I'll be honest: I bought this hoping to see Andris Liepa dance something spectacular (like the golden Slave) and initially I was quite disappointed. I had seen him during the Bolshoi's visit to Greece in 1986. He had danced the Raymonda pas-de-deux with his wife Alla Mikhalchenko, and his variation had brought the theater to its feet. Well, this dvd was filmed 16 years later, and though Andris maintains his youthfull, good looks, his dancing abilities must not be as spectacular anymore. Wisely, he avoids doing anything that might expose the fact, and restricts himself mostly to character parts. (Incidentally, he is the son of Maris Liepa, whom you may have seen dancing the part of Crassus in the old Bolshoi Spartacus.)
Once I got over the frustration of not seeing what I had expected, though, I found this production a true gem!
To begin with, this is not a Bolshoi production, though many of the dancers have been stars of that company.
What this is, actually, is an lavish re-creation of 3 ballets originally created by Diaghilev's Ballet Russes in the beginning of the 20th century. Sets and costumes reproduce the original designs by such artists as Benoit, Bakst and Golovin. Whether some other designers may have done a better(?) job with these, is quite irrelevant. This is a piece of history coming back to life, and, as such, I find it invaluable.
Though dancers from several groups have been used to form the corps-de-ballet, their performance is uniformly excellent throughout.
My only objection (hence the one star reduction) is in the way this was filmed. In an effort to make these ballets interesting as a cinematic experience as well, Liepa, who is also the director here, opted for a lot of (unnecessary, in my opinion,) camera movement and even attempted some rather silly special effects.
The first ballet presented is Petrushka. The re-creation is amazing, the scenes at the fair bursting with color and vitality. The problem with the filming here lies in the fact that each scene is staged separately and we are not shown how the transitions were done in the theater (unless if Diaghilev's group employed a revolving stage -which I doubt.) Liepa is an adorable Petrushka, funny and tragic at the same time. Gediminas Taranda (also a Bolshoi star in the 1980s) dances the Moor and Tatiana Beletskaya is the Ballerina.
The Firebird is the most "fantastic" of the 3 works and here special effects were used with a, sometimes, disturbing result. Liepa is the very handsome Prince. The only time he gets to dance is during his pas-de-deux with the bird, and there, of course, he is mainly the ballerina's supporter. He does that very well. Ekaterina Liepa (his sister, who actually looks very much like him,) is the Princess. It has been stated that all the Princess has to do here is look adorable, and that she certainly does. Her rather unimpressive dance with the girls is mostly filmed from behind a screen (the way the hiding Prince would see it.) I wish the Prince had come out of hiding earlier. Still, even with the disturbing interference of the screen, we get an idea of what this bit is about and it doesn't look like much.
Nina Ananishvili is the Firebird. Though she "flies" onstage by means of a special effect, we are allowed to watch her opening scene undisturbed. Her dance with the Prince is magnificent. Solid technique coupled with an intense interpretation. She manages to seem graceful and strange at the same time, much like such a bird should be. Unfortunately, during her second scene, the camera is too keen on filming the (impressive) dancing demons and we miss some of her dancing.
I found Scheherazade the most fascinating of this trio. Sets and costumes are lavish (designed by Bakst) and Fokine's choreography is nothing short of spectacular. (Liepa's directorial ideas are restricted to some very short shots of riders, which do not interfere with the dancing.)
Ilze Liepa (another sister?) is a mesmerizing Zabeida, -beautiful, intense, SEXY!!!
Victor Yeremenko, whom I had never seen before, is breath-taking as the Golden Slave. As I was watching him, I actually cought myself wondering if Nijinsky (who created the part) could have been any better than this. His dance with Zabeida is one of the most erotic sequences I have ever watched in a ballet.