Updated: Nov 2, 2021
The RG individual final at the Olympic Games in Tokyo took place yesterday – 07/08/2021. Many things can be said about this final as it really had a bit of every emotion. It was not an easy competition and it was evident just looking at the gymnasts’ faces as they were stepping on the carpet, that most of them were rather terrified, worried, burdened. I didn’t like that look as it was hinting at enormous pressure and stress, especially for a few gymnasts. The stakes were high, and the battle for the podium was fierce to say the least. Some were elated, some could not handle the disappointment very well. On the same day, the aftermath of the individual final turned sour, but this is not what I want to talk about.
I want to write about something beautiful instead - about the performance of one gymnast in particular, who truly blossomed at these Olympic Games. This is, of course, Milena Baldassarri from Italy. Milena left a deep impression on me back in 2018, when she performed at the World Championships in Sofia. She won silver medal in the ribbon final at that competition, but more importantly, she stood out with unique presence, style and elegance on the carpet. For that reason I was hoping very much she would go to Tokyo 2020 and show her exceptional new routines in their full glory. And she did.
In yesterday’s Olympic final, Milena ranked 6th, and was perhaps one of few gymnasts who did not have that all-stressed, burdened and regimented look. Milena looked as if she was enjoying being there more than anybody else! What really made her stand out, apart from her honest-looking smile, was the emotional delivery of her routines, her openness and artistry. She was able to let go of rigidness or stress, and break free from the cage of robotic execution. Milena Baldassarri stepped on the carpet to create art and to give it her all, and not to fight a war, and for this reason she emulated the spirit of what rhythmic gymnastics ultimately is meant to be – emotional expression through body movement. In the paragraphs that follow, I will go into the details of each of Milena’s four routines and tell you what made them so special.
The music for Milena’s hoop routine is soundtrack music called Mephisto’s Lullaby by Yair Albeg Wein and Or Kribos (Xtortion Audio). To this dark and unnerving tune, she recreated the character of a mysterious villainess or of Mephistopheles himself – the demon from German legend ‘Faust’ after which the music is named. Her leotard featured an image resembling a horned dragon or a demon at the back, which was in line with this character. This hoop routine was a great opening performance for Milena Baldassarri. It appeared effortless but was so full of difficulty while also displaying a beautifully coherent choreography and character.
Milena’s ball routine was easily my favourite ball routine at the Olympic final. It was set to a song called L'immensità by Italian singer Mina Mazzini, or simply Mina. Mina is not only a brilliant singer with distinct and versatile voice, but a true icon of Italian music and culture in the 60s and 70s. Milena Baldassarri performed with emotion to the dramatic voice of Mina Mazzini, and appeared to be moved by the music, telling a deep story to the audience. As someone who doesn’t understand Italian, I felt profoundly moved by the routine and I needed to find out what the lyrics meant. I found the translation in English which you can see in the box below. Aren’t these one of the most beautiful lyrics you have ever heard? It is poetry about loneliness, longing for love, hope and feeling insignificant in this vast universe! Milena told this story like a true poet.
With the clubs Milena Baldassarri showed yet another - this time alternative and very modern - routine. I admire her versatility and ability to work with varied music to recreate different characters. Accompanied by the voice of American pop star Billie Eilish and her single ‘Bury a friend’, Milena once again showed excellent quality gymnastics. Her body work was remarkable, and Milena demonstrated her exceptional flexibility. This routine was complemented by a leotard with modern design, bearing the symbol of the all-seeing eye above a snake on the back.
Milena Baldassari always creates a spectacle with the ribbon. Just watch her silver-medal performance to ‘Carol of the Bells’ at Sofia World Championship 2018 and you will get the idea. Her 2021 ribbon routine surpassed my high expectations, because of the superb musical choice. When I first saw this routine I was stunned to hear Jules Massenet’s beautiful and melancholic piece Élégie (Mélodie Op.10 No.5). . Orchestrated version of this music is used in Kenneth MacMillan’s ballet Manon which is where I recognized it from. Elegy is a poem of sorrow, and this music certainly has sombre and heartache undertones which make you feel a bit sad inside while watching the routine, but it is another colour of an artist’s palette and shows Milena’s vast artistic capabilities. I wonder if there is a story behind this routine, but in any case, the music is absolutely beautiful and Milena demonstrates sensitivity and an open heart during this very mature performance. It is my personal favourite from her program this year. The deep colours of her leotard in purple, embellished with burgundy, and gold details, as well as the navy blue in her ribbon – reminds me of a noble character from a Romantic novel. It truly lends itself to one’s creative imagination.
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See you next time,