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Recording Dances

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Eye on Dance, A NYC tv show breifly mentioned how rare it is to record many ballets. The artisitis featured were attempting to reconstruct an old Ballet Russe production from their days touring South America during WWII.

I tend to agree with the artists, Ballets are rarely videotaped/filmed for archival purposes. One would think it would be easier to re-construct a ballet when it will be revived in a few years, or maybe not.

Is it laziness, poverty, or shortsitedness? Just curious.


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In the 1940s, poverty was definitely a problem, as was the want of technology. Companies could not afford to hire a film crew to come in and record their works for posterity. Additionally, the devices and media used in those days did not "paint" well unless the lights were all full up all the time, and as "white" as possible. Home movie makers were very hampered by the fact that their cameras could only work for about ten seconds between winds, and filming an entire ballet this way meant many, many trips to the theater, and many, many takes during each, separated widely by winding. Now, there were ballets captured in this manner, but the balletomanes doing so were in the vast minority!

Video recording now is much simpler and efficient, and there are notation systems in use today which are more effective in taking down the movements of a ballet, but all, despite their champions' best claims, are subjective, and are capable of different interpretations by different choreologists. I would disagree with a statement that ballets ARE rarely taped for archival purposes, but don't have a problem with one saying that ballets WERE rarely video-recorded! The big problem now is finding a medium which is sufficiently stable to act as an archival medium!:)

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There were also technical problems before video -- sound, for one. There are a lot of videos made by fans during performances, or members of the artistic staff of companies, but few have sound.

Also, with the old 16 mm cameras, you could only take 45 second shots, so live performance filming wasn't possible. There are some patched together films. Shoot night 1 -- with Cast A, perhaps -- and then night 2 (perhaps with Cast B) starting a few seconds later, and cut the two together.

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Alexandra, didn't somebody capture "Gaité Parisienne" on 8mm? I hate to think of how long that took! He managed, as I recall, to catch enough performances to cobble together a single film that could be played against a certain recording (on a 78 rpm record). You just needed two record players to avoid losing sync with the film! Sort of a home Vitaphone process!

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Yes, and that's available commercially now. He also did the Royal Ballet's Sleeping Beauty -- filmed over a ten year period, all his favorite dancers, their best performance (Fonteyn is 39 at the beginning of the Rose Adagio and 29 at the end of it, or something like that). Victor Jepsen, I think the name is. Danish, of course ;)

Editing to add: The Sleeping Beauty film is now at the Dance Collection iin New York, but I've been told it's deteriorated badly and one needs "a scholarly purpose" and written permission from the family to view it.

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alexandra - love the note about fonteyn's ages! ;)

MJ - in my experience, almost ALL ballets (now) are videotaped by professional companies. at times in the (recent) past if/when they were not, often the reason was cost. (as an insane example, the RB have a magnificent private library of videotapes, without any sound accompaniment. reason: paying the orchestra to be recorded would have cost too much.)

mel - IMO, good notation is NOT subjective - except in the sense that everything in the human world may be said to be.

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mel wrote

Ever try to read a notation score that you yourself did not create?
yes. of course.

this is basic training, all the way through a notation course. one's tests largely consist of the same process - either reading and teaching (to dancers, on the spot) a score you have never seen before, or writing a dance you have never seen before (which is then marked for accuracy by someone who knows the dance).

certainly neither of these forms of notation is 'intuitive' - neither claim to be. that's why the training courses are so selective, exacting and intensive.

not to nitpick, but the term 'shorthand' is also generally regarded as insulting, by notators - for the very reason abovementioned. 'shorthand' implies a mental trigger, or something incomplete, to summon up the full form - whereas good notation is DESCRIPTIVE, not suggestive.

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Having just finished Mr. B's Nutz, we were contiously admonished not to videotape. Several dancers had to look at the McCauley Culkin (SP?) video when there was confusion, I don't know how accurate the Movie is to Ballanchine, I'm sure some changes had to have been made for TV, and as 2 Left can confirm, HOllywood listens to No-one.

I won't speculate why, I'll let the peanut gallery do tthat.


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