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Bavarian State Ballet
reviewed by Eugene Merrett
There is nothing like a live ballet performance, but video is often the only way many people can see some performances. With that in mind we think it is useful to feature occasional videos; this month it's 'Giselle'. Our man with the clear views reports......
'Giselle' is probably the most popular ballet amongst aspiring ballerinas. Its powerful plot and the requirement for strong acting abilities as well as great technique make it the ultimate challenge for ballerinas today. It is also my favourite ballet after Sleeping Beauty. The music is probably the best pre - Delibes score (great ballet music really begins with 'Coppélia'). Last autumn we were privileged to see the outstanding Royal Ballet production of 'Giselle'. We also saw two superb Giselles by Yoshida and Durante. If you want to see Giselle again either go to Paris or buy the video. There are currently 3 versions in the shops today (excluding Mats Eks version), but one clear choice.
Carla Fracci, Erik Bruhn, Toni Lander - American Ballet Theatre,1969
This ambitious filming was done in a studio for cinematic release. It attempts to break away from a staged version with realistic sets, acting and innovative camera work. It is the only video that records the glorious partnership between Fracci and Bruhn and that alone makes it worth buying.
Carla Fracci was a rare visitor to these shores so her reputation is not quite as strong here as in America or Europe. However she must rank as one of the greatest romantic ballerinas of this generation and you will see why from this video. Her performance is masterpiece of understated virtuosity. Her acting is subtle, restrained but strongly characterised. In the first act she is a charming, vulnerable but lively Giselle. In the second act she successfully makes the transition to a more passionate and mature person. She has a wonderfully light, ethereal touch and nimble feet. Although Fracci was never known as a great virtuoso she is able to take more risks on video then she would ever do live. In fact you will not see a better Act 1 solo by Giselle on stage because it would be too dangerous. If you fall on video you can always re-shoot the dance again. This allows dancers to take far more risks. In my opinion Fracci's video performance is closest to a definitive interpretation of this great role.
Erik Bruhn is an outstanding Albrecht. Other great male dancers have more power and sexuality but he is unmatched when it comes to noble bearing. He is the ultimate Danseur Noble. In this production he plays the part of an older, more sophisticated man who sweeps the youthful Giselle off her feet. Perhaps that is not entirely appropriate as he supposed to be so convincing as a peasant that Giselle is fooled into believing that is so. Bruhn would not fool anyone with his natural aristocratic style.
There are some very fine performances by Toni Lander as the ice-cold Myrtha and by Ted Kivett in the peasant Pas de Deux. Again they take full advantage of the video recording by jumping higher and with more passion then they would ever do live. Overall the dancing by the ABT is excellent.
This is a first rate production with good costumes and set designs (but not as good as the Royal Ballet version). The ubiquitous John Lanchbery superbly conducts the music. The sound is good too.
The only disadvantage is with the direction by Hugo Nibeling and David Blair. In an attempt to portray "realistic drama" the director uses too much rapid camera cutting and awkward camera viewpoints. This is rather irritating especially in the set dance scenes. Too often the cameras focus on the ballerina's feet, or her reflection in a lake of water. The problem is more acute in the second act.
Despite the drawback this video should on every ballet lover's shelf. The superb dancing and production totally outweighs the problems with direction.
The video is widely available in all the major classical record shops in London.
Natalya Bessmertnova, Yuri Vasyuchenko - Bolshoi Ballet
This is one the better Bolshoi productions but this not saying very much. It is an O.K Giselle with nothing good or bad about it.
I have great doubts as to whether Bessmertnova is a world class ballerina. Whatever one's opinion on this matter there can be little doubt that she was too old (nearly 50) when this production was filmed.
The highlight of the video is the spectacular Peasant Pas De Deux by Marina Nudga and Andrei Buravtsev. It is the most thrilling one I have ever seen and would not be out of place as Ballet-gala showstopper. Unfortunately there is little else I can recommend. Like so many Russian productions the dancers are superbly trained but the theatrical and dramatic elements are ignored. This is fatal in this most dramatic of all ballets. The whole performance is low voltage and underwhelming.
Its most serious problem is the poor direction by the Japanese T.V crew. There are too many panned out shots where the corps of Willis look more like ants then terrifying spirits. This makes the problems with production even worse. Algis Zhuratis' conducting is too smooth and beautiful at the expense of bucolic energy in the first act and deep emotion in the second. In almost every way this production is inferior to the ABT.
Lynn Seymour, Rudolph Nureyev, Monica Mason - Bavarian State Ballet
Given the superb cast this should have a wonderful Giselle. Unfortunately this production was done when Seymour was 49 years old and out of shape. Whilst she has wonderful feet and great feel for the role it is too much to ask a modern audience to overlook her weight and age. I am not proud to say this but I have to be realistic. Perhaps on stage appearance and age do not matter so much. However the intimacy of video makes appearance and age very important.
The production itself is rather shoddy and done on the cheap. The sets and designs are corny and shabby. It also omits the Peasant Pas de Deux. The company in general is second rate. Its one redeeming feature is Monica Mason as Myrtha. She is a terrifying and awesome myth - in fact it's the best Myrtha I have seen.
This video is really only for fans of Monica Mason. Fans of Lynn Seymour should avoid it - it is not one of her more successful performances.