on 4 December 2010
It's bizarre that the Bolshoi Ballet of today is still so slightly represented on video. In the last five or six years the Moscow company has developed again into one of the most compelling and popular troupes around the world, with a stunning roster of dancers and a vibrantly interesting repertoire. Yet, we can still count the Bolshoi Ballet video releases on one hand and as seems to have become a habit it is left to French companies to make it all happen. This new, very welcome release of the old Soviet ballet "Flames of Paris", revived in 2008 by former Bolshoi Ballet director Alexei Ratmansky, is again produced by BelAir Classiques - the same inspired team that also gave us recordings of "The Pharaoh's Daughter", "Bolt" and "Queen of Spades".
The original "Flames of Paris" dates from 1932 with a choreography by Vasily Vainonen and music by Boris Asafiev. It quickly turned into one of the most popular 'dram-ballets' of the era, remaining a hit with Russian audiences until the 1960's. Allegedly, it was also a favorite of the otherwise not particularly ballet-minded Josef Stalin. "Flames of Paris" carried an obvious ideological message with its dramatic French Revolution setting, depicting the triumph of the heroic people over a depraved monarchy and aristocracy.
With that ideological message now obsolete and rightly comprehending the significant value of the balletic legacy of the Soviet era, Ratmansky rewrote with Alexander Belinsky the libretto for his 2008 revival, focusing no longer on the brave masses, but rather on the fate of four individuals, two pairs of lovers, caught up in the uncompromising and bloody chaos of the French Revolution. Also by reducing the original four acts into two and with a smooth, almost cinematographic manner of storytelling, he made the ballet more appealing to a present-day public. Since most of the original Vainonen choreography was lost, Ratmansky choreographed anew from scratch, incorporating the surviving bits of Vainonen, among others the famous "basque dance". Interestingly, the resulting stylistic diversity - from Vainonen's classical and character dancing to Ratmansky's neo-classical with a tinge of modern expressivity - gives the ballet extra punch. "Flames of Paris" readily exemplifies Ratmansky's gifts to tell a story in dance, while there are very little choreographers nowadays who are as musical as he is. His choreographic invention reflects to a large extent the variety of moods created by Asafiev's score. While mime dominated the original Flames, in Ratmansky's ballet it are dance and movement that pull the action forward. Characters are introduced and shaped by dance, events are energized by a skillful use of the ensemble. The production is efficient and attractive with evocative decors by Ilya Utkin and Evgeny Monakhov, inspired on contemporary (monochrome) engravings. The handsome and colorful costumes designed by Elena Markovskaya further provide an agreeable historical time frame.
The story is simple. In 1789, two peasants from southern France, Jeanne and Jérome, fleeing from a brutal marquis, are forced to join a group of revolutionaries marching onto to Paris, led by the soldier Philippe from Marseilles. Jérome was saved from imprisonment by the marquis' daughter Adeline (a character introduced by Ratmansky), who eventually also follows the revolutionaries in disguise. Once in Paris, though, the Revolution is taking full swing and with the new Republic, freedom is proclaimed. But not without a certain price: in a dramatic denouement Adeline's true social status is uncovered and she is brought to the guillotine (also introduced by Ratmansky) before the terrified eyes of her friends.
With its thundering cannon, fearless red-bonneted girls waving tricolor flags, crowds chanting revolutionary hymns like "La Marseillaise" and "Ca ira!", and even the infamous guillotine "Flames of Paris" may be an unusual ballet at first sight, but there is no doubt it is quintessentially Bolshoi. The spirit and scale of the old, almost mythical Bolshoi lives on in it, but it is a reborn, exciting and talented Bolshoi guided by an inspired hand that turns it into a performance which can be relished by audiences of today. The cast seen here is very much ideal. To have Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev in the leads is a continuous blessing - their pas de deux alone would already be worth the admission price. They are the company's most acclaimed young stars of the moment and this DVD shows us exactly why. Supporting roles including an excellent Denis Savin and ravishing principals Anna Antonicheva and Ruslan Skvortsov, are all outstanding and reflect the Bolshoi's current state of grace.
The present performance was filmed live at the Bolshoi Theatre in March 2010 and generally captures the production beautifully. The editing is very agreeable, with not too many unnecessary close-up shots, yet the picture quality suffers from red saturation in the DVD version. Sound is excellent. Included is an interesting bonus feature with interviews with Ratmansky, Osipova and Vasiliev, about the genesis, revival and performance of the ballet. Finally, this release campaigns Ivan Vasiliev as the Bolshoi's principal superstar, whose first DVD this is, yet he might have been graced with a less unflattering cover photo. Otherwise, a five-star release.
on 3 October 2015
This moves along quite nicely and suddenly takes a quantum leap and never leaves off. As all the reviews state, Vasiliev is outstanding, giving more than what is possible from the best of male dancers. Some sequences are difficult to believe. Osipova has found her true vocation in this niche performance. Not the best of true classical dancers, this mixture suits her high energy talents perfectly. The extras show what a difficult customer she is and I bet the Bolshoi breathed a sigh of relief when she resigned for being type cast in what they knew she was best suited.
The pure grace and beauty of this performance is by Nina Kaptsova and the Corps de Ballet. I was shocked and devastated when she was put to the guillotine at the end, but I will seek them out and I will find them and when I do they will regret it.
This issue continues the recent series of new Bolshoi Ballet recordings now available in high definition and Blu-ray. This follows a gap of a few years of refurbishment and where recordings have not been made. Suffice it to say that the Bolshoi Ballet has returned on very top form with interesting new productions as well as items of more traditional fare.
The current issue is set at the time of the French Revolution and is essentially a story of love formed on either side of the political divide and of human sacrifice in the name of love.
There can be no doubt about the mastery of the dancing in this production which is a technical 'tour de force'. The quality of the setting is also effective and makes good use of the large expanses of stage to create spectacle and a strong sense of speed. I personally find the music serviceable rather than of great note - not in the class of Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky or Prokofiev for example to name but three of Russian lineage. It is for these musical considerations rather than those of dance that I have withheld the fifth star. Clearly ballet has to be seen as a whole art form bringing together an amalgamation of dance, music and staging to create a total experience and a reviewer must therefore consider all of these factors when deciding upon a fair grading and this I have attempted to do.
Nevertheless, and regardless of the above, it is likely that this issue will be of particular interest to those who are interested in the extraordinarily athletic abilities of the Russian superstar dancer, Ivan Vasiliev. Allegedly he is known to almost fly and indeed he does seem to defy gravity. There is little to add except that he fully lives up to his reputation and will not disappoint. The other three star dancers, Natalia Osipova as Jeanne, Denis Savin as Jerome and Nina Kaptsova are all fine dancers in their own right and the four stars make an impressive team. The corps de ballet are all that one would expect from the revitalised Bolshoi and the supporting solo roles are also good. This is a very impressively danced ballet which is presented with excellent costumes and sets in the finest of Russian traditions.
There is an interesting 21 minute bonus featuring interviews, rehearsal sequences and some historical information presented by the choreographer, Ratmansky and the two main dancers, Vasiliev and Osipova. This has subtitles to help with the rehearsal sequences and the dancers however Ratmansky speaks fluent English during his interview extracts.
The Blu-ray recording is very successful and delivers crisp and detailed imaging without motion blur even at times of fast action. There is a fine DTS surround sound option supplied as well as stereo. The extra bonus is in the form of 21 minutes of interviews and rehearsal extracts featuring the choreographer Ratmansky and the fine two leading dancers, Osipova and Vasiliev.
So in my opinion this earns a clear 5 stars for the dancing, much of which is spectacular, coupled with a fine production which is recorded well and generous bonus. My doubts about the long-term quality of the music is the reason for the reduced level to 4 stars. This is a personal response however and those with more dance-based priorities may well prefer a higher overall grade than me.
on 30 October 2013
I purchased this dvd as I had just seen these two fabulous dancers perform, in this ballet at Covent Garden, and I wanted to repeat the pleasure. It is well-filmed at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow and it is just as thrilling. I would recommend it to all ballet lovers as an opportunity to see the, arguably greatest partnership in ballet, for decades, and to those who enjoyed 'Les Mis' to experience a different take on the subject of the French Revolution.
on 7 September 2013
This is not really a review. It is more of a message towards the visual arts companies, theaters, ballet companies and maybe Ivan Vasiliev himself. Ladies and gentlemen, do you realise that this guy is ARGUABLY THE GREATEST DANCER we have seen since the times of Nureyev and Barishnikov?????? I watched him on You Tube on the advice of a friend and I said to myself "What the hell is this???". I was speechless. And then I decided to enter the Amazon site and buy everything that there is on him and with him. AND I FIND JUST THIS!!! ARE YOU SERIOUS??? Give this guy and us a SPARTACUS, a CORSAIRE, a DON QUICHOTE, a LA BAYADERE. AND FILM HIM FOR GOODNESS' SAKE! ON BLU RAY! I hope you realise your responsibilities towards the public and the art of ballet itself. If others agree with me then please make yourselves heard and put pressure on these people.