Problem Plushenko - by Igor Poroshin, Tribuna.Sports.ru
(English Translation of the original Russian Commentary @ http://www.sports.ru/tribuna/blogs/bladerunner/68632.html)
(It takes the author time to get to the argument that Plushenko’s problem is his artistic vision "Estrada", so read on till you get to it. This analysis you will not get in the Western press as they don’t know about Estrada (Soviet/Russian "pop" music.)
When the marks for Plushenko were announced, I got scared. I immediately began to imagine what would happen in my homeland. I had worked at the Salt Lake City Games and remember the horrible feelings of a hot wave of collective interference coming upon you. In any case, I remember that a high-ranking official seriously recommended that the entire Russian team walk out on the Olympics in connection with the unprecedented campaign to take out God-annointed Russian athletes with the poison American imperialism. The recommendation even with to the “Highest Authority” (trans. Really here he uses the term last hoop of bureaucratic hurdles). The HA turned out to be normal in the head, took the matches out of the hands of the dopes (trans. Who were trying to start a fire) and when they got back home pressed down on the ones who needed it.
True, all of the idiots kept their expensive briefcases (trans. jobs.)
These past few days I have carefully studied the reaction to the Olympic results of the men’s event and came to a very comforting conclusion: in the past 8 years the emotional health of my compatriots has notably improved. I note two wonderful examples of healthy thinking, the articles of Vasili Utkin and Mikhail Semin, commentators for Eurosports who are covering the Olympic Games.
Utkin looks at the situation with life-based common sense. Semin reviews it in the terms and categories of figure skating. The conclusion is the same – you can discuss and even condemn the current rules, but the judges followed these rules in their analysis of the skating. The rules were not violated.
On the whole, the discussion around the rule is a hot one, but in essence, a theoretical one of the rules themselves and not one of complaint against the judges’ decision.
Some people were calling Lycasek’s skating “feminine. Actually Lycasek’s skating is prototypically masculine, even guy-like. I would say that Lycasek is showing the most masculine skating in skating today. Plushenko with his wiggling hips is not the epitome of masculinity. But playing with the public was never part of the definition of masculinity. And since when did the number of [jump] rotations become a measure of masculinity? Then it’s going to be hard for us to watch the women’s event: shall we think that the more rotations they do, they less feminine they are? Then poor Mao Asada, who plans to do the triple axel, needs to be hand-cuffed and taken out to gender-control police. But let’s leave the indecent discussions and return to the discussion of the Plushenko-Lycasek collision.
Professor Mishin says that the quad is the “decoration” of figure skating and moves its development forward. Mishin doesn’t say that just because he coaches Plushenko, who still does these jumps better than anyone else in the world, but also because Mishin’s specialization is jumps. That it is what he teaches best. And perhaps he is better at teaching jumps than anyone else. It’s clear that Mishin can only be partially right, because progress in skating cannot be exclusively determined by the number of jump rotations.
“You of course are a super skater, Evan Lycasek, but that is not the material for a gold medal” [translated from Russian] – is the start of 3-time world champ Elvis Stojko’s blog. A Canadian, by the way. So what is “that” by the way? We always heard that Canadians and Americans are just the same [in the uneducated complaints]. So they are not all the same?
Actually, it’s completely clear why Lycasek upset Stojko. Each person experiences something personal in this Olympic drama. Stojko was one of the first people in figure skating who mastered the quad. Stojko was a grand jumper. He was the first to do the 4-2 and then the 4-3. Jumps – and only jumps, lifted him to the top. Stojko is experiencing the defeat of a brother who uses the same weapons as he. He does not understand or enjoy watching the direction figure skating has taken in the last few years. It is how Stojko thinks. But it is only the opinion of Stojko.
Lycasek’s coach Frank Carroll, also is unobjective, but why not listen to him as we do to Mishin? Caroll is no less than Mishin a Figure of figure skating: “Many of the guys competing today are super-talented, but not all of them can manage to keep the same high level for the entire program. Evan is a master of that.”
This is also understandable. The discussion is ongoing at the highest levels and it is possible that one of the results will be upgrading the value of the quad on 1.5 to 2 points – the amount that Plushenko was short for victory. And that is understandable.
I don’t consider it possible to say something more about the problems that the most serious people with legitimate authority are discussing. Moreover, to me the technical matter of Plushenko’s defeat are secondary. I am far more absorbed by its symbolic meaning. I consider Plushenko’s second place in the context of what I have been calling for the last 8 years “Plushenko’s Problem”.
Let us remember again what makes figure skating unique, incomparable with any other Olympic sport. It is a sport that is always and directly connected with two arts – music and choreography.
Music and choreography actually are the two main instruments of figure skating. Choreography can be good, formal (trans. Predictable/basic), bad – as is often the case In figure skating, and non-existent, especially in singles. But the absence of choreography is also choreography. There is always choreography. And music is always playing. Many coaches have a very formalistic relationship to the choice of music. They think it is the 10th most important thing. The music should be comfortable for the elements, they conclude pragmatically, after all the judges are assessing elements, not music.
This is a mistake, they are also judging the music. The choice of music and the choreographical language is always an announcement. Music and choreography are old arts. Music is as ancient as the world, therefore, each musical sound is a part of some tradition. Music – whether it is the most brilliant or worthless – is always confirming a values system. Even if nobody wanted to announce or confirm anything with the piece of music.
This is what I call PLUSHENKO’S PROBLEM – the values that are demonstrated in his programs. I have no doubt that Evgeny would be a three-time Olympic champion if these values were different.
In Salt Lake City, he lost because the [right] values suddenly disappeared. Mishin had just invented for young Plushenko a special genre – the banquet of a wunderkind. The number was composed of different musical bits. And its theme was Plushenko himself, a young god of figure skating. Plushenko showed all his abilities like tricks, unconnected with each other. The choreography was similar to a cabaret number, which in fact is what it literally was. The programs, as now, were done by David Avdish – a former staff employee of the restaurant “Troika” in Petersburg, where women demonstrated long legs and bare breasts to drunk Finns. Avdish also did choreography for [Filip] Kirkorov and Masha Rasputina.
[Trans. Filip Kirkorov is a Bulgarian, who has become a star performer/producer in Russian Estrada, and is extraordinarily flamboyant, over-the-top in costume, make-up, dance (for a singer), but uses fairly ordinary music with a “hook”. Rasputina is an Estrada singer, whom I would describe as more limited in vocal and dance talent, and perhaps even more extravagant in her bad taste (appearance, music, dance) than nearly anyone in Estrada. Kirkorov is liked/disliked, but recognized as a talent by nearly anyone I’ve talked to. I’ve never heard anyone I know – of any social group, say anything positive about Rasputina, she elicits shaking heads, judgment, and so on. With this two sentences, Poroshin has clearly informed the Russian-language audience that Avdish is a choreographer, who specializes in low-class vulgarity.]
The tricks of little Plushenko were so amazing, so self-sufficient, that it was possible to confidently go to Salt Lake City for gold with just them. But suddenly there was the significant comeback of Yagudin. The apparently vanquished enemy came back and started landing quads. Two months before the Olympics, Plushenko lost the Grand Prix Final to Yagudin. Mishin panicked and destroyed the free skate. In its place came a free program pieces of “Carmen” sewed together like 2 pieces of rags on one’s knees. It looked like total slop against the background of Yagudin, who demonstrated the values of a Hollywood blockbuster, not a story about a god, of course, but there are some deep values in it that everyone can understand. It is not true that he wound up with the silver because he fell in the short program. He had the tricks in the free program, but lost that one too. On the second mark.
After the Olympics, I decided to talk with Mishin. We had a very good relationship. I delicately hinted that the musical and choreographic ideas that Plushenko brought to life on the ice should be equal to his genius. There was no need to invent something. Because there is an understanding that Petersburg has a school of music and a school of choreography. The whole world understands this. And they should be followed. Aleksei Nikolaevich nodded his head. I introduced Mishin to a young choreographer from the Marininski (nee Kirovski) ballet. He went with Mishin and Plushenko to a training camp in Spain. They started to try Stravinsky’s “Firebird” (Lycasek’s short program music, by the way), but the material turned out to be stubborn and capricious for some reason. It did not win over Mishin and Plushenko, it did not find a way to conform to the jumps and elements. As a result in the new season Plushenko came out with Korneliuk’s “Banditski
Peterburg”. For the city’s anniversary. “I really like this music,” Zhenya said at the press conferences. The rest you know.
After this Plushenko met the accessible and commercial pop violinist, Hungarian Edvin Marton, and began to order music from him for his programs. Plushenko began to move in the direction of Russian show-business, linking with it and finally marrying it – literally. [Trans. Reference to his marriage to the Russian celebrity/producer Yana Rukovodskaya.]
When instead of the Marinski theater and “Firebird”, I discovered Korneliuk’s “Banditski Petersburg”, it was like a tragedy for me. I still do not think my feelings were lying to me or exaggerating. I still am upset when I reminisce about it. In the case of any other skater, I would not have such feelings. I do not know with what to compare this failure to understand. You can only imaging the fantasy of Maya Plisetskaya on the stage dancing in Avdish’s cabaret or as one of the dancers in Kirkorov’s ensemble. We are talking about cosmic misalliance, an extraordinary absurdity: a world-famous genius preaching the values of the pitiable, unwashed, mute, unbelievable provincial Russian pop culture.
It is now that Plushenko has been reduced to the Master of the Quad for us. But the truth is that in his fluidity of body movement and musicality Plushenko was not less naturally gifted than Lambiel. “How he takes my breath away! It’s amazing,” says that Marininski choreographer [about Lambeil]. In Russian skating, there has not been anyone more talented than Plushenko. But there is an opinion also that there has never been a skater in the world of such unbelievable and varied talent.
Plushenko is the first and last case when the values of Russian pop music – its language, rather its lack of language… was shown to the whole world maybe in contraband form, like hidden under a skirt. A genius young boy, who is a musician, can love potato chips. But the adults around him must remind him that he cannot sit at the piano with potato chips.
Plushenko’s Problem is that when Zhenya said “I like the music ‘Banditski Peterburg’, there was no adult nearby to politely tell him to put that music away as far as possible while skating. Plushenko is for me one of the moments when I can get nostalgic about the Soviet era. During the Soviet era, especially toward the end, there was of course very little taste, but in the construction of the society there were certain rules that kept people from becoming uncivilized. Maybe it was cross-eyed and crooked, but there was an understanding about the balance between high art and low art, about it being wrong to feed people only that which they feel like having, otherwise people will destroy their health and their taste. Even if I am imagining everything about the Soviet Union, I am sure that in any case, some bureaucrat, would have scolded professor Mishin for the low quality of the idea of the programs’ content. “Nikolaevich, why are you skating to crap? Let’s see classic music there…our traditions, foreigners are watching after all.”
Plushenko got medals for Russia, but in his programs he dispassionately told exactly and honestly about what happened in Russia during the past 2 decades – about the total defeat of culture on all fronts. About the collapse of a system of coordinates. About the disappearance of civility. About barbarianism. Plushenko is the nightingale of that barbarianism. I wonder if the old English noble person who recalled over lunch about his long-ago trip to Leningrad had been watching Plushenko when he practically made me fall out of my chair as he asked: “Is it true that spiritual values no longer have any meaning for Russian people?”
Plushenko came back. It’s unbelievable, but he came back very strong. But not invincible, like when he could beat everyone even though he was carrying on his back the burden of garage band quality of Russian show business. Plushenko versus Lycasek was an uneven fight. But Edvin Marton (Concerto Aranjuez destroyed by his violin and a computer; of course, of course –a symphonic orchestra is so boring!) against Rimski-Korsakov and Stravinski – is a fight far more mismatched. “Scheradze” (sp) won.
Thank you, Frank and Evan, for that reminder. We are very ashamed. Thank you to the judges for reminding us that figure skating is a debate about taste. Good taste won. Good Russian taste, to be specific.