Rare Footage: Watch These Two Iconic Sugarplums

December 20, 2016

Just in time to battle Nutcracker exhaustion, Jacob’s Pillow has released the sweetest holiday gift: A video of Alicia Markova performing the Sugarplum Fairy variation at the festival—in color, with music (added later in the 1970s).

Alicia Markova as Sugarplum in 1941

This clip is one of the latest additions to The Pillow’s highly addictive Dance Interactive site. (Beware, you can all-too-easily fall down a dance video rabbit hole on the site before you realize five hours have passed.) It was shot in The Pillow’s Tea Garden in 1941, when a 31-year-old Markova directed the season along with Anton Dolin.

The Ballets Russes prodigy was the first “prima ballerina” of The Royal Ballet, and later one of American Ballet Theatre’s first dancers. Granted, she probably would not make it into either of those companies today (that turnout!). But you can’t help but smile at her delightful sprightliness in the iconic variation—the delicacy of her bourrees, the triumphant épaulement in her sous-sus. She shows remarkable control on pointe, stretching the timing of a développé here and an arabesque there. Her warm, lively performance quality epitomizes everything we love about the Nutcracker‘s favorite fairy. 

Alexandra Danilova, PC Maurice Seymour

Eleven years later, Pillow audiences were treated to another Sugarplum performance by another Ballets Russes icon: Alexandra Danilova. Footage of her performance has already been on the site for a while now. It’s blurrier, and in black and white, but endless fun to compare with the Makarova clip. Danilova’s version is much heavier on the drama, with lots of blowing kisses and throwing back her head. She impressively shows off just how long she can hold her balances on pointe without falling behind the music. Aged 49 at the time, she dances with the kind of stage presence that demands no less than your full attention.

Whether you’re performing Sugarplum this season or not, it’s definitely worth spending a few minutes to get inspired by these great ballerinas of the past.


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