Saturday, 25 October 2014

Dear Mr. Grandi- Artistry is not dead

The FIG’s president Bruno Grandi has been throwing his toys out of the cot in protest over the state of artistry in Women’s Artistic Gymnastics, after the most recent World Championships held in Nanning, China. He is lamenting the magical days of the 10.0 scoring system and presumably the classic execution and balletic finesse that echos the Soviet era of gymnastics. I’m sorry to say, Mr. Grandi that it’s now 2014, and many things have changed since the 80’s and 90’s- or whenever it was way back when we had the perfect 10.

Brundi Grandi reckons the magic has gone (credit: International Gymnast Magazine)

Of course artistry is embedded in execution, which encompasses the fluidity of a routine (bars, beam and floor), and overall expertise and control demonstrated by an athlete. Evidently execution should be criteria for the evaluation of ‘artistry’. Similarly, balletic flair as we’re so used to seeing from the classic training of the Soviets obviously can contribute towards producing aesthetic body lines, pointed toes etc. However, classical ballet training merely is associated with artistry, rather than being a necessary component. Artistry should rather be considered as an expression of performance, where the spectators and the gymnast herself live though the performance and experience emotion and feeling of some description.

Grishy is an absolute pleasure to watch (credit: International Gymnast Magazine)

Artistry is difficult to pin down, but you’ll know it when you see it. You sit back, and feel at ease watching an ‘artistic’ gymnast perform, with utter confidence that the athlete has mastered their routine to the best of their capacity. Yes, this means that artistry is subjective, as is the entire sport of gymnastics where athletes are judged on arbitrary criteria, such as loosely defined ‘artistry’. That’s why we have a panel of judges, a democracy in a way, where each individual judge can subjectively score a routine. But the system seems to be failing, according to Bruno Grandi.

As fans, we all have our own favourite routines that we like to put forward as examples for what we think embodies ‘artistry’. Floor is perhaps the easiest apparatus to consider, since gymnasts perform to a unique piece of music, with choreography specifically tailored to the gymnast. In an artistic floor performance, the gymnast is observably engaged in their routine (think of Simone Biles/ Catalina Ponor portraying enjoyment, Catherine Lyons/ Aliya Mustafina / Rebecca Bross as being more ‘focused’), and are giving a performance. It’s great to see gymnasts ‘grow’ into artistry as they become more mature- consider the transition in Sandra Izbasa’s floor from 2008-2012; a completely different gymnast, but producing routines that are as equally engaging.
Princess Catherine's narative choreography has reduced several fans to tears- including her own father (credit: Sports Visuals)

Beam and bars are different altogether. Typically it’s about the long, elegant lines and having that ‘International look’, a term probably coined by Tim Dagett. To me, I consider artistry here to equate to fluidity, and how fundamentally different components of the routine (dance and acro elements for beam) blend together for the overall effect. Part of the appeal on bar and beam are the ‘wow’ skills, which again when executed well are just as impressive as over-extension on leaps or exquisitely pointed toes. Most of the time we freak out when someone comes along with an original and innovative combination- that should surely get artistry points as well.

Ruby should obviously get bonus points for her crazy awesome bar routine

It seems to me as though Mr. Grandi needs to revamp his ideas about what constitutes artistry, before any proposed changes to the code are made. Perhaps the judges need to have a forum and decide how to tackle this problem of adequately ranking gymnasts in terms of artistry- I do have faith that they will have valuable suggestions. Obviously execution is embedded in artistry, but the ideas around it have become so convoluted and desultory over the years that I’m not sure anyone, not even the President of the FIG can come up with an adequate definition. Times have changed, it's as simple as that- doesn't mean that the magic is gone. At least we know artistry and experience artistry when you see a gymnast that’s got it.

Opinion piece by Imogen Browne (@Iflip4gymblog or @ImogenMireille)

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