— Yuuri, starting today, I’m your coach. I’ll make you win the Grand Prix Final!Viktor Nikiforov — to Yuuri Katsuki (Yuri on Ice)
I. Amor sacro e Amor profano
At just a little distance from the busy and hustling Roman centre and all its tourist packed attractions, hidden in the pleasant shadows of the Villa Borghese park, lies Galleria Borghese — a quieter art museum that brims with some of the most spectacular masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance. Among the treasures of Cardinal Scipione Borghese’s private collection — the historical nucleus of the present-day exhibition — one finds Titian’s massive Amor sacro e amor profano (Sacred and Profane Love, 1514 or 1515): one of the most controversial and enigmatic masterpieces of the Venetian Renaissance.
This painting celebrates the 1514 marriage between a high-ranking Venetian officer Nicolò Aurelio and his much younger Paduan bride Laura Bagarotto, both identified by art historians through their respective coats of arms in the background. The plot that the painting tries to narrate, as well as the two female protagonists that immediately attract our attention — one fully clothed, another nude (or the same protagonist in two forms) — are not so easily identifiable, however: from the 1693 inventory of Galleria Borghese’s possessions, when the first version of the current title first emerged (L’Amore divino et Amore profano) all the way up to the present day, there have been numerous attempts at linking the plot and the two main figures to various literary and philosophical works of the period, and at providing moral, philosophical, allegorical or matrimonial readings of Titian’s enigmatic masterpiece. This debate is still far from over.
Fast-forwarding a few centuries to the present day — specifically, to December 2022 — and moving north from Rome to Turin, I found myself thinking about Titian’s painting in the middle of an important figure skating event: the Grand Prix Final. It was Shoma Uno’s turn to skate, and it was his free program choreographed by Kenji Miyamoto to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Air (from the Orchestral Suite no. 3) and Johann Adolph Hasse’s Mea tormenta, properate! (from the oratorio Sanctus Petrus et Sancta Maria Magdalena) that inspired the analogy — as well as my search for answers.
While the analogy may well seem completely ungrounded and random, there are at least three motives — three apologiae — that I can offer here in defence of my thought process. First, what struck me was their shared duality: as with Titian’s two forms of love, sacred and profane, that divide the painting into two distinctly different parts, Shoma’s program also consists of two opposing halves (with Bach’s Air and Hasse’s Mea tormenta) that must have been designed to represent two different states, or forms, of…. well, something. In other words, there is a structural parallel here, albeit not particularly exceptional in itself (two-part structures are too common to be helpful).
Second, there is a curious Venetian link here. Hasse’s oratorio Sanctus Petrus et Sancta Maria Magdalena was originally conceived for (probably in the 1730s), and definitely performed in (much later, in 1758), one of the four Great Venetian Ospedali — namely, L’Ospedale degli Incurabili (the hospital for the incurable).
These ‘hospitals’ (quickly turned into orphanages) were brimming with musical life throughout their history, particularly in the 17th and 18th centuries. L’Ospedale della Pietà, for instance — another ospedale grande — became famous in the music history because of its long-standing association with Antonio Vivaldi (to whose music, too, Shoma Uno skated in the past). And Titian was, of course, a Venetian painter par excellence — perhaps, the Venetian painter of the Italian Renaissance. Again, the link is not particularly exceptional or strong, but it was enough to spark my imagination and to support this (dubious, perhaps) analogy.
Finally, there is one last — and even more convoluted — reason why Titian’s Amor sacro e Amor profano became linked in my mind to Shoma’s program. It has to do with the actual ‘content’ of Titian’s painting, or rather with one particular interpretative thread in the complex web of interpretations that have been advanced in Titian’s studies since the end of the 17th century: the two forms of love, sacro (sacred, divine) and profano (profane, ‘down-to-earth’, erotic). It reminded me of philosophical disputes on ‘forms of love’, specifically on Eros and Agape — forms of erotic and sacrificial love — disputes that had originated in the Antiquity, but were still very much felt throughout the Renaissance period.
This, in turn, reminded me of a well-known anime series called Yuri on ice that bears a lot of chilling resemblances to some bits of Shoma Uno’s career. At the beginning of that series, a figure skating duel of a sort is being arranged between Yuuri Katsuki (the main protagonist — a Japanese figure skater struggling with his motivation in the later stages of his career) and Yuri Plisetsky (an up-and-coming Russian star). Whoever skates better in the duel, wins — and gets to be trained by a figure skating legend, Viktor Nikiforov. They skate to two completely different arrangements of the same music, in which their goal is to show as best they could the two opposing forms of love: Eros and Agape. These programs are, in fact, accordingly called On Love: Eros and On Love: Agape. And they both — in fact, all programs that are featured in this series, not just these two — were choreographed by none other than Kenji Miyamoto, the creator of Shoma Uno’s Air/Mea tormenta.
And so, because of all this, the analogy between Shoma’s program and Titian’s painting, in this last case mediated by a Yuri on ice reference, began to take a more concrete shape in my mind.
Now, I want to be very clear here: I do not think there is necessarily any kind of real relationship between the two. That is, I do not think that Kenji Miyamoto was inspired specifically by this painting when he was designing and creating his program for Shoma. Also, I do not necessarily believe that Shoma’s program is specifically about Eros and Agape, or about any forms of love, or even about Love more generally. After all, he is not skating to two different arrangements of the same music (which is the case in Yuri on ice), and there are no obvious choreographic parallels between Shoma’s Air/Mea tormenta and the two other programs I have just mentioned. These are all just free associations and analogies — and likely nothing but figments of my imagination.
Enough disclaimers and excuses though — it is time to delve deeper into the program itself!
II. Eros and Agape
The contrast between the two parts of Air/Mea tormenta manifests itself in many ways. The musical switch (from Bach to Hasse) in the middle of the program is clearly reflected in the choreography: in how the skater moves and what shapes he creates with his body. There are at least two meaningful arcs that bridge the two parts together and show some of their similarities and differences: one is between the opening and final poses of the entire program, another is between the two endings: the ChSq at the end of the 1st part and the StSq at the end of the 2nd. Let us start from the former.
The first structural arc becomes obvious when the opening and final positions are put side by side: in both, the skater is kneeling on the ice, with his gaze clearly directed downwards — to the ice. There is also a curious symmetry in the position of Shoma’s legs: the opening position is supported by the left knee and the right blade, the final — by the right knee and the left blade. The same idea of reversal, although not literally, can be seen in the shapes created by Shoma’s arms — at the beginning, the skater’s arms are very ‘balletic’ and round, and his movements are smooth and fluid,
whereas the final position is all about sharp angles and quick, but very well defined, movements.
In fact, this contrast manifests itself throughout both parts of the program, not just their opening and final positions.
But what do the starting and the final positions ‘mean’? Are there any iconographic parallels (for instance, in the painting or sculpture) that can potentially help us to decode those meanings, or at least draw any specific analogies? Perhaps there are, even if unintentional. The positioning of the skater, particularly at the beginning, as well as the direction of his gaze, has always reminded me of… Narcissus. More specifically, of Narcissus kneeling in front of the spring/pond and falling in love with his own reflection.
As with Titian’s painting, this analogy, too, is not perfect, but some similarities are quite striking: Narcissus is often represented with a somewhat similar asymmetrical position of his legs, where one leg would kneel on the ground and support the body, whereas the other would be just dragged behind, or extended, or ‘tucked in’ under the body in one way or another. And, of course, Narcissus’s gaze always turns to his reflection in the water — that is, downwards.
While at least the general contour of the opening position can be compared to Narcissus’ basic iconography, the final position is still a completely different animal, despite all the structural similarities between the two. The leg reversal that I mentioned earlier is quite important here, but even more important is the cross-like shape created by the arms — something that can be found in Christian-related iconography. This comes as no surprise, given that the entire 2nd part of Shoma’s program is based on the Apostle Peter’s aria Mea tormenta, properate! («My sufferings, hurry up!»), where at one point Peter openly and unambiguously asks for the Cross (=he wants to be crucified): crucem quaero, crucem date, volo mori («I ask for the Cross, give me the Cross, I want to die!»).
In many ways then, the final position ‘defies’, or negates, the sensual narcissistic opening: by the structural reversal (in the positioning of the legs), as well as the contrasts in shapes and styles of movement. Curiously, the closest parallel that I can offer with regards to the cross-like arm shape in the final position is a depiction of someone who represents the very act of defiance and negation, even if in its evil form: Alexander Cabanel’s Fallen Angel (1847).
The second arc — that between the ChSq at the end of the 1st part and the StSq at the end of the 2nd — shows how the same contrasts and reversals work on a much larger scale. The ChSq consists of a series of expressive, quasi-sculptural, poses: all very open and sensual, and all very smooth and seamless as far as the quality of movement is concerned. The StSq, on the contrary, is extremely dynamic and sharp — the movement never ‘freezes’ in quasi-sculptural shapes and forms (as in ChSq), it never stops. And as in the opening and final poses that I have just compared above, the expressive posing of the ChSq is very sensual and ‘narcissistic’,
whereas the more openly passionate movements of the StSq often seem to create shapes and gestures that defy or restrain, sometimes literally, the sensuality explored prior.
Where is Eros then, and where is Agape? One last common paradox that may link Shoma’s program to Titian’s Amor sacro e Amor profano is precisely this ambiguity: what at first glance seems ‘sacred’ and ‘divine’ in Titian (the clothed woman on the left) ends up being the sensual and erotic side of Amor profano, and vice versa — the naked woman, which we may naively link to Amor profano, is actually the representation of the divine love, Amor sacro. The painting thus defies our initial expectations.
So does Shoma’s program. There, too, it may initially seem that the first part, performed to Bach’s serene Air, must represent Agape, the platonic sacrificial Love, whereas the more passionate second part to Hasse’s Mea tormenta is the Eros. And yet both the iconography of the two parts and the text of the second tell us otherwise: the slow, languid movements of the 1st, as well as a few Narcissus-like poses at its beginning and end, are full of sensuality and eroticism, whereas the second part, even though undoubtedly more dynamic and passionate, can be viewed as representative of the kind of sacrificial love that made Apostle Peter beg for his Cross.
III. Surrounded by Love (Conclusion)
Is this program about the erotic and sacrificial kinds of love akin to Titian’s Amor sacro e Amor profano? No, not necessarily — this is just one possible reading of this program’s structure and choreographic ‘content’. It can be about Love, or about budding/sprouting of plants and flowers, as explained by the choreographer himself in one of the interviews — although, taking Narcissus’ transformation into account, this analogy is not completely devoid of erotic undertones and narcissistic imagery either — or it can be about something else altogether. What we have here is an (objectively present) 2-part structure filled with geometric shapes and lines created by the skater’s body — a carcass of a sort, to which we add ‘meat’ and onto which we project our meanings, as well as feelings and emotions. My reading is, of course, just one of many, and likely not the most accurate one.
I want to end this short hermeneutic foray into Shoma’s program by saying that, whether Eros and Agape are present in this particular program or not, and whether Titian’s painting specifically was relevant for Kenji Miyamoto’s creative process or not, this program definitely radiates Love in many, many obvious ways. In fact, Shoma’s later career more generally, without any doubt, does precisely that. No one expressed it better than Stéphane Lambiel, Shoma’s coach.
I think he has a lot of people around that love him – and that gives him this aura. Because of all the love that he gets from his environment – he’s a very lovable person – I think it gives him harmony to move like that, full of love and passion.Source
And this is perhaps yet another reason why, in the midst of the Grand prix final, while sitting on a hard concrete bench in the Palavela rink, I found myself thinking about Titian’s Amor sacro e Amor profano — why all this time that Shoma was skating his free program, I kept thinking about Love.
8 thoughts on “On Love”
Спасибо огромное за потрясающую работу, достойную удивительной программы Шомы.
До этого сезона у меня не было любимой Шоминой ПП, короткие всегда убеждали меня больше. Но после первых же отрывков “Арии” с летних шоу я поняла, что с этой произвольной все будет совершенно по-другому.
По правде сказать, я впервые посмотрела “Арию” целиком аж во время ФГП… Первую половину сезона я не могла смотреть почти никого, не в силах смириться с тем, что после ухода заечки жизнь в ФК не закончилась и вокруг столько прекрасного. Шомину ПП я не хотела смотреть особенно, так как чувствовала, что он непременно разобьет мне сердце красотой своего катания (так и вышло). :_)
Благодаря тому, что на ФГП пришелся лучший прокат “Арии”, первое впечатление получилось полным и неотразимым. На мой вкус, это идеальная программа: тонкая, изысканная, удивительно музыкальная.
Это настоящее произведение искусства, в которое можно погружаться, как в гениальную картину, которое можно читать, как поэму, анализировать, интерпретировать, вписывать в обширный культурный контекст, как это делаете вы в своей статье. Удивительно, на скольких уровнях в вас отозвалась эта программа, сколько пробудила ассоциаций, и в какое стройное, гармоничное полотно вы все это сплели в своей статье. Потрясающая работа.
Пожалуй, самым неожиданным моментом для меня стали “нарциссические” мотивы в первой части программы, потому что я видела в ней чистую “агапэ”, без подвоха, а ведь действительно – в ней столько томного и чувственного… Чувствую, что меня одурачили, хотя что уж там, сама виновата. :))
Спасибо вам еще раз, что продолжаете говорить о своей о своей любви к ФК и катанию Шомы в частности. Спасибо, что проливаете свет на вещи, которые умеете видеть и чувствовать, как никто другой.
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Спасибо огромное за комментарий!
Мне тоже раньше короткие программы Шомы больше нравились — даже в паре Леди в лаванде / Локо — но в этом сезоне ПП шедевральная.
Что касается Агапэ/Эроса — совершенно естественно видеть в первой части программы первое, а во второй — второе (особенно если ориентироваться на стилистику двух программ из YOI). 🙂 Может, все мои нарциссические сравнения и выдумка… С другой стороны, наверное они показывают, что в возвышенной любви тоже может быть много чувственности, а в чувственности — много возвышенного. 🙂 И что между этими категориями (да и вообще — любыми категориями) нет такой уж прямо четкой границы. В любом случае — рад, что оценили чувственность позировок в хорео-секвенции. 🙂 Они немного напоминают некоторые позы из прошлогоднего Гобоя. Собственно, “Нарцисса” Бенвенуто Челлини я, кажется, в посте про Гобой уже показывал.
i’ll try to leave a proper comment bc this post absolutely unbearably deserves and is hereby joining my “rereading dwilson interview at 2am” sacred alley of wonderful texts x)))
(wonderful, wonderful, wonderful)
really is has been so much about love these days, right? I should go chronologically (but if we go chronologically, we will end up with 20 volumes of text LOL), but like. In all these years, it’s never been about rolling in suffering (over your love for someone’s skating), never been about proving that someone is the – best -, for me it’s always been just the love that my heart fills up with when I witness this kind of skating, and air/tormenta really proves this just once again.
(if I use same words too much, just count this as Stephane reference, wonderful wonderful wonderful)
>— Yuuri, starting today, I’m your coach. I’ll make you win the Grand Prix Final!
Will be honest, this morning sent this screencap to all my friends being like “Mikhail starting with the strong stuff right away” skldfjslkSSLFSJDL really thank you for this post though, such an enjoyable read :’)))
>I. Amor sacro e Amor profano
thank you for this (once again) as it is just somehow very enjoyable to draw parallels through the centuries of different kinds of art, and finding appreciation for the things you didn’t know/haven’t looked into before, that’s such a beautiful parallel. And idk if im ever in Rome in my whole life, but if I ever make it there, I’m definitely going LOL
for the same reasons as I had to visit the Sleeping Tsarevna on the 3rd of November 2019,
>there have been numerous attempts at linking the plot and the two main figures to various literary and philosophical works of the period, and at providing moral, philosophical, allegorical or matrimonial readings of Titian’s enigmatic masterpiece.
Just wanted to say a bit of appreciation for your writing style in all of these posts ;____; really thanks (and indeed fascinating)
idk if this is related to the post at all but, I dislike it when people say like “this is real life * character name *” but I love drawing (endless) parallels, cause while people are their own people, the parallels are still there and they kinda make the art live and go on and stay important…
I owe a huge debt to YOI though because I started following Shoma’s career (although still too late in my opinion but its okay) from his second senior season mostly thanks to be being a dedicated anime fan and fan of other Sayo Yamamoto’s works
again thank you for letting us in to your associations and analogies – they are always fascinating to read and open my heart to something new
* looking at photos for the 2482304238052985405th time this year * wow it really is a stunning program that exists,
just thank you for delving into the duality, I’ve heard about Narcissus parallels before, but it’s so good to read it all in a post. Also I’m stuck rewatching the gif of the program ending….
>The ChSq consists of a series of expressive, quasi-sculptural, poses: all very open and sensual, and all very smooth and seamless as far as the quality of movement is concerned. The StSq, on the contrary, is extremely dynamic and sharp — the movement never ‘freezes’ in quasi-sculptural shapes and forms (as in ChSq), it never stops. And as in the opening and final poses that I have just compared above, the expressive posing of the ChSq is very sensual and ‘narcissistic’,
just, yeah… yes… thank you!!!
>whereas the more openly passionate movements of the StSq often seem to create shapes and gestures that defy or restrain, sometimes literally, the sensuality explored prior.
(thank you) also I love ALL the photos of that moment (everyone is very surprised @ me liking shoma photos,)
>So does Shoma’s program. There, too, it may initially seem that the first part, performed to Bach’s serene Air, must represent Agape, the platonic sacrificial Love, whereas the more passionate second part to Hasse’s Mea tormenta is the Eros. And yet both the iconography of the two parts and the text of the second tell us otherwise: the slow, languid movements of the 1st, as well as a few Narcissus-like poses at its beginning and end, are full of sensuality and eroticism, whereas the second part, even though undoubtedly more dynamic and passionate, can be viewed as representative of the kind of sacrificial love that made Apostle Peter beg for his Cross.
Also have to say im screencapping this bit and saving it because it just describes it too well. Again takes me back to the Emma-chan mea tormenta announcement (and everyone yelling – well, we had a valid reason to be excited) and then being on a hike in mountains while the opening choreo was revealed (and everyone yelling). Thank you for your parallels and associations (this is not a very functional comment, I am stuck between real life tiredness and going back to work but still sdlkfjdk)
in general, I’m just very happy that I got to witness Shoma’s career on this stage. It’s never easy, it’s never a fairy tale, but it’s the dearest story that I’m most fascinated to watch and cheer for. It’s a ton of hard work, but it’s so much love too. Love for yourself and love for people around you, love for skating itself. I can definitely feel it too, and I’m very grateful for this, for all the precious moments, for all the times when my hands were shaking too hard from the nerves, I just know that there is love and that’s enough for me.
Alright I tried to leave a comment!! hope there was at least a couple of coherent sentences here, and thank you again!
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I cried, I laughed, I smiled…. Thank you! 🙂
“And idk if im ever in Rome in my whole life, but if I ever make it there, I’m definitely going LOL”
You should! Galleria Borghese on the whole is wonderful, and Titian’s painting is a true gem of their collection. (Tbf I love practically all of Titian, so maybe I am not being objective here — unlike with Shoma, where I am very objective and neutral, of course!)
i don’t have an account to reply directly on your website, but I’d really like you to know how grateful I am for having found your blog. It is no exaggeration to say that it was life-changing for me. Not only opening my eyes to the wonderful, brilliant, unique Shoma Uno (thank you so much for pointing the way to the Shoma rabbit hole!), but also making the incredible gift to the world to write about him and the art of ice skating in that beautiful style of yours (even if it is a translation from russian) and cross-referencing with art, musique and more. I love your essays.
Thank you, thank you, thank you! Sincerely, Sine ________________________________
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Thank you so much for your kind message!
“Not only opening my eyes to the wonderful, brilliant, unique Shoma Uno ” — this makes me so, so happy! 🙂
The title of this post made me quite emotional. The journey you take me with your writing is always a pleasure to hop on to and enjoy, but “On Love” … it feels like it described the love that Shoma has with him and around him that compelled us to follow the journey of his skating and meet kindred souls along the way- I still remember the first time we talk about the eloquent silence of his Moonlight, and it was based on my desire to at least talk, explain, what is it about his skating that makes it so easy to love, and I’m glad you continue to share your writings with us and of course on other programs by other beloved skaters in figure skating.
With Air/Mea Tormenta, I remember our conversations where we try to figure out what is it that Kenji is referencing for this program, and while you didn’t include all of it I am giddy to read your breakdown of the duality of its two halves here. In a way, this reminds me of your other breakdown of the other Kenji program, Oboe Concerto and how tidy and neat all the references you used in that program, while here it’s very much from the heart- it’s true to the programs themselves, how Oboe is an unmatched diamond, cut to perfection, while Air/Mea Tormenta, while beautiful, brings with it tenderness, passion and sensuality. It is not a perfect diamond, but it is a myriad of emotions, narcissistic and sacrificial, serene and monstrous, and still, at the end of the day, Shoma and his skating, looking the most at home on the ice regardless of whether it is the ancient Baroque Gods or the creatures of both heaven and hell themselves that possessed him.
And now that we have more than one program from Kenji Miyamoto, I have to say I enjoy his different take on Shoma- he seems to always know how to showcase his physicality the best out of the choreographers Shoma has worked with- at times I feel a bit voyeuristic- both Oboe and Air invites me to just look at the curves and lines as if the programs are meant to be skated forever (and always they end too soon), and he lets Shoma go on ice to create shapes and evoke images that we have yet to see before. Mihoko is the savant with her music, David Wilson has that earnest sentimentality, Shae-Lynn makes him work and move hard, Stephane lets Shoma live the present to the fullest, and Kenji… he invites us to watch the art.
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It’s always a pleasure to read your thoughts – thank you for this comment!
“and still, at the end of the day, Shoma and his skating, looking the most at home on the ice regardless of whether it is the ancient Baroque Gods or the creatures of both heaven and hell themselves that possessed him”
I giggled a little at the image of Baroque Gods and creatures of Heaven and Hell possessing Shoma… but yes, he definitely looks possessed (mostly by his incredible talent, I guess) when he’s on the ice.