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on 10 August 2011
This is long overdue but thanks to ICA CLASSICS we can go back in time to a magical performance of Les Sylphides with the great Alicia Markova, light as thistledown. The performance also brings together the very young Svetlana Beriosova, only twenty at the time and at the beginning of a great career as a ballerina of the Royal ballet. Beriosova's elegant arms and wonderful back are already in evidence when this film was made. Also sharing the spotlight is the Russian born ballerina Violetta Elvin exquisite in the Mazurka. The performance opens with the magnificent Tamara Karsavina remeniscing about her own great career.The camera work is very much in its infancy but when you have dancing of this calibre you soon forget and are transported into the magic of dance not always seen today!!!
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on 12 October 2011
There is so little on film of Svetlana Beriosova and Violetta Elvin that this DVD is worth buying for that alone. Even in the confines of a very tight BBC studio you get the essence of why they were rated as highly as they were. Markova has all the style and mystery that made her the prima ballerina she was.

You also have the added attraction of the LES SYLPHIDE being introduced by Tamara Karsavina, who created the piece for Michel Fokine (dancing with Anna Pavlova and Vaslav Nijinsky, no less)., with a wonderful cast. The GISELLE is another archival document, with a wonderful cast.

If you are interesting in ballet you should have this in your collection.
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on 28 May 2012
I would only recommend this DVD to those ballet-lovers who have already seen Giselle and are buying it for the dancers. For those who haven't seen Giselle I would recommend a more modern production for first time viewing. This is simply because the filming style is quite poor, the cameras don't move with the unfortunate results of the screen showing only a dancer's skirt as she is carried off-stage past the camera. Giselle also seems more like a film with dancing than dancing being filmed as it is filmed in a studio rather than on stage. Other than that I have no problem with this DVD as the dancing is wonderful and is something to treasure.
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on 27 February 2014

It’s long been known that the BBC has a unique store of dance treasures locked up in its archives: film after film of the great dancers of the last 60 years, in famous and fascinating productions, all of them unavailable to the general public. We were allowed occasional glimpses, usually during Jane Pritchard’s unmissable NFT seasons, but it seemed that the problems of copyright, performance rights and expense, which presumably prevented a general release, would never be satisfactorily resolved. Now, however, the ICA Classics company has apparently discovered the needful ‘open sesame’ and is publishing a whole series of these past glories on DVD: this one is shortly to be followed by Pineapple Poll and The Lady and the Fool, and then there’s a disc of Margot Fonteyn and Michael Somes in extracts from the three Tchaikowsky classics – and after that, who knows?: we could finally get to see Margaret Dale’s brilliant Petrushka, or even the Haydee/Doyle/Seymour mini-Onegin.
There’s a caveat, though: these performances were filmed more than half a century ago and we are seeing not only the dancing but also the television technology of the time. Before you can form any opinion about the dancers you need to discount the effect of tiny studios, live performance after too little rehearsal time, still-experimental camera work, and minimal scenery. On this disc,the Sylphides – dating from 1953 and the fourth oldest film in the whole archive – actually gets a more straightforward presentation than the Giselle from 5 years later. From contemporary reports it sounds as if in between, the experiments had got rather out of hand: E.C.Mason, writing in Dance & Dancers (1/59), is not entirely happy with the handling of Giselle, but sees it as a huge improvement on recent showings, whose “trick-effects – dissolves, slow motion, double-exposures, superimpositions, strange angles” had caused most viewers to despair about ballet on television. To our eyes it still looks a bit fidgety and the special effects – ghostly Wilis, mainly – are fairly rudimentary, but it’s far less gimmicky and irritating than, say, the Fracci/Bruhn recording, made a decade later.

Although most of the soloists in Giselle come from the Royal Ballet organisation, it’s not an RB production, and it’s been cut down to just over an hour in total. So there is no peasant pas de deux, no long mime scene for Giselle’s mother, and the dances for the villagers are much reduced – partly, perhaps, as there are apparently no young men in the whole of this village. The lack of studio space is most badly felt in the dances for the Wilis and especially for Myrthe. The music was pre-recorded, by the Covent Garden Orchestra under Hugo Rignold, and as is often the case, some of the numbers were taken noticeably faster than we’re used to these days: the famous crossover for the Wilis, for instance, is very brisk and looks much the better for it – far more dramatic.
It’s the casting, I guess, which will attract most people to this Giselle. Nadia Nerina was not the obvious choice for the lead: she’d been dancing it for two or three years at Covent Garden, but from the reviews I’ve read I don’t think it would have been considered one of her best roles. She wasn’t, at the time, a famously great actress, and when I saw her live a couple of times, several years later, I don’t remember being particularly impressed by her characterisation. But here, she’s lovely. Her technique was always strong, of course – you could sneak her into a Royal Ballet Giselle today and apart from her lack of extreme extension (welcome, anyway, in this ballet), no-one would notice she’d come from another age. What really surprised me was how affecting her mad scene is. She plays Giselle in the first act as a very simple, unsophisticated and trusting girl, and when she discovers Albrecht’s duplicity it’s as if her whole world has shatterd and her mind simply can’t cope. It’s a plain, unornamented reading and I found it really quite moving.

Her Albrecht is the great Soviet star Nikolai Fadeyechev, and it’s maybe his presence that brought Nerina’s perormance to life. Unlike her, though, he really is from another ballet age – a much gentler, softer, danseur noble than we’re accustomed to now, an ideal already on its way out in this country by then. The softness of his dancing, on the other hand is very attractive, and he’s such a strong partner – Nerina flies up in arms in the big lifts in Act 2 as if she were indeed weightless. It’s good also to see Niels Bjørn Larsen as a serious and concerned Hilarion, Lydia Sokolova as Giselle’s mother, and Margaret Hill as a beautiful, baleful Myrthe. The corps de ballet is made up of dancers from various other British companies of the time – the only one I recognise is Brenda Last, then of Western Theatre Ballet.

I’ve concentrated on Giselle here as we reviewed the Sylphides film quite recently, when Jane Pritchard showed it as part of her Diaghilev season last year. I can only repeat that it’s a must-see, both for the dancing of three legendary ballerinas and for the extraordinary introduction by the uniquely extraordinary Tamara Karsavina.
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on 7 September 2015
The find on this was the refined and well executed dancing of Alicia Markova in Les Sulphides, Someone that I have only heard about as a legend. From this performance I can understand why people that saw her dance had that opinion. Svetlana Beriosova in this ballet dances extremely well.
The disappoinment on this DVD was the second act of Giselle that had lost for me some of its emotion by cutting out important dance sequences due to trying to fit the ballet into a television time-slot. The very good and brilliantly executed dancing of Nadia Nerina could not compensate for this and for. this reason I regrettably took off a star from this rating. However, I found the ending very moving with Nikolai Fedeyechev being able to show deep regret for his earlier actions in the ballet.
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on 17 April 2012
Very interesing historical performances, unfortunately in black & white, of "Giselle" & "Les Sylphides". The sound isn't marvellous, but just to see again Alicia Markova & other ballerinas of 50 or more years ago is lovely.
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on 3 September 2014
Good for those who like ballets. I think all of the 50-60's styles were the same. Good for collections
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