DM Recommends: New DVDs for the dance lover

November 23, 2009


Mats Ek’s

DVD. $24.99.

An icon in Europe and hardly known in the U.S., Mats Ek remade a number of classics in sometimes outrageous interpretations. This DVD offers a revealing look at his Carmen, filmed in 1994, to Rodion Shchedrin’s version of Bizet’s music. Famously treading the line between dance and theater—and between ballet and modern—he fills the music with quirks and spurts. The Cullberg Ballet’s Ana Laguna chomps on a cigar, squats in a deep second, and does anything else she can to defy expectations of Carmen. Her brand of sexiness is not glamorous but earthy, almost animal-like. At the height of their love duet, Carmen and José (Marc Hwang) face each other in second position plié and mash their hands furiously the way seals might do. In another scene, she sniffs on the ground like a dog. Ek is the master of quirkiness, giving small movements great depth and large movements a kind of unruliness. If you’re not planning a trip to Sweden soon, this DVD will acquaint you with the work of both Ek and the fabulous Laguna. —Wendy Perron

Tony Palmer’s film about Margot

DVD. $26.99.

From her nose job to her arrest for gun-running in Panama, there was plenty more to Margot Fonteyn’s life than what fans saw onstage. In Margot, a 2005 film by Tony Palmer that’s been remastered for DVD, few juicy stories go untold, most of them told firsthand by the likes of Ninette de Valois, Moira Shearer, Roland Petit, Kenneth Mac­Millan, Monica Mason, and Rudolf Nureyev. Most intriguing however is the footage of Fonteyn dancing—both onstage and in the studio. Although it’s difficult to capture her legendary buoyancy, her musicality and gift for storytelling still come through. One of the best moments comes when Ashton is rehearsing The Birthday Offering with Fonteyn and Nureyev but no accompanist. As Fonteyn takes “Rudy’s” hand and piqués into attitude, in her tiny, high-pitched voice she starts accompanying herself: “Da-dee, Da-dee, Da-dee.” —Jennifer Stahl

Jirí Kylián, Nederlands Dans Theater
DVD. $29.49.

Although this anthology, recorded in 1983/84, was released on VHS, its reissue on DVD provides a satisfying introduction to the work of the Czech-born choreographer. Kylián’s artistic contribution to the Dutch company has influenced a generation of dancemakers and challenged innumerable dancers with its modern ballet language and brazen musicality. Of the three works recorded here, Kylián’s Symphony of Psalms remains a classic interpretation of the Stravinsky score. Svadebka wrings a few controversial variations on Nijinska’s Les Noces. The moody and rarely seen Torso duet provides a superb vehicle for Leigh Warren and the charismatic Sabine Kupferberg. —Allan Ulrich

Split Sides
, Merce Cunning­ham Dance Company

DVD. Two discs. $40.

In his playful 2003 Split Sides, Cunningham deployed chance procedures more than usual. A pre-performance onstage roll of the dice determined the order of the choreography, the commissioned scores (by Sigur Rós and Radiohead), the décor, costumes, and lighting. Of the 32 possible combinations, this package offers four (plus, the opportunity to watch the work in silence). As usual in his movies for Cunningham, director Charles Atlas creates yet another reality, as spatially disorienting an experience as dance on film ever provides. This release will also endure as a document of the strength of the company’s dancing in the choreographer’s astonishing final years. More Cunningham on DVD, please. —A.U.

, Vladimir Malakhov and Staatsballett Berlin

DVD. $26.99.

Americans who lament the absence of Vladimir Malakhov from stateside stages can catch him here as reigning star of the Berlin State Opera Ballet (which he also directs). Italian choreographer Mauro Bigonzetti’s steamy, full-length tribute to the enigmatic painter, which premiered last year, is an impressionistic evocation of Caravaggio’s inner world, seething with religious imagery and startling sensuality. Bigonzetti’s narrative sometimes lacks clarity, but Malakhov’s protagonist remains splendidly ambiguous about his sexual orientation. On the evidence here, the Berlin company, which includes the divinely extended Polina Semionova, is in the world class category. —A.U.

La Dame aux Camélias
, Paris Opéra Ballet

DVD. Two discs. $35.99.

John Neumeier created his dance adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ novel for Marcia Haydée and the Stuttgart Ballet in 1978. Since then, it has rarely been missing from the world’s major ballet stages. With its Chopin music, passionate pas de deux, opulent divertissements, sweeping romanticism, and manifold opportunities for star dancing, how can it miss? The dancers of the Paris Opéra Ballet may not be definitive interpreters (Haydée’s wrenching performance is available on a Deutsche Grammophon DVD), but the French company’s combination of technical brilliance and gestural elegance generates much theatrical excitement. Agnès Letestu and Stéphane Bullion head the cast of this enthralling 2008 perfor­mance, superbly directed by the veteran Thomas Grimm. Extras include a lengthy documentary on the making of the ballet. —A.U.

Isadora Duncan Masterworks, 1905–1923
Directed by Andrea Mantell-Seidel. DVD. $

We take dancing swans and sylphs for granted, even in 2009. But somehow Isadora Duncan’s dances get pigeon- holed as historical artifacts best suited for dance history class. The DVD demonstrates the depth of Duncan’s artistic vision and the skill with which she developed her small movement vocabulary into a wealth of passionate expression. The dances, beautifully performed by the Isadora Duncan Dance Ensemble, span the range of Duncan’s career. When we watch the maddened Furies, the sensual Narcissus and Bacchanal, the tender Ave Maria and Mother, it is clear that Duncan’s revolutionary dance has lost none of its inspirational power. The DVD pays tribute to the role that third-generation Duncan dancer Julia Levien played in preserving Duncan’s work. It includes Mantell-Seidel’s commentary, interviews with Levien. —Alice Bloch

The New Dance Group Gala Historical Concert Retrospective 1930s–1970s
DVD. $59.95.

Mid-20th-century modern dance is an endangered species. Fortunately, in 1993, the American Dance Guild recognized the groundbreaking work of the New Dance Group in a retrospective of works by 17 of the choreographers nurtured by that revolutionary organization. The dances were technically challenging; their radical social content was all the more powerful for being integral to the structure of the dances. The DVD preserves iconic works of masters like Charles Weidman, Pearl Primus, Anna Sokolow, Jean Erdman, Talley Beatty, Daniel Nagrin, Donald McKayle, Hadassah, and Joyce Trisler. Interviews with choreographers and reconstructors give us invaluable insights into their artistic processes. And a handbook in both printed and PDF form offers a history of the organization and biographies of the choreo­graphers. —Alice Bloch



Photo by Nathan Sayers