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Play it again, Alicia: new on DVD: documentaries and dancer profiles.

Alicia Alonso: Prima Ballerina Assoluta

Video Arts International; 74 minutes; $34.95,

This comprehensive survey of a living legend of classical dance captures Alonso a smidgen past her peak in 10 selections filmed between 1963 and 1985. She dances with members of the Ballet National de Cuba, of which she is the founding artistic director. Two bonus clips, culled from American and Canadian telecasts, illuminate Alonso's artistry in the 1950s. Excerpts from traditional repertoire (Swan Lake, Don Quixote, Coppelia) are balanced with more unusual fare--a bit from Alonso's Oedipus Rex, and a bedroom scene from Alberto Alonso's Romeo and Juliet, set, not to Prokofiev's score, but to Berlioz's dramatic symphony. A sequence from Alberto Alonso's Carmen delivers the requisite fireworks. Of the two performances of Pas de Quatre, the American version, featuring Melissa Hayden, Nora Kaye, and Mia Slavenska, is starrier, but the all-Cuban rendering is more integrated.

Throughout, Alonso seems to dance in an elevated language that mere mortals can only envy. Technique meets and marries expressivity. A Giselle Act II pas de deux, both heroic and heartbreaking, represents the pinnacle of the ballerina's art. More's the pity that several sequences, including two Black Swan pas de deux (with partners Azari Plisetski and Igor Youskevitch), are performed in severely abridged form.

Sacred Stage: The Mariinsky Theater

First Run Features; 60 minutes; $24.95,

Joshua Waletzky's compelling documentary about the St. Petersburg institution, also known as the Kirov, spotlights a singular hero--artistic director and principal conductor Valery Gergiev, who has brought economic and artistic riches to the Mariinsky in the post-Soviet era. Balletomanes can feast on excerpts from The Sleeping Beauty, starring the most lyrical of Auroras, Zhanna Ayupova, and an extended interview with ballerina Yulia Makhalina as she ponders the transition from a dancing career to coaching. Scholar and critic (and Dance Magazine senior advising editor) Elizabeth Kendall offers solid insights on the past and future of the company. Actor Richard Thomas narrates.

Legong: Dance of the Virgins

Image Entertainment; 56 minutes; $29.99,

Amateur ethnologist-filmmaker Henry de la Falaise traveled to Bali in 1933 to shoot this silent rarity in the now unfashionable two-strip Technicolor process. The plot, in which a young musician courts a dancer only to jilt her for her half-sister, veers to the melodramatic, and the acting is sweetly non-professional. Yet the dances, captured in situ by Falaise's alert camera, are of immense interest. Both the dance of the virgins and the cremation rituals transcend tourist kitsch. Elegant and earthy, they provide a stunning look into a society few Westerners scrutinized at the time. This entrancing film has been lovingly restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archive, which also commissioned a score performed by members of Gamelan Sekar Jaya and the Club Foot Orchestra.

The extras are fabulous. In addition to Falaise's previously lost silent film, Kliou, the Killer (shot in Indochina in 1937), there's Robert Snyder's 1952 documentary, Gods of Bali, a virtual primer on dance in the region.

Mary Anthony: A Life in Modern Dance

Princeton Book Company; 65 minutes; $39.95,

Tonia Shimin's adoring tribute to veteran teacher and choreographer Anthony is a model of its kind. Through interviews, rare photographs and film clips, and extensive rehearsal footage, the subject emerges as an imaginative and inspiring force in the classroom and a choreographer of austere integrity.

The documentary traces Anthony from her Kentucky childhood to her arrival in New York in 1940, when she won a scholarship to Hanya Holm's school. She joined Holm's company three years later. Career highlights included performing with the New Dance Group, dancing in Broadway shows, and choreographing American-style musicals in Italy. Anthony opened her own studio in 1954 and formed her own company two years later.

Extensive appearances on CBS Television in the 1950s have yielded a wealth of performance footage. From the evidence here, Anthony's pride in her Threnody (a dance version of Riders to the Sea) is not misplaced. Testimonials come from former students (Ronald K. Brown) and colleagues; actress Uta Hagen's comments are especially insightful. Most of all, it is Anthony's burning dedication that lights up the screen; not bad for an artist who turns 90 in November.

Donald McKayle: Heartbeats of a DanceMaker

Princeton Book Company; 98 minutes; $39.95,

Finally available on DVD is Joy Choy-Stannard's 2002 study of this seminal figure in modern dance, originally produced by PBS Hawaii. The DVD confirms his reputation as one of the most beloved teachers of his time; the rehearsal sequences for the Limon Dance Company's premiere of Heartbeats almost invite your participation. We're there, too, as Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley stages McKayle's House of Tears. The historical sequences, especially a 1955 Canadian telecast of Games, are irresistible. At the time, American commercial TV refused to produce interracial dance programs. For the DVD release, 42 minutes of supplementary material have been added to the original 56-minute documentary. Della Reese narrates.

Carmen & Geoffrey

79 minutes; $35,

A hit at dance film festivals last year, Linda Atkinson's and Nick Doob's documentary comes to the small screen with all its charm intact. She is dancer-choreographer Carmen de Lavallade; he is dancer-choreographer-director-poet-painter-costume designer-TV pitchman ("the Uncola") Geoffrey Holder. Onstage and off, the pair defines charisma. This leisurely documentary accompanies de Lavallade to the rehearsal studio, follows her Paradigm Dance Company, and tracks Holder to his birthplace in Trinidad and on his annual jaunts to Paris. Much rare historical footage, she with Alvin Ailey, both with Josephine Baker and in Broadway's House of Flowers. What you see is more than an outstanding, five-decade creative collaboration; it's one of the dance world's great love stories, too.
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Article Details
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Author:Ulrich, Allan
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Video recording review
Date:Mar 1, 2006
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