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Ballet in Cinema; DVDs on LINES Ballet, Giselle and Les Sylphides from the 1950s, and two views of Sylvie Guillem; Nancy Goldner's More Balanchine Variations
Roberta Marquez and Steven McRae in Ashton’s La Fille Mal Gardée. Photo by Tristam Kenton, Courtesy Ballet in Cinema.
If the off-season months have you craving full-length ballets, the Ballet in Cinema summer series is your fix. In partnership with Cinemark Theatres, several beloved full-lengths by the Bolshoi Ballet and The Royal Ballet, recorded live, will re-air on the big screen. These include Ratmansky’s Bright Stream, starring Svetlana Lunkina and Maria Alexandrova of the Bolshoi (July 22 and 24); The Royal in Sleeping Beauty, with leads Sergei Polunin (who has since left the company) and Lauren Cuthbertson (July 29 and 31); Steven McRae and Roberta Marquez of The Royal in Ashton’s playful La Fille Mal Gardée (Aug. 12 and 14); and Grigorovitch’s Raymonda, with the Bolshoi’s Maria Alexandrova. See www.balletincinema.com. —Kina Poon
Alonzo King LINES Ballet: Triangle of the Squinches, Scheherazade, Dust and Light
Arthaus Musik. 160 minutes. $29.99.
The dancers of Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet move gloriously through three pieces in a recent release from Arthaus Musik. The San Francisco–based company, known for fluid, athletic dancing by the most supernaturally long bodies anywhere, makes for a captivating subject. The sensitive camera work brings another dimension to the ballets—Triangle of the Squinches, Scheherazade, and Dust and Light—giving focus to what can become a whirlwind of overextended positions.
In the two-act Triangle of the Squinches, the dancers—including the luminous Caroline Rocher, the exuberant newcomer Michael Montgomery, and the poetic Ricardo Zayas—shine in slithering solos. Act I’s backdrop of trembling strings becomes a puppet-master’s device, attached to the limbs of the quietly majestic Meredith Webster, as she remains still amidst a full stage of careening dancers. In Act II, the dancers manipulate a towering fence-like structure, echoing the geometry of their bodies, which both sensually slip past and dynamically counterbalance each other. Laurel Keen, filmed during her final season with the company, fills the frame with elegance and marvelous control.
LINES’ Meredith Webster and Keelan Whitmore in Dust and Light. Photo by Franck Thibault, Courtesy LINES.
Keen is also the central character in Scheherazade, a rare work of King’s with a hint of a narrative. Her generous dancing transforms David Harvey, the Shahryar: His cruelty and roughness in the opening pas de deux is tempered into something approaching tenderness by their last dance together. Dust and Light, without a theatrical set or narrative underpinning, is simply 30 minutes of rapturous movement. Also included on the DVD is a 20-minute documentary, “Poet of Dance.” Directed by Marita Stocker, the film captures King’s rhapsodic musings on his company and dancers, plus footage of class and rehearsals at the LINES Dance Center. —K.P.
Les Sylphides, Giselle
ICA Classics. 94 minutes. $24.99.
Margaret Dale’s name may not be familiar to Americans, but in her native England, this former Royal Ballet dancer is recalled for the ballet performances she produced for BBC-TV in the late 1950s. Dale’s stated goal was to acquaint us with her company on the small screen, yet her work often provides us with the only remaining visual souvenir of assorted choreographies and dancers. These programs slumbered in the archives until ICA Classics struck a deal to publish this priceless heritage on DVD for the first time. Dale’s Giselle (1958) zips through this staple in 61 minutes, without sacrificing too many essentials. Only a few awkward close-ups mar the exceptional performances of Giselle (coltish Nadia Nerina), Albrecht (Nikolai Fadeyechev, on loan from the Bolshoi), and the Hilarion of the great Danish character dancer Niels Bjorn Larsen. Most of the camera work is extremely fluid. Included on the disc is a 1953 Les Sylphides, which is the oldest complete ballet in the BBC archives. The cast is legendary: Alicia Markova, John Field, Violetta Elvin, and Svetlana Beriosova. Most touching of all is the participation of Tamara Karsavina, one of Diaghilev’s great ballerinas and a member of the original cast of the Fokine classic. She introduces the ballet in charmingly accented English. —Allan Ulrich
Sylvie Guillem: At Work & Portrait
Arthaus Musik. 104 minutes. $39.99.
Great artists set an example, which is why Sylvie Guillem’s dancing inspires other performers as much as it thrills the public. These two short films supply intriguing glimpses of the early stages of her career, when her personal charisma and phenomenal technique made her a star.
Produced for British television in 1993, Nigel Wattis’ documentary Portrait begins dramatically, with Guillem’s piercing gaze and needlelike leg sweeping over the back of a chair in Béjart’s Sissi. The film moves on quickly, interleaving performance and rehearsal sequences with short interviews. The dance selections record her impressive range, from Swan Lake and Manon to an angular solo, Wet Woman, by Mats Ek. Various choreographers, Royal Ballet administrators, and English dance critics provide the comments, assessing her skill and temperament from their respective viewpoints.
Guillem herself speaks to the camera with appealing candor, cheerfully projecting both intelligence and dedication. “I’m not like this just because it’s a gift,” she points out. “I was lucky to have a gift…but I worked a lot.” More surprisingly, she admits, “Before a performance, the strongest feeling is to be afraid.”
Regarding her presence in The Royal Ballet, the talking heads describe her independent attitude with polite disdain. Guillem claims, however, “Onstage…I can express whatever I want. I won’t be judged.” And every step reveals thought as well as skill, devotion as well as will.
André S. Labarthe’s pretentious At Work, filmed in 1987 before Guillem resigned from the Paris Opéra Ballet, puts the young dancer at the service of the filmmaker, whose romantic observations and artsy camera angles obscure more than they illuminate. He focuses languorously on street scenes, empty corridors, and bandaged feet. He repeatedly blocks our vision, interposing bodies between us and the dancers or filming them from behind. Having gained rare access to the work they do privately, he wastes the privilege by drawing attention to his artistic choices instead of theirs.
However, while shadowing his subject for several weeks, Labarthe captured fragments of Raymonda, van Dantzig’s Four Last Songs, Béjart’s La Luna, and Nureyev’s Cinderella. Best of all, we see Guillem with William Forsythe and the original cast of In the middle, somewhat elevated, first rehearsing, then in performance. —Barbara Newman
More Balanchine Variations
By Nancy Goldner. Gainesville, FL. University Press of Florida. 2011. 156 pages. Illustrated. Paper. $24.95.
This slim, captivating volume, like its 2008 companion, adds up to a wealth of sympathetic criticism, born of a lifetime’s experience watching and reflecting on Balanchine’s greatest and lesser works. Goldner seems to have forged a profound relationship with the choreographer through his dances; this is definitely a love affair, one in which affection does not preclude the occasional rebuke. Here, Goldner analyzes, in chronological order, 20 ballets from Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2 to Mozartiana. We are treated to valuable contextual material, especially on how Balanchine arrived at his musical choices. Throughout, Goldner shuns received opinion, extolling Liebeslieder Walzer with uncommon eloquence, while expressing disappointment with Chaconne and Mozartiana, and suggesting that Bugaku may not represent Balanchine at his most tasteful. No dance critic possesses a more acute eye for the telling choreographic detail and how it forms part of a grand design. Thanks to Goldner’s prose, her musings on even a familiar dance like Symphony in C make you hungry to see the ballet again. For Balanchine newcomers, this and the previous installment should open doors to unspeakable and enduring pleasures. —A. U.