Acrobatics and Choreography

By Vladimir Golubev

Sport in the USSR, 6/86   Ten years ago, Olga Karaseva, European floor champion, a brilliant performed of floor exercises, burst out indignantly during a national championship:  "I can't watch the present-day compositions.  It's awful!  And they call them floor exercises!  The music expresses one thing and the acrobatics something totally different -- it's all a kind of mish-mash.  Where is all this senseless complexity leading us?"

That was a difficult period in gymnastics.  Complexity, pent up for years at coaches' laboratories, "exploded" with a bang at the 1976 national championships.  The new gymnasts, the future celebrities -- Maria Filatova, Yelena Mukhina, Yelena Davydova and Natalia Shaposhnikova -- were literally working miracles.  It was then that we first saw various "marvels," such as double saltos with pirouettes and overflights.  Set against this background, even Olga Korbut's combinations, which had stunned the world of gymnastics at the Munich Olympics, looked unimpressive.

But no one knew at the time whether these stupendous stunts would be adopted in gymnastics.  They were with a vengeance!

A case in point is the latest world championships in Montreal.  What excellent compositions were shown by the two all-around world women champions!  Oksana Omelyanchik won the gold for an intricate, playful and minutely precise combination performed to a potpourri of Russian melodies.  The silver went to Yelena Shushunova for a lyrical and artistic Retro composition.  The spectators were staggered by the high skills of the Soviet gymnasts.  The girls were given an ovation as they were leaving the floor.

So, what is to be done about this?  Shall we continue to regard the floor compositions of 15-20 ears ago as unsurpassed masterpieces?  I, for one, am convinced that performances by every  woman gymnast of mark reflected the spirit of her time, a stage in the evolution of the sport.  There is no denying that Larissa Petrik and Olga Karaseva had exquisite floor programs.  But today the same exercises would bring them no more than 8 points!  The referees, following the letter of the rules, would hold it against them for omitting the double salto and other complicated acrobatic movements.

So, what is more important in the floor exercises today -- complexity or artistry?

The following is the opinion of Olga Karaseva, team champion of the Mexico City Olympics:  "It sounds funny today, but I was the first to execute the salto with a pirouette at the end at the Olympics!  Then it was regarded as a movement with a high degree of difficulty.  Today young girls perform it at junior competitions.  But though the floor exercises now include complex elements, a composition will not be complete unless a woman gymnast creates an artistic whole and finds a means for self-expression.  Today, like in the past, the best exercises on the floor are above all harmonious -- acrobatics bolstered up by choreography."

How are modern exercises composed?  This is what choreographer Galina Melyakina says:  "Today there are no accompanyists in gymnastics.  A few years ago the International Federation allowed gymnasts to perform to recordings.  So work on a new composition begins with listening to recordings.  I remember I spent a few months trying to find a music track for Olga Mostepanova.  I talked a lot to her, since I wanted to find out about her tastes, aspirations and wishes.  I pictured Olga as a subtle and highly spiritual girl.  All of a sudden I realized that what she needed was classical music.  She liked Tchaikovsky's Italian Capriccio in modern arrangement.  Then followed the pangs of creativity.  After all, today a woman gymnast has to execute at least three long acrobatic connections which, as it were, drop out of the composition concept and take up time.  All these movements, which reveal the flavor of music and gymnastics, we 'string' on to acrobatics.  In modern-day gymnastics complexity is perhaps the dominant feature, yet the aim of a composition is always the same -- to achieve a fusion of sport and the art."

Even today, when gymnastics is not what it was twenty or even ten years ago, the floor exercises attract us by the genuine charm of creativity attending the search for a synthesis of acrobatics and ballet.

This page was created on April 20, 2002.
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