Dance Films: The Transmission of a
Legacy An Afternoon with French
film director, Dominique Delouche
By Patricia Boccadoro
9 July 2002Dominique Delouche specialises in filming
ballet. After beginning his career in the cinema in France, he went to
Italy where he became the assistant of Federico Fellini in the 1950's,
but after his return five years later, he began making a remarkable
series of dance films. Le Spectre de la Danse, filmed with
Nina Vyroubova, the Russian- French dancer and teacher was the first
of about ten films which will finally be available on cassette from
the end of July . Each is a small jewel in its own right.
attentive balletomane since the age of ten, Delouche witnessed many
great European ballerinas at the height of their career, and what
interests him is the transmission of roles from one generation to the
next, going back to the nineteenth century and even earlier. He
considers that ballet, when filmed ,often loses the emotional impact
of a live performance, and consequently his films are documentaries
showing dance stars handing over the fruits of their experience to
younger artists. He believes that an understanding of the traditional
nineteenth century works can never be acquired from a book, as the
technique and style can only be passed on by étoiles who had
themselves inherited the role.
At his theatrical family home
in Paris, he told me that his love of ballet went back to his early
childhood during the war, when his parents took him to the Opéra.
must have been nine or ten when I first saw Serge Lifar's Suite en
Blanc, he said, "and the contrast with the outside world of
the German occupation was beyond belief. After the oppression and
blackness I lived with, here was a magical, mystical world where the
dancers seemed like angels floating above the ground. I never imagined
anything so beautiful existed."
"An early film I
made was Une Etoile pour l'Exemple, chosen for the 1987 Cannes
Film Festival, in which Yvette Chauviré, the most famous French
dancer of her time, coaches Paris Opéra ballerina, Dominique
Khalfouni. I wanted to show the life and art of Chauviré, prima
ballerina assoluta, but not only in performance. My aim was to show
her transmitting her roles in the great classics. "
Chauviré and Dominique Khalfouni
In 1988 he made Katia
and Volodia, a captivating short film, (75min), in which Ekaterina
Maximova and Vladimir Vassiliev, the most prestigious couple from the
Bolshoi Ballet were filmed both in Paris and Moscow. Delouche not only
obtained access to precious Russian documents, but also amused himself
filming the dancers skimming through the snow on the way to their
"I was introduced to them by Irene
Lidova*, "he said, "and despite the difficulties at the
time, she convinced them to work with me and I was able to film
Maximova both dancing herself and teaching Elisabeth Maurin, of the
Paris Opéra. Not only do I have a personal weakness for Maurin,
Tchaikovsky's little princess, but she's also the last of a line of
dancers who don't exist anymore. She's the style of the petite French
ballerina you find in Degas' paintings, slight, shy and fragile, born
to dance such roles as Coppelia."
dancer Eric Vu An, an ardent admirer of Vassiliev was also in the
film, and there is a sequence of the great Russian star passing on
The Corsaire to him.
By this time, the French
television channel, Arte became interested in Delouche and invited him
to work with Monique Loudières, a young French dancer. Comme
les Oiseaux shows her face to face with some of the greatest
contemporary creators including Jiri Kylian and Jerome Robbins , who
worked on In the Night with her. Delouche also shows Yvette
Chauviré teaching Loudières the role of the Shadow in
Lifar's Les Mirages which she herself had learned directly
from the choreographer. Consistent with the goal he had set himself,
each film deals with the same subject seen from a different viewpoint.
Cahiers retrouvés de Nina Vyroubova relied heavily on the
unique archive material she possessed, and although this film was
predominantly autobiographical, the lyrical Russian-French dancer and
teacher was filmed teaching her favourite roles from Phédre,
and La Somnambule.
"I was also particularly
pleased here to have the participation, however briefly, of Rudolf
Nureyev", Delouche told me. "Clad in a white wig**, he
appears in a short extract from The Sleeping Beauty,
partnering Vyroubova in 1962. It is one of my greatest regrets that
neither of us could be in the same place at the same time for me to
have made a full-length film of him."
with Nina Vyroubova 1962
"I have admired
Serge Peretti since I was very young", continued the director, "so
I was very eager to make my next film, Serge Peretti, le Dernier
Italien, 1997, even though he was ninety-two, and was to die only
two months after the documentary was completed. Against criticism that
he was too old to make the film I can only say that it was truly a
case of better late than never. I was overwhelmed by his charm; he was
very nineteenth century.
"He was a superb danseur
noble, the first to be given the title of étoile,
who became a brilliant pedagogue, and with the aid of Jean-Yves
Lormeau,*** the student closest to him, I was able to film him
cracking anecdotes, and passing on his art to the young members of the
Paris Opéra Ballet, including
Serge Peretti, Le dernier Italien
"I wanted Emmanuel
in my film because he is an outstanding dancer. He belongs to the old
school, to the time of Vestris. His style is refined and elegant, the
personification of what it means to be a French dancer. Moreover, he
can jump! His elevation is remarkable, coupled with an extraordinary
jeux de jambes.
Neat, light and precise. He's an amazing dancer who most certainly
does not have the status he merits within the company."
film on Maia Plissetskaia, Maia, 2000, was different, for
she's not interested in the next generation, but my film career would
not be complete without including her interpretation of Swan Lake.
To watch her is a lesson in itself."
recently, Violette and Mister B. 2001, was a wonderful
experience, and not only because I gave pride of place to the
neo-classics. Violette is Violette Verdy, the French ballerina who
became Balanchine's muse. In this film, an exhilarating masterclass,
she passes on the roles created for her by Balanchine and Jerome
Robbins while she was at New York City Ballet, and which she remembers
down to the smallest detail, and describes in her own inimitable way.
It was a joy to make because she's so quick, so witty and alive .
She's an extraordinary woman, brimming with enthusiasm. Trés
Verdy (left) with Victor Malakhov and Margaret Illmann
Effectively, Verdy, in
vibrant attractive outfits sparkles, talking incessantly but
informatively and missing nothing . Comments are made on the musical
content of the score while coaching lovely Elisabeth Maurin in Emeralds,
from Balanchine's Jewels.
Delouche also had the excellent idea to invite the three
great Paris ballerinas to take a class with Verdy, and thus filmed
Isabelle Guèrin, magnificent in a solo from Dances at a
Gathering, Monique Loudières, and Elisabeth Platel
partnered by Nicolas Le Riche in a pas de deux from In the Night,
an invaluable document for posterity. All are at the height of their
form. "And all forced into early retirement because of an
out-dated rule", added the director. "Exceptions should be
made with artists of such stature".
"I was also
fortunate to have the participation of Lucia Lacarra, one of the most
beautiful stars of all, who came with her partner Cyril Pierre to
interpret Balanchine's Liebeslieder Waltzer. Vladimir
Malakhov, another great favourite of mine danced another Balanchine
work, the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux with Margaret Illmann."
Dominique Delouche told me, was to have been the last of his films,
but the possibility of working with Alicia Markova, the first of the
important English ballerinas, arose.
"She was over
ninety", he said, "but over to Paris she came, bright and
sprightly, evoking her life with The
Ballets Russes, to give lessons, not to the étoiles this
time, but to some charming youngsters from the Opéra including
Myriam Ould-Braham, and Laeticia Pujol****. Elisabeth Platel, prior to
taking over the Paris Opéra School, kindly acted as the link
between generations, and gave me the opportunity to film her dancing
part of Les Sylphides.
Dominique Delouche's films
have been shown at cinemas in the centre of Paris and provide
invaluable insight for anyone interested in classical dance or the
Paris Opéra company. They might not be everyone's idea of a
Saturday night's outing, but for dancers or anyone connected with the
dance world, they are a positive treasure-trove of schooling, comment
and correction; a transmission of the legacy of dance.
Lidova, Russian- French dance critic and personality
subsequently declared that he had felt like a Christmas tree in the
outfit he was asked to wear.
danseur étoile of the Paris Opéra Ballet, now teacher at
the Opéra school
****Pujol has since been
The video cassettes ,
distributed by Imagidanse,
will be available at the Opéra Bastille and the Palais Garnier.
Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance
in Europe. She contributes to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing
Times. Ms. Boccadoro is also the dance editor of Culturekiosque.com.