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Nadia Nerina in ica Classics DVD's: Fille, Les Sylphides, Coppeli

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I knew Nadia Nerina from her chapter in Barbara Newman's book, "Striking a Balance," and that Frederick Ashton created the role of Lise in "La Fille mal gardee" for her, but I had never seen any footage of her dancing until the recent ica releases of "La Fille mal gardee" and "Les Sylphides"/"Coppelia"/"Giselle." From other recordings of "Fille", with their rather gentle approaches, I was gobsmacked when I saw her in these DVD's.

Nerina's overall technique is second to none: fleet, precise footwork, light jumps, solid turns, and she's a rock in so many tricky technical parts of "Fille," like when she is turned by the female corps holding only ribbons. Particularly striking is how in "Les Sylphides" in penche, she slowly moves her head from one side to the other on the breath of the music. If she were on So You Think You Can Dance, the judges would be screaming, "You're a Beast." (Score one for Team Cecchetti!)

Particularly striking is her independence from her partners -- David Blair in "Fille," Philip Chatfield in "Les Sylphides" and Donald Britton in "Coppelia" -- where she makes Suzanne Farrell look like Melanie Hamilton. In "Striking a Balance" she spoke of working with Balanchine -- she danced "Ballet Imperial" -- and it's a shame that she couldn't have split in two to have simultaneous careers, one with Balanchine.

What I had forgotten was how much training she had in drama and mime before coming to England from South Africa, but these her performances as Lise and especially Coppelia make it clear: with cameras in her face, she gave beautifully articulated dramatic performances and such clear mime.

She spoke about having filmed "Giselle" with Nikolai Fadeyechev in 1958 for BBC TV with producer Margaret Dale, who produced Cranko's "The Lady and the Fool" and "Pineapple Poll" as well as "Fille," "Les Sylphides," and "Coppelia." I am disappointed that the "Giselle" in this DVD was the "Act II" Pas de Deux with Fonteyn and Nureyev; I hope ica eventually releases the Nerina/Fadeyechev "Giselle."

Nerina is now on my list of dancers I wished I had seen live, but I'm grateful that such beautiful performances were captured and are now available in any form and produced with such thoughtfulness.

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In "Fille" David Blair was charming as Colas. It was fun to see Michael Coleman listed as one of the smaller roles in the wedding contract scene in Act III; he was Lesley Collier's Colas in a later "Fille" film/DVD. Sadly, the flutist who has all of the long beat passages went uncredited as a demi-soloist.

The two men who stole the show were Stanley Holden as the Widow Simone and Alexander Grant as Alain. Both were performances of remarkable restraint and nuance.

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Nerina's Giselle is available on DVD, paired with Markova's Les Sylphides.


At the moment there is an exhibit on Nerina at the Royal Opera House. Costumes and photographs are scattered throughout the theater. Among the things mentioned in the displays is that she was one of the first ballerinas to take television seriously. Apparently many of her colleagues wanted nothing to do with it. This is why we're fortunate to have so many of her roles preserved on film.


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For those that have not got a copy I sincerely beg you to buy the Giselle DVD, Nerina is a revelation in the role.

I'm always hearing that modern technique is superior to that of dancers in the past, but when I watch Nerina dance it re-enforces my argument that that absolutely is not the case.

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Many thanks, volcanohunter: I searched for "Giselle" using the site's own "search" (sic) function, and it didn't come up in the results. I can't wait to get see this.

Edited to add: I'm hoping that this is the tip of the iceberg. Imagine if the Soviet TV archives were looted for similar treasures.

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In an interview with Nerina on YouTube, she said that her father used to call her "Nadia" as a nickname for Nadine, and "Nerina" was her mother's name: it is a flower that grows in South Africa, akin to naming someone Lily or Rose.

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I just received the video that includes the Nerina Giselle.(combined with a 1953 Sylphides, including Markova). It's a much shortened version (less than an hour) shot in b&w in a small BBC studio overstuffed with scenery .

Despite the production limitations, Nerina's Giselle in Act I makes the whole thing worthwhile. Watching her was like seeing Gislle/Act I for the first time. She has all the technique required, though the studio stage does not allow for expansive movement. What makes her performance, however, is a kind of freshness and spontaneity that is rare even among great Giselles. Nerina is one of the most appealing ballet performers I can recall. There are a number of individual touches that stick in the memory and make you love her character -- the way she bursts into spontaneous dance right after her first entrance (responding to Albrecht's knocking), the way she blows her kisses to him, the way she (and Fadeyechev) deal with the daisy petals, I could go on. In terms of emotional effect, the closest thing I can think of is Carla Fracci (in the video she made with Erik Bruhn).,

Act II is another story. The cuts and the limited dance space -- combined with Nerina's unflattering costume and uniformly glum facial expression -- are less than fortunate. Probably no Giselle could carry of the dramatic demands of Act II in these circumstances..

Nicolai Fadeyechev -- with his big, beautifully proportioned body, manly chin, long arms, and alarmingly expressive hands -- is constrained by the small spaces and not always flattered by the closeups. He supports Nerina elegantly, especially in a superb series of lifts, but seems on the whole like someone visiting from a different era of ballet. (It was a relief to go from this to YouTube to watch Fadeyechev in his native element -- on the big stage, dancing with Ulanova, two years earlier.)

The ballet master was Peter Wright. Lydia Sokolova (Daighelev's first English ballerina) was an affecting Berthe. Margaret Hill's Myirthe had little to do beyond miming, gesturing, and looking irritated.

Best bit: the way Nerina bursts into dance at her first entrance.

Second best bit: during the return of the peasants, Hilarion (quite distressed at the time) becomes entangled in their happy gambols and has a hard time forcing his way through the crowd. I could not help recalling this later on, when he became similarly -- though much more disastrously -- mixed up in a crowd of dancing willis..

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Thanks you Christian, for posting that. Fadeyechev is absolutely wonderful. So is she, and much of what we see in this clip has to do with the way they dance together [though some of her dancing is as good as it gets -- rather like Lorna Feijoo's, her pas de basques float and fly and make you hear the music, they sing so. The piques with the grand rond de jambes are so musical, they're like a dream. The lifts are probably a combination of her musicality and his. I'd go even further and say that Fadeyechev is -- by way of letting Nerina shine, and by giving her the kind of attentions that would make you cherish him -- making the case for Albrecht as someone who is whether he knows it or not falling further and further in love with her -- as are we -- so that when the disaster comes, it will take him as much by surprise s it does her, and his remorse will be real and tragic.

This IS a great first act, one of the best, most spontaneous, I've ever seen.

I love hte way she uses the space -- there is so little OF it, but she makes her solo so expansive, especially in the steps that are normally thrown away, like the tombe/chasses.

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