I've been thinking a lot about why ballet dancing is so unexciting right now.
It has to do with a degradation of focus in form and movement.
Then I saw what was missing when I saw this clip of Carla Fracci dancing the Grand Pas de Deux of Sleeping Beauty with Richard Cragun. Granted there are little niggling problems in the performance that are easy to overlook. Fracci was the perfect Romantic Ballerina. So the soft, romantic style is extremely evident in her port de bras. Even still, I could see she was working assiduously to be keep to classical form. However watch her dancing. There is not one static moment in the whole performance. All the steps are aligned and flow together without losing the shape of the movement. The few prolonged poses were there to fit into the sustained notes of Tchaikovsky's music not as a photo opportunity for the press. The difficult parts were professionally glossed over to flow and fit into the dance as a whole not to pull cheers from the audience. Then there was the sheer showmanship and relaxed joy in Fracci's expression. So often dancers now grimace and bite their lips when they dance.
Now what made Fracci wonderful was not that she was the only one who could dance with such ease. The wonder of it all was that she was the BEST of the BEST! When I see old clips of the glory days of the 70s, I can see this style in all the Principal dancers, the soloists and the Corps. Obviously this theory of movement was taught or inferred to all dancers of this time period. Fracci was talented enough to rise above it and perfect the style.
Now in the next clip with Nureyev, the style is looser but still classical. Unlike Cragun who was the perfect Courtier in style, there is something wild inside Nureyev. I can see it in all his performances. He liked to push difficulty in himself and in his partners. Fracci seems inspired by this element in her partner. Usually it is the male dancers responding to the women but Nureyev liked his partners to respond to him. This Grand Pas is passionate but still the movement flows without muddying the steps. The only caveat I had were that the fish dives were a bit awkward. Nureyev used a bit too much force in sweeping Fracci off her feet.
It is unfortunate but this style is now gone. The remnants are still evident in Russian dancers but it is even fading in their dancing. Almost every contemporary dancer is trying to pull out the stops and be as gymnastic as possible filling their dancing with prolonged, static pauses to showcase strength and be picture perfect. This kills the dance, strangles it until it just becomes another classroom exercise. There is no flow, no forethought about how the steps relate, what they are trying to convey to dance partners or the audience. I'm hoping I will see the former style return and the show pony flourishes banished to the dust bin.