Sunday, August 6, 2017

Russian Ballet Films of the 1940s-1960s

Some of the most beautiful films ever made came out of Russia during the 1940s-1960s, so it is not surprising that a number of these films also featured that exquisite form of dance that has become associated with Mother Russia herself - ballet.

Even though ballet has long been considered a lovely export of Russian culture, it actually originated in the Italian Renaissance courts of the 15th century where it later developed into a concert dance in France. During the late 17th century, Peter the Great, in an effort to create a new Russia which rivaled the society of the West allowed classical ballet to enter Russia....not as a form of dance, however, but to showcase the standard of physical comportment that the emperor hoped his people would emulate. Ballet was taught to the sons of nobility in military academies up until the early 19th century when state-supported theatres began to open offering tickets that the public could afford.

Prestigious ballet troupes sprung up from various cities across Russia, the oldest and most famous being the Bolshoi Ballet company, founded in Moscow in 1776. In the early 1900s, Russia's unique style of the ballet was introduced to the Parisian society where it was called Ballet Russe

For those who were unable to obtain a ticket to see a live Ballet Russe performance during the 20th century, there were several Russian film studios that brought this passionate form of dance to the silver screen. These films were distributed throughout Europe but were rarely seen in the United States. Fortunately, due to today's convenience of online streaming ( and thanks to some considerate uploaders ), ballet enthusiasts are able to watch such legends as Nureyev, Ulanova, and Dudinskaya performing in their most renowned roles while they were at the peak of their careers. 

Below we have gathered a selection of some of the most famous Russian films of the 1940s-1960s, along with links to where you can view these films online for yourself. Tickets are free, so enjoy! 
Russian Ballerina (1947)

This is a sweet story of a young singer ( Viktor Kazanovich ) who meets and falls in love with a student dancer ( Mira Redina ) at a music conservatory. It was directed by Aleksandr Ivanovsky for Lenfilm Studios, the studio that outputted some of the Soviet Union's best films. Redina was at the time a solo ballerina with the Stanislavski and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Academic Music Theatre, where she remained until 1965.

View the film here.

Swan Lake ( 1953 ) -

Galina Ulanova's most famous performance is undoubtedly that of Odette in Swan Lake, which she performs here alongside Konstantin Sergeyev as Prince Siegfried and Natalia Dudinskaya as Odile. This Kirov Ballet production is magnificently set and features some amazing special effects ( especially considering this was made in 1953 ). It is well worth watching! 

View the film here


Stars of the Russian Ballet ( 1954 )

In any compendium of Russian ballet performances, you are bound to see Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake in the program. In this classic color production from 1954, it is none other than Galina Ulanova who performs as the White Swan Odette. Ulanova also appears in the second sequence with that other legend Maya Plisetskaya in a performance of B.V. Asafiev's ballet, The Fountain Of Bakhchisarai. This was the only time these two ballerinas shared the stage. And finally, B.V. Asafiev's The Flames Of Paris makes up the third sequence with Vakhtang Chabukiani flexing his muscles in some glorious dance moves. It's a visual feast for the eyes and ears.

View the film here.

Romeo & Juliet ( 1955 ) - 

Another very beautiful adaptation of Romeo and Juliet ( those Russians certainly know how to make lovely films! ). This was a typical big-budget epic production featuring Yuri Zhdanov as a very handsome Romeo and Galina Ulanova as Juliet. While Ulanova probably ranks as the most celebrated ballerina in the history of dance, at the age of 45 she looks a little old for the young lover. But who can critique the performance she gives? It's fabulous. 

View the film here

Giselle ( 1956 ) -

Once again Galina Ulanova takes center stage to impress audiences with her graceful dancing in this production of Giselle, filmed in 1956. This was one of Galina's most famous roles, and indeed, her performance is peerless. In 1974 Natalya Bessmertnova also did a beautiful performance of Giselle in a production that features some breathtaking sets. 

View the original film here.


Swan Lake ( 1957 ) -

Maya Plisetskaya is one of the most exquisite ballerinas of the 20th century and in 1957, at her artistic and technical peak, she was filmed in a color production of the Bolshoi Ballet's four-act Swan Lake in the dual roles of Odette and Odile.
The ballet also starred Nicolai Fadeyechev and Yuri Fayer. While this was released as a film it is more like a television documentary interspersing the balletic performances with shots of the audience applauding. 

View the film here

Cinderella ( 1961 ) -

Prokofiev's Cinderella, first performed as a ballet in 1945, is a production that has been staged as many time as Sleeping Beauty, and yet never seems to tire audiences. In this 1961 classic, Raisa Struchkova takes on the leading role of the tender-hearted maiden who finds her Prince Charming ( Gennadi Lediakh ) with the aid of a fairy godmother. Lediakh had a late start in his career as a dancer, beginning at the ripe old age of 20, and yet what talent he possessed!

View the film here. 

The Little Humpbacked Horse ( 1962 )

Maya Plisetskaya stars as the Queen Maiden in this made-for-TV children's production of Shchedrin's The Little Humpbacked Horse presented by the Bolshoi Ballet. This lovely coming-of-age fairy tale includes animation sequences for the wee ones, and features some stunning performances by Plisetskaya ( whose movements were always extremely fluid ), Vladimir Vasilev and Alla Shcherbinina, as the little horse.

View the film here

Bolshoi Ballet '67 ( 1965 )


This 75-minute film features an astounding array of beautiful performances along with many behind-the-scenes sequences of the dancers practicing prior to the shows, but not in an all-together structured way. In place of a plot, there is a narrator who is a dancer reflecting back on her decade spent with the Bolshoi Ballet, allowing for a showcase of talent. Some of the dancers you will see are Natalia Bessmertnova, Sergei Radchenko, Natalia Kasatkina, Yekaterina Maksimova, Mikhail Lavrovsky, Yelena Kholina, Anatoly Simachev, and Raisa Struchkova. Performances include Ravel Waltzes ( Maximova ) and Bolero, Giselle, Don Quixote, Swan Lake, The Stone Flower ( Kasatkina ), and Paganini ( Bessmertnova ).

View the film here

Sleeping Beauty ( 1965 ) -

Alla Sizoya stars in this classic color film adaptation of Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty performed by the Kirov Ballet. The New York Times considered this production to boast "some of the finest choreography ever produced", referring to the work of choreographer Marius Petipa. It was the role of Aurora that made Sizoya a legend among dancers. Yuri Solovyow and Natalie Dudinskaya are also in the company. 

View the film here
Swan Lake ( 1966 ) -

Rudolf Nureyev is probably the only ballet dancer whose name is familiar to American audiences ( at least, to those who are unacquainted with the world of ballet ). He performed, at one time or another, in productions of some of the most famous ballets ever written, including Swan Lake in 1966. Nureyev choreographed this ballet himself - naturally, giving his character ample opportunity to dance - while also showcasing the prima ballerina - Margot Fonteyn.

View the film here.

Swan Lake ( 1968 ) - 

If you weren't impressed with Nureyev's performance ( ! ) you can always compare it to this 1968 Kirov Ballet production that featured John Markovsky, Yelena Yevteyeva, and Valery Panov in the principal roles. And believe it or not, you'll probably walk away thinking this was a better version ( which it is! ). 

View the film here.


This post is our contribution to the En Pointe Blogathon, a three-day event hosted by Christina Wehner which celebrates ballet on film. Be sure to head on over to the master page to read more articles about ballet films!

6 comments:

  1. That sound you heard was me licking my lips in extremely delighted anticipation of watching all these! What a treasure trove! Thanks so much (free tickets are always so lovely)! :)

    I also really enjoyed learning more about how ballet came to Russia. It's interesting to think of it as being meant only in Russia for the sons of the aristocracy and military. Though I can see how ballet might help a military person. I think some athletes still take ballet for the strength and flexibility it provides.

    Thanks for another wonderful post! I'm looking forward to watching all these. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, they are tasty morsels. I'm only halfway through "The Russian Ballerina" but have really been enjoying that one, so if you want to start with a b/w drama it's a good one. Not too much ballet in it, however. I was pleased to find so many of them on Youtube. Russians are so generous! ;-)

      Delete
  2. Oh my goodness! How delightful is this?! I can't wait to sit down and watch these on a quiet day. Thanks so much for sharing this and bringing it to our blogathon!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope you enjoy the performances, Michaela....and thanks for hosting this blogathon!

      Delete
  3. Wow! You are bound and determined to educate me about the Russian ballet, aren't you?

    Amazing post with fascinating information and the links makes me very happy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Just watching these films is an education in itself. I hope you enjoy them, CW!

      Delete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...