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Ludwig Minkus: La Bayadère
Arthaus Musik. $19.99.
123 minutes. www.arthaus-musik.com.
Ever eager to attract an essentially conservative audience, The Royal Ballet acquired Natalia Makarova’s opulent production of La Bayadère in 1989. The exotic love story, framed by elaborate settings and costumes, became a popular favorite that has returned to the company’s repertoire repeatedly.
In this re-release of a 1991 Royal Ballet performance, broadcast live from Covent Garden by the BBC, a handful of stellar artists combine their varied styles and temperaments in an attempt to inject life into the rickety vehicle, with mixed success.
As Nikiya, Altynai Asylmuratova could, all alone, easily justify the ballet’s revival. Unlike every other artist in this production, and unlike nearly every member of The Royal Ballet today, her performance emerges from her body, face, and eyes in a rapturous, unbroken flow that absorbs us thoroughly. Equally absorbing if not ideal technically, Irek Mukhamedov takes the stage with authority as Solor, endowing dance, mime, and partnering with nuanced ardor.
Incidental to this engrossing pair, Darcey Bussell looks merely regal as Gamzatti, showing off her long, flexible limbs but scarcely hinting at the motives that propel them into action. Going through the motions of the role haughtily, she imitates the grandeur of power without inhabiting it. Anthony Dowell makes the same mistake as the High Brahmin, delivering a melodramatic dumb show as if flashing eyes and upright posture will fool us into believing in a character in whom he doesn’t believe himself.
Derek Bailey’s careful direction plays no tricks with the camera and presents the choreography intact. It also allows us to see that the ensemble often struggles to stay together, particularly at brisk tempi, and that even Bussell fails to complete every step. But because ballerinas like Asylmuratova scarcely exist now, we should treasure this fresh chance to enjoy her inimitable artistry. —Barbara Newman
Seeing Israeli and Jewish Dance
Edited by Judith Brin Ingber
Detroit, Michigan: Wayne State University Press, 2011.
504 pages. 182 illustrations. Hardcover. $34.95.
This coffee-table volume is both an anthology of riveting essays, supported by scholarship of the highest quality, and an album of photographs and illustrations. Its 18 contributors include leading scholars as well as esteemed practitioners of Jewish dance, within and outside Israel. In the book as a whole, hundreds more are discussed and/or interviewed.
The essays address dance in the Bible; notable Jewish dance teachers (such as the Italian Renaissance dancing master Guglielmo Ebreo) and choreographers (the brilliant Soviet “outcast” Leonid Jacobson, the Israeli genius Sara Levi-Tanai, the American modern dancer Sophie Maslow); specific folk dances (the kerchief dance for brides, a Hasidic line dance for men, Israeli folk dances invented during the 20th century); the dances of Kurdish, Yemenite, and Ethiopian Jews; the dancing of non-Jewish Bedouins, Druze, and neighboring Arabs in Israeli dance pageants of the 1940s; Jewish dancing in Palestine and Nazi Germany in the 1930s; even, one is astonished to discover, dances of Jews in Nazi camps during World War II.
Of all the remarkable stories in this volume of dancers overcoming adversity to practice their art, perhaps the most memorable is that of a Hungarian dancer named Yehudit Arnon, who survived a number of Nazi extermination camps as well as a firing squad. In Birkenau—as editor Brin Ingber recounts—Arnon’s humor and charisma “touched her fellow prisoners and caught the eye of SS officers.” In 1943, she was asked by German officers to provide entertainment for their Christmas party. Hoping to be shot (“We all wanted to die quickly”), she turned them down. However, instead of a swift death, she was punished by being tied up outdoors in the snow, barefoot. “I could feel my feet freezing,” Arnon told author Livia Bitton-Jackson, in I Have Lived a Thousand Years: Growing Up in the Holocaust, which Brin Ingber quotes. “I stood for hours, and I thought over and over about dance. I decided that if I would survive, I would dedicate myself to dance.” In a long footnote, Brin Ingber chronicles how Arnon kept her vow to the letter over the next four decades. She adds that Arnon’s memoir, Entranced by the Dance, relates how she and her husband helped found Kibbutz Ga’aton and how, in the 1970s, she created the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company and school there. One closes the book, speechless. —Mindy Aloff
If you’ve ever wondered who was in the original cast of your favorite ballet, or what the music selection is, or where it fell in a choreographer’s career, there is a wealth of resources online.
The Kenneth MacMillan website (www.kennethmacmillan.com) is a treasure, where media and lively writing come together to paint a full picture of a ballet’s creation. For example, the Romeo and Juliet page explains the relationship between MacMillan and Cranko’s versions, and who insisted that Lynn Seymour was second-cast to Margot Fonteyn—with photos of MacMillan coaching Fonteyn and Nureyev and a clip of Seymour coaching Tamara Rojo. Of course, you can also view the ballet on The Royal Ballet website (www.roh.co.uk), and click through to the Royal Opera House Collections to see photos of the costumes worn by Fonteyn and Nureyev.
Viewing The Royal Ballet’s archives of the Ashton pieces, which include a podcast for La Fille Mal Gardée and a video of Rojo discussing Ondine, is a nice supplement to the Ashton Archive (www.ashtonarchive.com).
The Antony Tudor Ballet Trust (www.antonytudor.org), in addition to his repertoire and an international list of upcoming performances of Tudor’s works, links to a blog with posts by various Tudor trustees.
Courtesy the George Balanchine Foundation (www.balanchine.org), you can pull up an extensive catalog of every known Balanchine work. The Jerome Robbins Rights Trust (www.jeromerobbins.org) provides an archival listing—although if the piece is in the New York City Ballet rep, head over to the company’s Repertory Index (www.nycballet.com/company/rep.html), where you can play a sample clip from the ballet’s music. —Kina Poon
View treasures like the archival photo above, of Fonteyn and Nureyev rehearsing Romeo and Juliet, at the MacMillan website. Photo by Frederika Davis, from the DM Archives.