Thursday, 4 June 2015

Russian Ballet DVD Collection

Swan Lake/ Giselle/ Don Quixote/ The Nutcracker/ Spartacus (DVDs), Bolshoi Ballet, Bolshoi Theatre - reviewed on 3rd June

Four recordings from the 1970s and one from 1991 form RussianTeleRadio Worldwide's Russian Ballet Collection box set. Featuring classic productions by Yuri Grigorovich – Don Quixote, Swan Lake, Giselle, The Nutcracker and Spartacus – which have shaped the company's history and secured its reputation on the world stage, these important films have been digitally restored and remastered to HD quality on DVD.

Unfortunately, with the exception of the most recently filmed Giselle, the ballets don't provide an entirely seamless onscreen experience. Images occasionally go out of focus, audience coughing is clearly audible, and low lighting frequently makes it hard to see the dancers onstage. Nevertheless, there is still plenty to enjoy in these five Russian works performed by some of the Bolshoi's most famous dancers.

Don Quixote is a real ballet gem. Headed by the charming, effervescent and effortlessly virtuosic Nadezhda Pavlova and Vyacheslav Gordeyev, the production is utterly joyous and looks as fresh and vibrant today as it must have done when it was filmed in 1978. From 1979, Spartacus is also gloriously performed. Vladimir Vasiliev and Ekaterina Maximova are an impassioned leading couple, with their final pas de deux – to Khachaturian's gorgeous soaring score – impressing particularly.

The Nutcracker (from 1978) looks contrastingly dated with Vasiliev and Maximova's onstage chemistry (which is evident in abundance in Spartacus) failing to translate onto camera. A highly elegant Waltz of the Flowers - featuring a large cast of romantic tutu-clad women and candelabra-wielding men - is the production's highlight. Swan Lake (from 1976) is performed in typically Russian style with Maya Plisetskaya and Alexander Bogatyrev at the helm. The array of national dances in Act III, including the beautifully understated Danse Russe (which is often cut from British productions of the ballet), please especially.

The Bolshoi Ballet's 1991 Giselle rounds off the box set with a glorious performance in the title role by Nina Ananiashvili. Wide eyed and sprightly in Act I and effortlessly ethereal in Act II, she is partnered capably by an ardent Victor Barykin.

Whilst these DVDs are not perfect, they are a wonderful tribute to the Bolshoi Ballet, its historical legacy and some of its great 20th Century artists.

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