Artistry: Innate vs. Cultivated

In any discipline with a creative facet there are practitioners that emerge on the scene as quite fully formed “artists”. There is still certainly room for growth, but their expression of themselves and their “art” is well on its way. On the flip side, there are those that arrive a mere figment of their later greatness. This certainly holds true for skaters, especially since there is a strong duality of artistry versus (or, with) athleticism.

“Baby Ballerinas” (and Ballerinos)

Here I borrow a designation from Dick Button, which I despised at the time, but which perfectly defines this first category of skater. These skaters emerge as quite (or, at least more) complete artists: highly expressive, sophisticated, and individualized, seemingly from the beginning. Sasha Cohen, Caroline Zhang, Naomi Nari-Nam, Oksana Baiul, Adelina Sotnikova, Johnny Weir, Evgeni Plushenko, John Curry, and Gordeeva & Grinkov, come immediately to mind.

They were either born dancers, had easy extension, or were passionately connected to their choreography and music. And, they seemed to have that something special, the X (or “It”) Factor, since day one. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe artistry ONLY comes in a classical balletic package. It just so happens that most “artistic” skaters at least initially lean heavily on this stylistic direction (excepting the rare few: Gary Beacom, the Duchesnays, etc.).

From Ugly Ducklings to Swans

Then, there are those skaters who hit the international scene, and although technically proficient, and holding great promise, didn’t strike us as having much artistry, or memorable expressive qualities. Or, they appeared to be more purely “athletic” skaters, but in hindsight we see that their artistry was more dormant at first. Sarah Hughes, Shizuka Arakawa, Angela Nikodinov, Ashley Wagner, Alexei Yagudin, Brian Boitano, Evan Lysacek, and Shen & Zhao come to mind.

They were either initially coltish, awkward, inexpressive, generic, or disconnected from their programs. You could chalk their more visible artistic trajectory and growth up to a later maturity (or peeking), to persistence and diligence, in nurturing skills that did not come as easily, or seem innate, OR to collaborating with a new coach or choreographer who helped them evolve.

Ice Dancers are more difficult to group into these two categories, since they are really nothing without artistry (as there are no jump requirements). So, that discipline does not breed or nurture purely “athletic” teams in the same way.

And, there are those skaters that remain primarily “athletic” skaters through the arc of at least their competitive careers (Ito, Meissner, Thomas, Bonaly, Goebel, Stojko, Joubert, Zhang & Zhang, and Brausseur & Eisler), but they are not the focus here.

Cases in Point

The Shizuka Arakawa we saw in Torino was an altogether different artist and skater than the one who won Japanese Nationals back in ’99 and ’00. Who could have guessed that the skater in the first video sample here could reach the artistic heights she did less than a decade later?

Before & After

Angela Nikodinov, in particular, seemed to literally be born again as a completely different skater, once under the tutelage of Elena Tcherkasskaia. She always had one of the best laybacks in the biz, but that was generally accompanied by a detached, going-through-the-motions approach.

Before (poor quality, sorry) & After

However, Sasha Cohen, in her Senior Nationals’ debut appeared with nearly all the extensions and expressivity she displayed nearly a decade later. Yes, there is certainly growth evident, but not in the same drastic way as with the previous skaters.

BeforeAfter

Legendary Gordeeva & Grinkov seemed to leap out of the womb with artistry and line, as in evidence here in both samples.

Before & After

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1 comment so far

  1. […] Artistry: Innate vs. Cultivated « jumping clapping manOn the flip side, there are those that arrive a mere figment of their later greatness. This certainly holds true for skaters, especially since there is a strong duality of artistry versus (or, with) athleticism. … […]


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