A Glowing Review

May 10, 2010 at 12:45 am (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Film Adaptations, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , , , , , )

It’s been many years since I’ve seen a ballet performed live. They can be poorly staged, or shaky and out-of-sync dancers can distract.

Or a ballet can be perfectly beautiful, glowing, entrancing, and magical—with sumptuous costumes, lavish sets, beautiful music, gorgeous dancing. That kind of experience reminds me that humans can create great beauty.

That’s what I think while watching the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s performance of Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, filmed in 1999 at London’s Sadler Wells Theater. Wow. Just wow.

The story starts in the forest, bypassing the opening scene with Theseus, Hippolyta and Egeus. From there, it follows Shakespeare’s narrative pretty closely.

I enjoy watching the interplay between the four lovers. It is well done—the loving dance between Lysander (Ross Yearsley) and Hermia (Julie Tobiason) and then the cold Demetrius (Jeffrey Stanton) pushing away the distraught Helena (Lisa Apple). The love-juice-inspired confusion, Lysander lusting after Helena and spurning Hermia, the dueling and confusion in the foggy forest (beautiful sets!).

I enjoy the fairies, as well. Oberon (Paul Gibson) is regal and in control. Puck (Seth Belliston) is an amazing mime. Titania (Patricia Barker) is absolutely lovely. The set for her bower is gorgeous and her fairy entourage is magical.

I love it all. It is hilarious to see this nymph, this ethereal beauty, this Queen of the Fairies, dancing with the ass-headed Bottom.

The second act has little to do with Shakespeare (no mechanicals, no Pyramus and Thisby). There is the courtly wedding (including the ubiquitous Mendelssohn wedding march) and then an extended series of beautiful dances. This is grand entertainment: gorgeous dancing, beautiful sets, fantastic costumes (I love that Hippolyta actually looks like an Amazon queen!). Watching this makes me really long to see a beautiful ballet presented live.


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Nureyev and Fonteyn

March 20, 2010 at 9:09 pm (Film Adaptations, Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , , , , )

I loved, loved, loved Rudolf Nureyev’s choreography and the entirely spectacular 1995 Paris production of Romeo and Juliet. Loved it so much that I thought the version with Nureyev himself dancing with Margot Fonteyn must be even better. I think I built it up too much in my mind. I like the other version better.

Maybe I’m showing myself for what I am… just a casual viewer, not a ballet aficionado. At all. I don’t know anything about ballet except whether I enjoy it. I’m pretty much the same with wine. Anyway, this version, danced with the Royal Ballet in London in 1966, does not feel nearly as sumptuous and dramatic to me as the 1995 production.

One thing I like about the 1995 version is you get a real feel for the spectacle of it—they show the crowds entering the hall, the orchestra warming up, you get a real feel that this is an event. The 1966 version lacks that aspect completely.

Don’t get me wrong—it’s lovely. The Prokofiev score is the same as in the other version. The sets are nice, many of the costumes are pretty. But it just doesn’t measure up to the other version for me.

The choreography feels sluggish to me compared to the 1995 version. There is much walking around, especially early on. Costumes with long trains don’t lend themselves to a lot of fast dancing, I guess. I just found it slow-going and not as fun to watch.

I was put off right from the start. The dance begins with a scene in the marketplace that reminds me of a square dance. The costumes are odd and the ballerinas have long, loose hair. There are a couple similar scenes later in the production. They always seem out of place to me. There’s also an odd scene of a wedding (not Romeo and Juliet’s wedding!) in the marketplace.

The dancing generally doesn’t seem as good to me. Not to be too brutal, but Fonteyn is in her mid-40s and she doesn’t dance a believable teenage Juliet for me. I’m sure Nureyev’s dancing is spectacular, but for me it didn’t feel as exciting or honest as Manuel Legris’s Romeo in the 1995 version. There seems to be less chemistry (and why the blue eyeshadow on Nureyev?).

I don’t find this Mercutio (David Blair) nearly as endearing and humorous as Lionel Delanoe’s in the 1995 production. This Tybalt (Desmond Doyle) looks devilish to me in his bright red costume.

My kids came in late, but were quite interested in it. They loved the swordplay and were interested in the story line at the end with the sleeping potion and poison and stabbing. They were quite mesmerized, really. All in all, worth a watch, but I like the 1995 ballet version better.

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The Beauty of Ballet

March 17, 2010 at 5:10 pm (Film Adaptations, Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , , , , , , )

When I searched “Romeo and Juliet” on Netflix, I noticed several ballet versions and selected one with choreography by Rudolf Nureyev performed in Paris in 1995. To cut to the chase, I loved it. It’s spectacular. I watched it first on my regular TV and decided I was not doing it justice, so watched most of it again on the big screen behemoth in my basement. It is so lovely.

The title roles are performed by Manuel Legris and Monique Loudières and they are wonderful together. Loudières, although obviously not a teenager, dances with a sweet innocence that makes her Juliet believably girl-like. Legris is her charming Romeo. Lionel Delanoe does a great job as Mercutio—you see every ounce of wit and energy that Shakespeare puts into that character. The nurse is also quite amusing. She is a lusty version, quite a bit younger than what I’ve seen in films. Her costume is striking, with floating scarves tracing her every move.

I’m going to run out of superlatives quickly. Prokofiev’s score is beautiful. The costumes and sets are sumptuous. The dancing wonderful to watch. This video runs 2.5 hours, and unlike the lengthy BBC production, this one had my attention for the entire time.

Of course, it’s a dance. There’s no time to channel surf—the story is told through music and motion, and you have to stay tuned into it to keep up with the action. I wonder if the story would be very hard to follow for people unfamiliar with Romeo and Juliet.

I found it kept pretty true to Shakespeare’s storyline. There are some variations. The ballet begins with foreshadowing a funeral. The savvy Rosaline makes an appearance early in the ballet, and Romeo’s heavy-handed wooing of her gives a good indication of why she scorned his doting.

But other than that, I’d say the narrative follows Shakespeare pretty closely. Of course, everything is adapted to ballet. The violence is easier to watch, I think, since it’s quite stylized.

This makes me think it would be appropriate for children to watch. Obviously, language isn’t a barrier as it might be for kids in a regular version of Romeo and Juliet. My little ones were interested for a few minutes, but then had to move onto homework and other things. I think a mature child, especially one that likes dance, might really enjoy this.

I realize that Shakespeare’s poetic language is his biggest asset, but I believe this ballet shows how the poetry can be successfully translated to dance and music. I enjoyed this video immensely. So much, in fact, that I added a version of Nureyev himself dancing with Margot Fonteyn to my to-watch list. Stay tuned!

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