when all energy stops flowing. Even when the choreography allows you to pause, a dancer shouldn't just take a break. The pause should accentuate something in the music -- the pause itself is also dance and should be treated as such. Though it shocks me to say this, Vanessa Ferrari made excellent uses of slow moments in her routine in Tokyo -- she didn't relax but used them to convey a sultriness. (By the way, these are criticisms I have of many, many routines, not just Komova's. I'm merely using her as an example since she has been labelled "artistic" in opposition to Wieber's so-called lack of artistry.)

Don't get me wrong -- Komova is a lovely gymnast with great extension, form and technique, and I wouldn't have at all minded her coming out on top in the all around. She is certainly a worthy champion. Furthermore, coming off ankle surgery in May, she was hardly at her best in Tokyo. Next year, she will surely a greater force to be reckoned with when she brings back the Amanar vault. I hope Jordyn and John Geddert go back to Michigan and work on some upgrades cause they will need them in London to hold of Komova as well as a returning Mustafina. (Not to mention, Anastasia Grishina.)

But this is a rant about artistry, not start values and competitive results. If dance is important to the sport -- and I would say it is not highly prioritized, judging from the routines we see -- I think we need to expand our notions about what it means to be artistic.

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