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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 27 JANUARY 2012Balanchine in Paris is the most recent film in the collection, Etoiles pour l’example, by the distinguished French film maker, Dominique Delouche. Throughout his life, the Russian-born choreographer, more usually associated with New York City Ballet which he founded with Lincoln Kirstein in 1934, kept close contact with France, the country where his first creations were staged and where he so nearly became the artistic director of the Paris Opera Ballet. He would even choose French perfumes for each of his ballerinas and always insisted upon having a French ballerina in his company.

In his film, two of these almost legendary figures, Violette Verdy and Ghislaine Thesmar, are shown coaching younger dancers at the Palais Garnier in Paris the roles that they themselves were taught by the great master, for nearly 30 of his works, including ballets created especially for the company, or re-staged for the French dancers, form part of the repertory of the Paris Opera Ballet today. Indeed, the film opens with shots of Thesmar and Michael Denard interpreting the grand adage from the second movement of Le Palais de Cristal, created for the company in 1947, and now danced as Symphony in C, before superimposing shots of Isabelle Ciaravola and Hervé Moreau being coached in the same pas de deux by Ghislaine Thesmar herself.

"Balanchine had a dialogue of love with his interpreters", Thesmar, the Paris étoile who danced so frequently in New York that she felt almost like a member of the company says, "he so insisted that the ballerina must feel she’s the most beautiful woman in the world. She had to be like a queen."

Isabelle Ciaravola, Ghislaine Thesmar and Hervé Moreau
Dominique Delouche's Balanchine in Paris

Continuing with his policy of showing the great interpreters of the past transmitting their art to the younger dancers, the second sequence of the film shows a rather querulous Alicia Markova, aided by Elisabeth Platel, passing on the title role she created in Balanchine’s Le chant du rossignol in 1925, when she herself was only 14 years old. The lovely Myriam Ould_Braham, a personal favourite of Dominique Delouche’s, performed it beautifully despite the rather harsh directives.

"He had a little bird in mind", Markova told her, dancing alongside her to further demonstrate her point.

However, one of the most delightful passages shows the effervescent Violette Verdy coaching Paris Opera étoile, Monique Loudiéres*, in Sonatine, a role created for Verdy in 1975 and  one which ideally suited her lively, sparkling temperament. It is one of Balanchine’s most attractive pieces with its Hollywood touch and reminders of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the pretty sequences of quick, light steps.

"Meow! meow! meow!, purr, purr", were Verdy’s highly unlikely and original comments as she guided international stars Lucia Lacarra and Paris Opera trained Cyril Pierre through the lovely Liebeslieder Walzer, set, surprisingly for Balanchine, to a score by Brahms. The complicity between teacher and pupils is palpable.

"Put a man and a woman alone on a stage and before anything happens, you have a drama", chuckled Verdy, quoting Balanchine, as she recalled creating the waltz in New York in 1960. This film, as much as a precedent dedicated to her alone, shows what a wonderful teacher she is, gay and full of charm as only a Frenchwoman can be. 

The other, almost irreplaceable interpreter and teacher in this interesting little film, is Nina Vyroubova, the Russian-French dancer, étoile of the Paris company from 1949 to 1956, famed for her sensitivity and expressiveness. Together with Milorad Miskovitch, she transmits the Russian choreographer’s Night Shadow to two members of the Paris Opera corps de ballet.

 Aware that with Balanchine’s death these wonderful works could disappear, Delouche has filmed several of the choreographer’s muses passing on the works he personally taught them. Balanchine in Paris is a loving demonstration of how he maintained close ties with the Paris Opera Ballet throughout his life, returning regularly for Ravel and Stravinsky ‘festivals’ and to stage the danced sections of the operas Orfeo and Eurydice and Faust. The sequences with Ghislaine Thesmar, another Frenchwoman of great charm, lucid, and knowing exactly what she wants to bring out in the dancers, give more insight into the workings of the Paris Opera Ballet, where the film was made, than most other, far more ambitious films.

Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She has contributed to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Based in Paris,  Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque. She last wrote on the choreographer Boris Charmatz.

Editor's Pick: New York

Dominique Delouche's Balanchine in Paris will be screened on 28 and 30 January 2012 as part of the Dance on Camera Festival at at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York. This year's festival also features Pina, Wim Wenders' highly anticipated documentary project with legendary choreographer Pina Bausch —  nominated for a 2012 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature and now playing in 3D.

Dance on Camera
27- 31 January 2012

Walter Reade Theater
Lincoln Center Plaza
165 West 65th Street, between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenues
New York, NY 10023
Tel: (1) 212 875 56 00

Film Society of Lincoln Center Web Site

Related Culturekiosque Archives

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Lincoln Center Festival Hosts Delouche Film Series

New York City Ballet in Paris: Great Expectations, Disappointment for Some

Evolution: Balanchine, Nureyev, Forsythe

Book Review: Terry Teachout and Robert Gottlieb on George Balanchine

Balanchine's Jewels Test Hierarchy at Paris Opera Ballet

George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins at the Paris Opera Ballet

Balanchine at 100

Book Review: Stravinsky & Balanchine: A Journey of Invention

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