Vulgar Art: A Gymnastics Routine to the Music of the Movie "Schindler's List"

Neviana Vladinova from Bulgaria placed 7th at the Olympics in Rio. She has also consistently been placing among the top 10 gymnasts in the world. Lately, prominent American journalists, who normally do not watch rhythmic gymnastics, much less write or talk about it. These include none other than Stephen Colbert himself, but also an article in Slate:

The article also references a much more famous performance, one by Olympic champion in ice skating Yulia Lipnitskaya, who works with world famous Jewish choreographers:

Before I provide the link to Neviana's routine, I would like to confess that I absolutely love both gymnastics and ice-skating, but that Neviana's performance at the Olympics has moved me more deeply than usual, because, unlike so many others, her routines go beyond showing difficult athletic moves: they make a statement. Now, we can read this statement in more ways than one and, clearly, the author of this article has chosen to read it as vulgar.

  1. lacking sophistication or good taste; unrefined.
    "the vulgar trappings of wealth"

Sure, Neviana placed 7th out of 10 gymnasts, as the author points out, but she is one of few gymnasts in the world to consistently receive scores over 17.5, and over 18 for her routines. The maximum score is 20. While there are at least 6 other people in the world who perform better than Neviana, I think pinning the label "vulgar" on her routine may have just been an attempt to call it "different." This is hardly an unsophisticated piece. In fact, it is a very complex choreography, imperfect as it may be.

We may choose to write in really sophisticated terms, and, of course, subjectively, about the meaning of art. But to me art is a way to express ideas and thoughts through words, musical phrases, images, or movement. Art interprets other ideas as well, it seeks to evoke, and to bring change. And, if 2 minutes of dance to a popular music have managed to disrupt someone's daily routine, that is hardly vulgar. It is extraordinary.

I have been watching gymnastics since 1991. I have watched somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 routines in the span of these 25 years.  I would not go as far as to call any of them "bad taste" but some were more interesting than others, and quite a few of them were beautifully choreographed. Regardless, very few of them made the papers, which is unfortunate. Not even a pretty spectacular routine to "Fiddler on the Roof" by the three-time world champion Maria Petrova!

So, if by "vulgar," we somehow mean that this routine is easier to access on a popular, mass media level, I suppose I would accept that term.

But the truth is that choreography is just like writing, and we ultimately write about the human condition and experience, and, most definitely, about love. This routine writes about love through movements. So does Yulia Lipnitskaya's performance. They would not have been any less about love if the choreographer had chosen a musical piece by Mozart, or by Eminem.