This new DVD from Russia, a dazzling film version of three favourite ballets from the Diaghilev Ballets Russes seasons in Paris, was received several months after the Royal Ballet DVD, videoed at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. I found it wholly captivating and would be hard put to choose Firebirds between Leaane Benjamin in London and Nina Ananiashvili in Moscow.
Based on Michael Fokine's choreography, these are expansive Mosfilm studio recreations, with sumptuous costumes and fine sound for the three key scores. The Firebird is updated to modern fantasy film expectations, with more terrifying monsters etc, and even though it is put out in 4:3 format, there are three dimensional illusions (especially in the preliminaries). The filming is impressive and sound values are excellent, making it all an irresistible entertainment. The Pétrouchka will, perhaps, repay repeated viewing even more, with 'puppets' that make you care about their quarrels and fates, and both the Stravinsky scores are, of course, of such brilliant inventiveness that I cannot feel I shall ever tire of them.
Rimsky-Korsakov's for Schéhérazade is not on the same level, and in the concert hall gains from the wizardry of the greatest conductors. But it serves well as an accompaniment to dance for this luscious orientalist extravaganza and it is invaluable to have these three famous ballets brought together. Excellent value is increased, as with the other DVD, with an unusual extra, a charming sequence of 17 mins rehearsal footage catching the dancers in informal moments and providing a behind the scenes impression of the preparatory work for making the film.
I recommend these two DVDs equally strongly; if you plan to purchase one, try to afford both; taken together they will complement each other and provide double enjoyment, with food for thought about concert, video and film.
Copyright © 2003, Peter Grahame Woolf