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The Too-Too Tight Tutu

September 21, 2003

OK, pick up your wife, hold her above your head with one arm and prance lightly about the room like a proud stallion, only smiling. Then gently set her down and wave softly as she glides away. Now say she felt like a feather. In Russia they apparently have weak male dancers because the renowned Bolshoi Theater has fired a prima ballerina for needing, shall we say, a plus-size tutu. She reportedly weighs -- prepare to gasp -- 110 pounds. That's 1,760 ounces, 6% of a ton.

The weight and self-centered style of Anastasia Volochkova is allegedly beyond the graceful boosting of the Moscow company's male dancers. The director says they simply can't heft a porky pirouetter and, in effect, any pas de deux with her requires a pas de trois to get her up. This ballerina, who is barely 5-foot-6 in her wooden-toed silk slippers, is a virtual Amazon to Bolshoi, although former Kirov Ballet partners never complained of hernias. So she's thrown out, not literally, of course, because who could lift her?

Let's be honest here. Larger people come from better nutrition -- and overindulgence. Some of us dream of being 110 pounds again or of losing that much, even without aspiring to be swans. One suspects there's more to this soap ballet than meets the eye. The dancer sought a one-year contract, rejecting the Bolshoi's four-month offer. She's the right size for four months but too fat for 12?

Might this bickering over ballet blubber really indicate further transition turbulence from the baggy, collective obscurity of the fashion-free Communist era when party bureaucrats in identical overcoats and fur hats were hailed as heroes by audiences on applause autopilot? Might a somewhat more modern and open Russia be encountering the sprouting of interesting individuals with fashion flair and a taste for celebrity?

Tradition says there's no I in ballet; it's a team effort. The individual dancer who stands out, even on skilled, calloused toes, is the one who gets tripped. Ms. Volochkova is no shy winter flower; she's more diva than prima. She enjoys popularity, dangly jewelry, frozen yogurt, TV time and necklines that dip down stage front. In some places, say, California, this gets you a big contract anchoring morning news. Volochkova's large fan base was, in fact, one reason Bolshoi recruited her.

Solutions? Stronger males? Hire Romanian gymnasts for tossing? The WNBA season is over and football teams are largely set now, so those career paths seem closed to Volochkova. She could try opera, where it's not over until the 210-pound lady sings. Or the vivacious Russian blond could be an en pointe spokeswoman for Jenny Craig. Whatever, it's clear that by taking on the world's women on the big weight issue, the Bolshoi (that's Russian for big) has stepped in the borscht bowl bolshoi-time.

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