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Just saw this wonderful film at the Walter Reade (Dance Films Assocation's Dance On Camera Festival)... and thoroughly enjoyed it. It made me wish all the worlds' archives were available on youtube [or elsewhere on the 'net]... one realizes how many treasures are languishing in closets. I was particularly fascinated by the Carlotta Zambelli footage... so interesting to see a dancer of this era on film... shot by the Lumiere brothers.... such tiny waist (I'm assuming in a tight corset?), one wondered how she could have the stamina...

Lifar's Daphnis & Chloe looked beautiful... is it in repertoire anywhere?

Also interesting to see the Gene Kelly ballet made for the Paris Opera... very acrobatic.. I found it more curious than consuming.

Wonderful to hear Ms. Bessy in person afterwards, answering questions with the help of a translator. She said seeing herself in Gene Kelly's footage was the first time she had ever seen herself dance... and she wasn't happy with what she saw... a foot not fully pointed here, a knee at a different angle there... and so she put in a video review room for the students at the Paris Opera and has them filmed so they can review themselves regularly with a professor, because it is difficult sometimes to communicate clearly in words what is going wrong in a tour or pirouette, but when the issue can be pinpointed in slow motion, the students can see and understand what needs to change. I spoke with JKO's Raymond Lukens & Franco DaVita afterwards who had come to see the film and they said their students are doing the same thing on their own, filming each other with their various personal cameras/ipods. I think it's interesting how the new media are finding their way into ballet training... the new mirrors. Still, video is a distorting mirror... it's nice not to have to glue one's focus on one spot to be able to consider the shape & line, but what comes across most strongly on video is big clear line with exagerated extensions... I hope the subtleties of epaulement that might define the French School don't fade in value by comparison to what looks best on video... but I imagine there's little danger of that?

Someone asked what innovations Ms. Bessy had tried at the school and which ones she felt were successful and which were not. She had mentioned a close connection to Bejart earlier and I was wondering if she was going to mention any parallels with his Ecole Mudra, but nothing was mentioned. She seemed to think everything she tried had been very successful except for tap.. there was one thing she particulary liked but now I can't remember... was anyone else from here there? I noticed she didn't mention Nureyev either... and I thought perhaps the school worked particularly hard to provide dancers who could perform his ballets.. but there was no mention. Time was short for questions, so one dared not ask a second.

I'm afraid I mispoke... i've been wondering for years what typifies dancers from the French School... we see so little of it here and yet we hear of it. I thought perhaps it was the attention to carriage of the head & shoulders, soft use of the arms... but wasn't sure how to ask. Someone had asked something similar immediately before and I thought she had said something more or less about choosing dancers for the best line just like other schools, but not what made the difference. I thought perhaps if she considered what she felt the urge to correct in dancers trained in other traditions, it might give some light... but asked badly... and in practically the house of Balanchine I apparently asked what she would want to fix in Balanchine trained dancers... whereas I meant equally what she might fix in Vaganova or Bournonville dancers, but didn't manage to make that clear. And then much later I remember the discussion of Suzanne Farrell with Lacotte in the Wiseman film. She displayed extreme diplomacy and spoke about what is necessary to stage a choreographer's ballet and what is appropriate for the basic schooling... speaking of parallels between what was appropriate for a Lifar ballet not being appropriate for all ballets, similar to what was appropriate for a Balanchine ballet perhaps not being appropriate for all ballets.

If we ever figure out how to download memories onto a digital format, after KFW's memory, I'd love to see New York through 14 year old Claude Bessy's eyes... particularly Harlem.

Mr. Herrault did a charming job of editing transitions of clips together, moving from one ballet to another as if continuing a movement phrase... and as Ms. Bessy mentioned, he did some masterful work putting sound to silent movies...

Again, what treasures there seem to be in the archives in France.

There was a lovely bit in the film where they went through the wardrobe of old Bessy costumes with a retired Costume mistress (costumer?) and she mentioned that one was in a museum ("and so I am now in a museum?" I believe Bessy said). What museum & how does one visit it? I'd love to see some of those tutus up close!

I would have liked to asked whether she missed the wooden floors that were apparent in the early films...

Although the new building is beautiful and they clearly needed the space... I hope there are still some classes in the Opera Garnier building so the students are still brushing shoulders with the professionals...

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Thanks a lot for this wonderful review, Amy.

An answer to some of your questions:

-Daphnis and Chloe is danced by POB's school

-POB's school pupils take class at Garnier before their performamnces or when they perform with the compagny, eg for the Nutcracker ou Paquita.

-There aren't any connections between POB's school and Rudra, but there were a strong friendship between Miss Bessy and Maurice Bejart. Some of his works have been danced by the the school, the last one being seven greek dances a year ago

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Thank you Cyngeblanc... I would never have guessed the school performed Bejart.

I also forgot to mention Gene Kelly's wife was at both showings... I overheard her speaking to someone in the lobby afterwards saying something along the lines that the first first viewing found her wide eyed but the second viewing helped her see even more. I got the impression it was the first time she had seen the footage. I wonder if France has an equivalent to the NYPL Jerrome Robbins Dance Division or San Francisco's PALM.

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From DFA's site http://dancefilms.org/festival/39th-annual-festival-2011/walter-reade-theatre-program/


World Premiere

Fabrice Herrault, 2010; USA, 50m

Described as the “Golden Silhouette” by Serge Lifar, French ballerina Claude Bessy was an admired etoile of the Paris Opera Ballet and ran its prestigious school for decades. Americans know her as Gene Kelly’s partner in his “Invitation to the Dance.” Herrault’s intimate documentary, narrated by his subject, features rare vintage classroom and performance footage of the dancer in her prime, including works by Kelly, Serge Lifar, and Maurice Bejart. Intro/Q and A’s with director and star. This screening was made possible in part due to a generous donation from The American Friends of the Paris Opera & Ballet/Eugenia Delarova Doll Fund.

Followed by:

LES REFLETS DE LA DANSE (Reflections of the dance) excerpt

Nicolas Ribowski, 1979; France, 33m

Paris Opera Ballet School classes featuring former students of Claude Bessy, including Sylvie Guillem and Elisabeth Maurin. Intro by Claude Bessy

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re: the costume storage room, i believe this is in the Garnier, where 'historic' if not antique costumes are stored. there's a similar scene in Bell's ELUSIVE MUSE where, if mem. serves, Farrell discusses the costume for TZIGANE.

i doubt this room is open to the public.

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