PERFORMER: American Ballet Theatre
CATALOGUE NO: 070 102-2……………#D13
New technology doesn’t always make for better viewing, at least not where dance is concerned.
Even though DVD may produce a better class of image for the TV screen, it can’t alter the fact that the screen remains a screen, rather than a three-dimensional space, and that the images we see are only miniature versions of the stage event. We still have a long way to go before the experience of watching dance in our sitting rooms is remotely comparable to seeing it live.
Even so, the crop of new dance releases on DVD does contain some genuinely desirable goodies – especially the reissue of the 1969 film version of American Ballet Theatres GISELLE.
This was made in the days when it was fashionable for dance films to attempt a cinematic verisimilitude, so when the familiar Adam overture strikes up we’re transported not to an opera-house interior but to a semi-realistic peasant village somewhere in deepest Germany.
There is a working mill, a cluster of cottages and an atmospheric forest in the background. For 21st-century viewers this folksy naturalism may look whimsical, but director Hugo Niebeling uses most of his cinematic effects wisely, creating maximum dramatic impact within the structure of the original choreography.
When the Court hunting party arrives in the middle of Act I, it bursts through the trees on horseback, effecting a thrilling entrance which conveys the sense of glamorous strangers arriving from another world. In the ghostly second act, the terror of the supernatural is conveyed through psychedelic special effects which nearly always complement rather than dominate the dancing.
For children and non-purists the verismo style helps to make the ballet pacey and fun but for aficionados the real attraction is the cast, with Carla Fracci and Erik Bruhn dancing the lead roles while they were still at the peak of their legendary partnership, and the Danish ballerina Ton! Lander as Myrtha.
There is some gorgeous dancing on show – and although over-ambitious camerawork occasionally disrupts the flow, the opportunity to replay Bruhn’s flying leaps and Fracci’s feathery footwork is more than compensation.