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Paris Dances Diaghilev.

Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes, the first to develop the one-act ballet that has become the choreographic norm today, occupy a seminal position in the development of ballet and ballet choreography. It was Diaghilev who first showed the world that dance was art and that the most successful dances were those that were a collaborative effort between choreographer, composer, librettist, and designer.

The cofounders of the Ballet Russes, Sergei Diaghilev, Alexander Benois and Leon Bakst, surrounded themselves with the finest artists available and came to France in order to show Europe the Russian Ballet. Giving its first performance in Paris at the Theatre Chatelet in May of 1909, the Ballet Russes continued, until the death of Diaghilev in 1929, to present work that alternately astonished, outraged, and delighted audiences and critics alike. The legendary Nijinsky, centerpiece of the company, danced with the Ballet Russes from the beginning until his break with Diaghilev in 1913. Nijinsky danced the premiere performances of three of the ballets presented in this video, and choreographed one of them as well. Among the other dancers in the first company were Tamara Karsavina, Michel Fokine, and Adolf Bolm.

Four works are contained in this video, all of which are well known, and three of which have special status in the ballet canon. Petroushka (premiered at the Theatre Chatelet on 13 June 1911 with Karsavina, Nijinsky, and Orlov in the principal roles), L'Apres-midi d'un Faune (premiered at the Theatre Chatelet on 29 May 1912 with Nijinsky as the Faun and Nelidova as the lead nymph), and Les Noces (premiered at the Theatre Gaite-Lyrique on 14 June 1923 with Felia Doubrovska and Nicholas Semenov in the principal roles) broke new ground in the development of twentieth-century ballet. Le Spectre de la Rose (premiered at the Theatre de Monte Carlo on 19 April 1911 with Nijinsky and Karsavina) is an innovative, albeit slight, work whose success depends upon the poetic presence and technical ability of its male dancer. Each of these dances, however, tells us something different and important about Diaghilev, his methods, and his aesthetic position.

Petroushka, with its barbaric rhythms and folkloric setting; L'Apres-midi d'un Faune, with its two-dimensional Greco-Roman frieze embodiment overlaid with the sensuality of thinly-veiled lust; Le Spectre de la Rose, using a well-established orchestral work coupled with a text providing a choreographic base; and Les Noces - an incredible marriage of music, decor and movement, at once sparse and direct and profoundly moving in its complex simplicity - are all representative of the enormous breadth of Diaghilev's vision of art - and dance as art.

The performances as represented here are of high quality, if not inspired. All of the movement is there. However, there is a detachment of belief/commitment in the execution of the intent of the works. There is much surface and little depth. This does not minimize the importance of the dances here presented. Any institution with a dance department/library collection should be interested in acquiring this video, which presents, as it does, seldom-performed works that redefined the parameters of ballet and provided the foundation for ballet choreographic vision for the next seventy-five years and more. Anyone studying the Diaghilev era would also benefit from this video. There are, to my knowledge, no other commercial videotapes available for this repertory. Other companies have performed these works, most notably the Joffrey Ballet, which has included Petroushka, L'Apres-midi d'un Faune, and Les Noces in its repertory in recent years. One wishes for a video release of their performances, which, in my opinion, have a deeper commitment to the movement than the Paris Opera Ballet performances.

The quality of the video is fine. Some of the directorial choices, however, leave something to be desired. All too often there are close-up shots Where a medium distance would have better served the performance. There is a somewhat disconcerting amount of shots that cut off a portion of the dancers' feet. Often, one has the feeling that the camera work is so tight that we miss some significant choreographic elements. Second and third viewings reveal this not to be entirely true.

These revivals are not true reconstructions of the original productions: There are published photographs and work sketches from the period, including Cecchetti as the Charlatan and Nijinsky as Petroushka in Petroushka, Nijinsky as the Rose and the Faune, and of Bronislava Nijinska's original production of Les Noces, that illustrate the discrepancies between the originals and these Paris Opera Ballet productions. However, one must also remember that these are late twentieth-century interpretations of works produced in the first two decades of the century. Exact reproductions, especially of costume and set design, would look artificial and dated.

On the whole, this is a videotape that sheds light on an important period in ballet and provides intelligent and satisfying viewing.

RICHARD ALLAN PLOCH Acanthus Ballet, Tampa, Florida
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Author:Ploch, Richard Allan
Publication:Notes
Article Type:Video Recording Review
Date:Mar 1, 1995
Words:807
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