End of an Era. Katsiaryna Halkina Retires from the Competitive Sport (Tribute)
A number of individual rhythmic gymnasts have recently announced their retirement from competitive RG, and most recently – Katsiaryna Halkina from Belarus. I have been reminiscing about Halkina’s career in RG and I would like to share with you my thoughts about this gymnast and her unique style, beloved by so many.
Olympic Games in Rio 2016
Katsiaryna Halkina performed at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 as the second-best Belarussian rhythmic gymnast. At the time, all eyes were on her compatriot Melitina Staniouta, who was the favourite from Belarus to win a medal. Halkina perhaps received less attention, as the younger and less experienced of the two, but managed to rank 6th in the individual all-around final. After the Olympic Games in Rio, however, Staniouta resigned from the competitive sport, and Halkina immediately assumed the spot as the country’s ‘number 1’ gymnast. The sport of rhythmic gymnastics, however, changed dramatically at that point, with the introduction of a ‘new’ code of points (2017-20). This code saw the difficulty score becoming open, meaning you can add endless number of difficult elements to a routine. The numerical reward for artistry became insignificant. We have witnessed how this major change in the code of points has resulted in routines becoming ever more packed with difficulty at the expense of choreography, musicality, and artistry.
Katsiaryna Halkina is one of the gymnasts who embodies artistry on the carpet. Her distinct style and presence, while adored by so many, was difficult to preserve while also keeping up with the ever-increasing difficulty score. On top of that, Halkina suffered injuries during the past Olympic cycle, and eventually was surpassed by young stars Harnasko and Salos (also from Belarus). It is unfortunate that we will not be seeing Halkina at the summer Olympics in Tokyo, but we are comforted by the fact that she was at least able to compete at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro back in 2016. I will next share with you some of my favourite routines of Katsiaryna Halkina's.
Based on Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’ , the music for this routine is a version of the famous piece re-invented by Gustavo Montesano and Carlos Gomez, called ‘Moonlight Rumba’ . It suits Katsiaryna Halkina very much, and has a romantic and emotional tone which Katya translates into body and apparatus motion effortlessly. The elegant black leotard that she wore at the World Championships in Sofia 2018 complemented this unforgettable story which she told on the carpet – that of love, intimacy and vulnerability.
Halkina’s ball routine from 2017 is a sad and melancholic piece, set to classical music by Russian composer Mikhail Glinka, and his Nocturne in F minor (‘La Séparation’- Eng. ‘The Separation’). I think this routine best summarises Katya’s style. She has often chosen slow, emotional, and lyrical music for her routines, which makes me wonder if she is perhaps a sensitive soul that is moved by music with gentle and subtle quality. In this ball routine in particular, I love the intention behind every move and how her movements flow from one another in a purposeful way that interprets the musical notes, i.e. the music is not just for background, it is the conductor for artistic expression.
I admire gymnasts who are able to create a convincing lyrical routine with the clubs. It is very intuitive to choose something fast-paced for the clubs due to the fast nature of the apparatus handling. However, Katsiaryna Halkina delivered such a soulful routine with the clubs back in 2017, using music composed by the great John Williams for the movie ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’. The track is called ‘Becoming a Geisha’, and is part of the soundtrack that won a Grammy, BAFTA and Golden Globe awards. As always, Halkina proves to have a classy taste in music.
Finally, this is the routine that made me fall in love with Katsyarina Halkina’s style of rhythmic gymnastics. I watched this routine many times back in 2017, and I was moved by it every single time. I think it is Katya’s best work. Not surprisingly, the accompaniment is classical music - ‘Song for the Little Sparrow’, composed by Abel Korzeniowski. The dramatic build-up of this music track makes it perfectly suited for Halkina’s artistic abilities. She understands every musical accent, the rhythm and melody, the build-up of intensity leading to the crescendo – and she knows how to interpret it through movement and deliver with emotion that captivates the audience. Her creativity shines in the way she works with the ribbon, too, which is like a paintbrush in the hand of an artist. Some of my favourite moments of apparatus work in this routine include ‘the doorway’ (GIF here), the boomerang (GIF here) , and the grand finale (GIF here). The apparatus elements are put together in a sequence that carries meaning and engages in a conversation with the music. This is done in such a wonderful way, that it can be classed as a piece of RG genius!
While I look back with nostalgia at this style of gymnastics, I am optimistic about the future and I think good things are coming for RG. We need to make room for innovation, while preserving the core of rhythmic gymnastics, in order to secure its future as an Olympic sport.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this article. Let me know in the comments below which rhythmic gymnast you miss the most after they have retired. If you have liked this post, let me know by pressing the little heart icon at the end. Also consider sharing it with other RG fans. Thank you for reading.
See you next time,