(Wed Jan 3: 6:15pm; repeats Sat Jan 5: 1pm)
FELIA DOUBROVKSA REMEMBERED
Virginia Brooks, USA, 2008; 37m
Born in 1896 in St. Petersburg, Russia, Felia Doubrovska spent 33 years first as a student at the Imperial Ballet School and then as a famous ballerina. After her retirement from the stage she devoted nearly the same span of time to teaching at the School of American Ballet. This film provides an affectionate memorial and a tribute to an artist who made a great contribution to preserving the ballet tradition as she participated in the training of many of the women of the New York City Ballet, the instruments of George Balanchine's choreographic genius.
Introduced by the director.
Ludovic Kennedy, United Kingdom, 1959; 29m
Made at Anton Dolin’s instigation by the BBC, SLEEPING BALLERINA looks at the career of Olga Spessivtzeva (1895-1991), the Aurora of Diaghilev’s 1921 production of ‘The Sleeping Princess’. Spessivtzeva was considered to be one of the most promising dancer of her generation but her career was abruptly interrupted by the mental illness. As legend has it, she lost her memory on-stage performing the mad scene in "Giselle." The film includes footage of a rehearsal of "Giselle," Act 1. In 1940 was taken to the psychiatric hospital where she remained for 22 years.
HAPPY TO BE SO
Yelena Demikovsky, USA, 2007; 47m
The Belgian born Russian dancer Oleg Briansky and his French wife, Mireille Briane, first met in Paris and became inseparable. Premier danseur of many established companies in Europe, named “the most exciting male dancer in England” by Ballet Magazine in 1952, Oleg Briansky had to cut short his career due to the early onset of arthritis. In 1963, the two moved to New York and founded the Briansky Saratoga Ballet School. In this film they become performers in their own life story. Introduced by the director and Oleg and Mireille Briansky
Felia Doubrovska Remembered relies largely on interviews with Doubrovska, her students and colleagues, including Alexandra Danilova, John Taras, Tanaquil Le Clercq, Maria Tallchief, Allegra Kent and Maria Calegari. Calegari made a very touching observation about Doubrovska and her generation of Russian teachers. She noted that today, ballet teachers make corrections and treat people like "meat hanging on hooks." But what Calegari got from Doubrovska was the teacher's ability to find the "spark of the divine" within the student and nurture that. There was also priceless footage of Doubrovska and Danilova trying to reconstruct the man's variation from Le Pavillon d'Armide, which FD was to teach to Baryshnikov the next day.
The Sleeping Ballerina is narrated in overblown language, but is not to be missed for the grainy, fuzzy and sometimes overexposed footage of Spessivtzeva's Giselle, Act I. I was fascinated by the natural, unschooled look of her arms, except in her variation. A very different Giselle from what I'm used to.
Happy to Be So introduces us to the very charming couple Oleg Briansky and Mireille Briane. The editing is sometimes disconcerting -- footage from one interview is interspersed with footage from other interviews. Studio shots shift between Saratoga, Pennsylvania and NYC. The whole program ran almost three hours, and after a while this film started to seem a bit long and redundant. The strange title comes from the last spoken lines, " 'Inseparable.' 'And happy to be so."
If you're able to see tomorrow's repeat, go for it. There's plenty to enjoy and learn.