DanceView Times, New York edition
Letter from New York
The Nutcracker at the New York City Ballet (30 December 2003): A child wailing through part of the overture and a lost theatergoer temporarily blocking my view of the Act II Angels couldn’t make an impact on my delight at seeing this wonderful spectacle once more. There was a great deal in it that gave immense pleasure, beginning with the moments in the Sugarplum Fairy pas de deux when Cavalier Seth Orza twice lowered Megan Fairchild from lifts as if she were sacred—increasingly slowing down her descent as her points approached the stage floor. It was an enchanting pas de deux, as well as an unexpected one. Fairchild, a newish member of the corps de ballet who looks barely just too old to play Marie, was a last-minute substitute for an indisposed Janie Taylor; however, in her solo as well as in the pas de deux, she gave an authoritative performance: delicate, exact, pristine in the changes of épaulement, securely centered in pirouettes, altogether a delight. The Waltz of the Flowers, presided over by the regal Sofiane Sylve, was also a joy. The dancing of the School of American Ballet Polichinelles was exemplary, too—big performances in miniature. The tempi of Maurice Kaplow’s conducting seemed a little uneven; yet when he and the Christmas tree got together for the transformation, it was a love match all the way.
I still miss Shaun O’Brien’s Drosselmeier, an unrepentant aristocrat immured in the suit of Robespierre, who gave a light smack to the misbehaving Fritz, paid homage to Frau Stahlbaum as if he had a secret passion for her, and fed himself the first walnut the Nutcracker cracked. (As he should: the lesson is, as in an airplane, take care of one’s own basic needs, then, strengthened, assist others.) James Fayette’s Drosselmeier is warm, romantic, yet without a molecule of craziness; this is a Drosselmeier who displays great feeling for the children and would probably make a good father. The character is not, I think, paternal in quite that way. There is an element of ice in Balanchine’s version of the ballet—the ice that sets off the acts of generosity—that seems to have melted. Fritz (Steven Lobman) was reproved with time out.
The violin cadenza in Act I, which Balanchine interpolated into The Nutcracker from the score for The Sleeping Beauty, was brilliantly played by Kurt Nikkanen. Children's voices (from a synthesizer) rang out, signalling what, on this evening, was a fully successful blizzard of ballerinas, sure-footed and silent, in one of the loveliest examples of choreography for an ensemble that Balanchine ever made.
on Camera Festival 2004
and five revivals of films from 19 countries
January 14: Lar Lubovitch discusses film of his Othello and other screen adaptations (Puffin Room, 435 Broome Street, 6 p.m.)
January 18: Animators John Crawford and Vita Berezina Blackburn present a lecture-screening, “Muybridge to McLaren to motion capture” (Puffin Room, 3 p.m.)
January 22: A free, participatory evening with filmmaker-caller David Millstone involving contra dance (Brooklyn Public Library, Grand Army Plaza, 7 p.m.)
Several other films might be of special interest for readers of The DanceView Times:
4 Emperors & 1 Nightingale (January 10 at 6 p.m.; January 23 at 3:30 p.m.: Walter Reade). This award-winning documentary, by director Wilbert Bank and Eva van Schaik of The Netherlands, chronicles the efforts of Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer to reconstruct the 1925 Balanchine-Stravinsky ballet Le Rossignol (The Nightingale), originally made for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Their resulting production is performed by Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, the principal ballet company of Monaco.
Of particular interest are scenes of the original Nightingale, Alicia Markova, in her late 80s when this film was made, teaching her solo—which she performed at age 14—in a very sprightly and physical fashion to a Royal Ballet student, under the auspices of The George Balanchine Foundation. (The Foundation has a record of the entire coaching session in its “Interpreters Archive,” where Dame Alicia, now 92, was the first coach to be recorded.)
Also wonderful are clips from filmed interviews with Balanchine (from the 1970s), Stravinsky, and the rarely captured Boris Kochno, Diaghilev’s private secretary and a librettist for many extraordinary ballets both before and after WWII.
Destino (shown on the same programs as 4 Emperors & 1 Nightingale). Director: Dominique Monfery. A six-minute miracle of animation, begun in 1946 as a collaboration between Walt Disney and Salvador Dalí, abandoned in 1947 owing to “money problems,” and picked up again in the 1990s by Disney’s nephew Roy E. Disney and producer Baker Bloodworth, with a production team of 25 artists that included the Disney Imagineer John Hench—Dalí’s original assistant on Destino—who, at 96, still works for the Disney company as a Vice-President of Animation. If I understand the process, the team hand-animated (with some computer assistance) the still images that Dalí left, appending them to a 15-second test screening that also remains from the original project. The “story” of Destino (whose title comes from the Mexican ballad by Armando Dominiguez that is sung on the soundtrack) concerns a young ballerina and a young baseball player who may or may not get together: in the manner of Surrealism, only their ids know for sure.
On the strength of a reported interview with Roy Disney, Jr., the writer David D’Arcy contends in The Art Newspaper (www.theartnewspaper.com/news/article.asp?idart=11407) that the inspiration for Destino goes back to a 1939 painting by Dalí entitled Swans reflecting Elephants. He also makes the charge that the reason the film was completed at all is that, following the artist’s death in 1989, the prices for his work shot up, and the Disney administration—which still held most of the images made in 1946 (at one point, subsequently, they were stolen, and some were never retrieved)—learned that it would not legally own anything Dalí had made for the studio unless Destino “was actually completed as the artist had planned it.” (D’Arcy notes that, in 1945, Dalí had scripted a number of sequences for Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound, of which only the nightmare remains, as the rest were cut by producer David Selznick.)
For an apolitical account of the short, see Ron Barbagallo’s “The Destiny of Dalí’s Destino” (www.animationartconservation.com/destiny_of_dali_destino.html)
The Disney company, which has been showing Destino at various film festivals, has announced that it will bring out a DVD next year, including a documentary on its origin and making. Whatever the facts of its production are, the film is unique for all concerned and has great charm.
In 1973, the actor-director William Richert brought out a critically lauded yet short-lived dance film called A Dancer’s Life (January 9 at 1:30 p.m.: Walter Reade). According to the director’s statement on his Web site (www.williamrichert.com), he “basically shelved it in 1974, since there was no ‘cost effective’ way to ‘market’ a dance film at that time. . . .It remained ‘on the shelf’ or in storage for the past 3 decades, except for a brief offering in 1991, until by accident I found a copy I had made in the early 90’s. When I saw it again, I remembered how amazing the ABT School was, and how profound and touching, really, were the students and the teachers and most especially Valentina Pereyaslavec.”
Seventy-one minutes long, A Dancer’s Life is, in part, a documentary of classes at American Ballet Theatre’s School (disbanded in the early 1980s)—including scenes of Pereyaslavec and Leon Danielian teaching—she like a Marine drill sergeant, he from a wheel chair and, having had a hip replacement for arthritis, on crutches—and of such stars as Rudolf Nureyev, Natalia Makarova, and Fernando Bujones (then 15) studying with them. It shows Yurek Lazowski coaching the leads in what seems to be a student cast of Petrouchka, as well as scenes of another, professional cast performing excerpts from the ballet, with a young Michael Smuin rather powerfully taking the title role.
Yet A Dancer’s Life (sometimes called The First Position in ’73 reviews) is also a story—perhaps fictional, perhaps real—filmed in gritty, cinéma vérité style, about a romance that failed to blossom from a real friendship between two of the actual students in the school: a bewitchingly innocent young woman named Janis Roswick and a similarly innocent young man named Daniel Giagni.(The only information I could find about Roswick’s subsequent career is that, at some time in the ‘70s, she performed in Alfredo Corvino’s Bar Harbor Festival Ballet. As for the youth who is too shy to try to express his romantic feelings for her—the film captions him “the real Petrouchka”—I found a Daniel Joseph Giagni who choreographed and staged a musical called American Princess in an unspecified time and place.) From a vantage point of 30 years, the most striking things about “Janis,” “Danny,” and their friends who also study at the school are, first, their interest in verbalizing such metaphysical concerns as what is the moral thing to do with one’s life; second, the fact that, on the street, the young woman looks like a dancer, yet the men do not; and third, their complete lack of irony or interest in camp. “Dancing is one of the most outward and visible signs of a state of inner grace—a metaphor of life,” the critic Jean Battey Lewis wrote in The Washington Post at the time of the movie’s 1973 release. “Few filmmakers have understood this so well or filmed it so clearly as director William Richert does in A Dancer’s Life (the first position).” Lewis’s observation still holds true.
film, the Pina Bausch documentary Damen und Herren AB 65
(Women and Men Over 65) (January 10 at 3:30 p.m. and January 16 at
1 p.m.: Walter Reade), which follows the rehearsals of a cast of seniors
in one of Bausch’s early works, conveys a perspective on the dancing
that seems completely real.
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