Updated: Jun 24, 2021
Two of the RG World Cup competitions are now concluded – Sofia World Cup (26-28th March) and Tashkent World Cup (16-18th April). These prestigious sporting events provided an intriguing start to an exciting Olympic year for rhythmic gymnastics. Many gymnasts and teams were not represented due to the pandemic situation, but nonetheless we observed the performances of many elite gymnasts from all over the world. And while some of them were well-established ‘veterans’, whom we are used to watching, others made their very first steps at the elite level competitions.
It is refreshing and important to start seeing new gymnasts emerge. The fast-approaching Olympic Games in Tokyo 2021 will be a swan song for many of the current top contenders, after which they will likely retire from their active careers. Over the next few months, we will be seeing a new wave of rhythmic gymnasts emerging at the senior level and being given the opportunity to show their skills at big competitions, in preparation for the next Olympic cycle. This is exciting, and it is the natural continuity of the sport.
This is why I chose to dedicate this post to a promising debutante in the women’s category who has captured immense attention recently with her high level of performance at the World Cup competitions. I am, of course, referring to Italian gymnast Sofia Raffaeli. Only 17 years of age, Sofia Raffaeli has already claimed one bronze and four silver medals from World Cup competitions, and what is more – she has impressed everyone in the RG community with her artistry, physical skills, and talent with the apparatus. I will next provide analysis of her four routines for 2021 - with hoop, ball, clubs and ribbon.
Sofia Raffaeli’s hoop routine is set to music composed by Sergei Prokofiev for the ballet ‘Romeo and Juliet’. It is the famous ‘Dance of the Knights’ from the Capulet masquerade ball where Romeo and Juliet first meet. Sofia demonstrates an appreciation of the musical complexity of the piece and performs her hoop routine with a high degree of artistry. With this routine, she is already hinting at the enormous potential she holds as an artist and a rhythmic gymnast. The musical choice is a very recognisable piece that incorporates all the characteristics of Prokofiev’s style as a neoclassicist and avant-garde composer. The pulsating rhythm and dissonant harmonies create an ominous sounding and create a foreboding setting for the entire ballet, pre-empting that the first encounter of Romeo and Juliet is going to unlock a tragic chain of events. This piece of music is a timeless masterpiece and an expression of Prokofiev’s genius. See below Sofia’s silver-medal performance with the hoop in Tashkent. See also a video of ‘Dance of the Knights’ as performed by artists from the Royal Ballet in the roles of dignified members of the Capulet house in ‘Romeo and Juliet’, choreographed by Kenneth Macmillan.
Raffaeli’s ball routine is set to the main villain (Boogieman) song called ‘Oogie Boogie’s Song’ from the cartoon ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’. The music is playful and jazzy, with prominent lyrics typical of a big musical number, and features several changes of pace to which Sofia adjusts effortlessly. As with all the other apparatuses, Sofia demonstrates varied handling techniques with the ball. She performs very high throws and risky catches, including a very impressive catch with a backscale pivot (GIF here).
Sofia Raffaeli’s excellent and very memorable clubs routine has already earned her two World Cup silver medals – one in Sofia, and one in Tashkent. The music is the theme tune from the war movie ‘Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence’ (1983). It was created by Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto who was awarded the 1984 BAFTA Award for Best Film Music for the soundtrack. The lyrical and nostalgic melody of the piano instrumental is an unusual choice for a clubs routine. However, Raffaeli succeeds in delivering a beautifully orchestrated story which is also full of emotion. Not to mention her supreme handling of the clubs which impresses even people unfamiliar with the sport.
Sofia won one bronze and one silver medal in the ribbon final events at Sofia World Cup 2021 and Tashkent World Cup 2021, respectively. Her ribbon routine is set to music from the Addams Family Musical, called ‘Tango De Amor’. This is a wonderful and modern orchestration featuring a tango theme, composed by Andrew Lippa. Traditionally, the tango is an improvised dance and hence the music needs to be predictable – it never goes faster or slower just for the sake of it. Unlike traditional tango music, however, this track is saturated in tempo variation. The music fluctuates from very slow to very fast in the space of a heartbeat, and this constant change in speed is well reflected in Sofia’s routine and artistic expression. I find this impressive, especially for such a young gymnast to be able to do. I particularly enjoyed watching the boomerang throw during ring pivot that Sofia Raffaeli performs with the ribbon (GIF here).
I hope you have enjoyed reading this overview of Sofia Raffaeli’s RG programme for 2021. This gymnast has physical and artistic abilities which will surely be developed further over the next years, and it will be exciting to watch her sports career unfold. The new Code of Points starts after the Tokyo Olympics and is going to reward artistry more than the current one does. Hopefully this will create a competitive environment where gymnasts such as Sofia Raffaeli can demonstrate and explore their artistic potential. Let me know in the comments below if you have a favourite among the ‘New Generation’ of rhythmic gymnasts. Please also consider giving my Facebook page a like (link here) and join our community of RG fans. Also follow me on Instagram (link here) and be the first to know when I post new articles. Press the little heart icon at the end of this article if you liked it. Thank you for reading.
See you next time,
Edited on 24/06/2021 to update multimedia.