Search - Return of the Firebird: Petrushka/Firebird/Scheherazade on DVD

Return of the Firebird: Petrushka/Firebird/Scheherazade
Return of the Firebird Petrushka/Firebird/Scheherazade
Actors: Bolshoi Ballet, Nina Ananiashvili, Andris Liepa
Director: Andrey Chistiakov
Genres: Music Video & Concerts, Special Interests, Educational, Musicals & Performing Arts
NR     2003     2hr 0min


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Movie Details

Actors: Bolshoi Ballet, Nina Ananiashvili, Andris Liepa
Director: Andrey Chistiakov
Genres: Music Video & Concerts, Special Interests, Educational, Musicals & Performing Arts
Sub-Genres: DTS, Dance, Educational, Classical, Ballet & Dance
Studio: Decca
Format: DVD - Color
DVD Release Date: 02/11/2003
Theatrical Release Date: 11/18/2002
Release Year: 2003
Run Time: 2hr 0min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 2
Edition: Classical
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish

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Movie Reviews

An excellent format for getting your RDA for "culture."
Tom Brody | Berkeley, CA | 12/28/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The disk is entitled, "Return of the Firebird." What is presented is three complete ballets: The Firebird, Petrushka, and Schehrazade. (There is no piece of music here entitled "Return of the Firebird.") The picture quality is sharp and crystal clear. The color balance is excellent. The cinematography includes close-ups, distant shots, and varying angles. The costumes are lavish, appropriate, and of extensive variety. The scenes for all three ballets take place on a stage, but the snowy scenes feature "real" artificial snowflakes falling upon the dancers. The Shrovetide scene include props that are appropriate to a town square market, e.g., samovars and live horses. The interlude with the Moor, ballerina, and puppet takes place on a tropical seashore where the set includes palm trees and a real (not scary) snake. The puppet's gestures are distantly reminiscent of Peewee Herman's body language. Petrushka is the standout piece of the three productions. Firebird does not follow the same storyline that I have read in three different translations, see, e.g., Jeremiah Curtin's Myths and Folk-Tales of the Russians, Western Slavs, and Magyars, published by Dover; or Favorite Russian Fairy Tales, by Arthur Ransome, also published by Dover. But do not worry, the DVD comes with a beautiful, full color booklet (in English) containing a 3-paragraph synopsis of each storyline. Much of Firebird takes place in a dark cave, containing demons and spiderwebs. Hence, the production of Firebird is less attractive than the largely out-of-door scenes found in Petrushka. The production of the disk being reviewed is in welcome contrast to The Royal Danish Ballet version of Firebird (on Kulture), which is blurry and contains a stable camera. Note also that The Kirov Ballet's production of The Sleeping Beauty on the Kulture label is also unspeakably blurry, contains off-colors, and a bothersome stable camera angle. Again, the disk under review gets five stars because of the crystal-clear visual quality, the varying camera angles, and splendid costumes. Note also, of course, that Firebird and Petrushka are two of most monumental pieces of music to be created by mankind. (Also note that the music of the three ballets are abundantly accessible to children, while in contrast, to give some examples, the saxophone compositions of John Coltrane, piano of Cecil Taylor, and string quartets by Bartok, would not be attractive to little kids.)"
A reconstruction of Fokine's choreography for Ballets Russes
kaream | 07/28/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)

"In 1909 Serge Diaghilev founded the Ballets Russes in Paris as a venue for Modernist ballet. This DVD presents reconstructions of three of his earliest productions: "Petrushka" and "The Firebird," both commissioned from Igor Stravinsky, and an adaptation of Rimsky-Korsakov's 1888 symphonic suite "Scheherazade," all dating from 1910-11. These three works were choreographed by Michel Fokine. The original sets and costumes for "Petrushka" were designed by Alexander Benois, for "The Firebird" by Alexander Golovin and Leon Bakst, and for "Scheherazade" by Bakst.

Here the "Russian Seasons" ("Les Saisons Russes") Dance Ensemble, led by Andris Liepa, use Fokine's original choreography, with the assistance of Isabelle Fokina as a consultant; the sets and costumes for each ballet are "revived on the basis of the original sketches" by Benois, Bakst and Golovin. Thus this DVD gives us important insight into Diaghilev's artistic vision of a century ago, a time when radical Modernism was breaking loose from 19th Century convention in music and the visual and performing arts. (The title "Return of the Firebird" is meant to signify the resurrection of these ballets in something close to their original form. Liepa spent several years working on their reconstruction, finally mounting them in 1992 first at the Maryinsky and then at the Bolshoi.)

However, this is very much a film rather than a stage performance, and while I generally prefer a roving camera for ballet, when done skillfully, I feel that under Liepa's direction the camera angles and distance are frequently not used to best effect. There's also too much offstage interpolation, such as horseback scenes, and many omitted staging transitions, and he shares an unfortunate tendency in some Russian ballet films for indulgence in cheesy and distracting special effects; overall both the directing and editing feel gimmicky at times. It would have been far preferable to have filmed an actual onstage performance, which would have earned it a solid 5-stars. (There's an obviously tacked-on segment of applause with bows from the principals and troupe at the end.)

In contrast, I felt that the troupe itself is superb; the dancers turned in uniformly excellent and beautiful performances. (Ilze Liepa, in the role of Zobeide, is Andris' sister, and the stunning Ekaterina Liepa, as the Princess in "The Firebird," is his wife.) As another reviewer has mentioned, the Eunuch seems overdone, but I'm not otherwise familiar with this production of "Scheherazade," and assume the costuming and choreography are taken directly from Diaghilev. I agree somewhat with a different reviewer that Andrey Chistiakov's conducting of the Bolshoi State Academic Theatre Orchestra could have been more understanding of Stravinsky's uniquely astringent and urgent sound, but still it's quite well presented. Judging from a few other reviews, it seems important to remember that while these ballets may or may not follow one or another familiar folk tale, they are significant in representing the artistic vision, at a supremely important time of change in the arts, of Diaghilev, Stravinsky (Rimsky-Korsakov's widow objected to this adaptation of "Scheherazade"), Fokine, and the set and costume designers.

Both video and audio quality are fine on the DVD. This is a Mosfilm production, released with English titles by Universal/Decca. I note that Amazon also lists another 3-DVD set, "The Magic of Russian Ballet," on the Philips label, appearing to credit the Kirov Ballet. I haven't seen this set, but it cannot be a different production performed by the Kirov. Philips is another Universal label, and a close-up of the cover shows "Kirov Ballet Gala, Covent Garden" (which must be the listed "Nutcracker"), and "Russian Ballet Gala, Red Square" (which would be these three short ballets); the pictured Firebird character is obviously the same Nina Ananiashvili. Following Liepa's lead, the Kirov however does have its own productions of just the two Stravinsky ballets on the Immortal label (again starring Liepa, this time with Gabriella Komleva, with choreography credited to Boris Eifman and Oleg Vinogradov), and another containing yet different productions of "The Firebird" and "Scheherazade," among others, on a Kultur DVD. It's probably also worth pointing out that although this "Return of the Firebird" film was shot in Moscow and employs a Bolshoi orchestra, this is *not* a production of the Bolshoi Ballet; Andris Liepa's Russian Seasons Dance Ensemble is an independent troupe, performing at both the Bolshoi and the Maryinski, and other venues. In addition to the three ballets, the DVD includes a dialog-free behind-the-scenes rehearsal film, and a rather long ad for a special-effects graphics company.

Addendum: Amazon also lists another version of both "Firebird" and "Rite of Spring," together with Bartok's "Miraculous Mandarin," performed by "Moscow Classikal Ballet of N. Kasatkina and V. Vasilyov" on a Videoland DVD that doesn't show up under the English titles; search for "Sacre du Printemps," "Feuervogel," or "Wunderbare Mandarin." I've never seen this, but it might be of interest."
A ravishing "Sheherazade", but as for the rest...
Robert Levonian | Porto Alegre, RS, Brazil | 12/03/2003
(3 out of 5 stars)

"I had this DVD imported from England in order to be able to see "Firebird" and "Scheherazade", for both ballets were unkown to me at the time. Shortly afterwards, I was able to obtain the "Firebird" from the Royal Ballet, and I was amazed at its superlative qualities. What makes this Russian version inferior is the dated concept of sets and cinematography. The camera frequently performs travellings that disturb our view of the dancing. The sets remind me of Vincent Price horror films of the 40's; the stage is cluttered with useless props (spiders, bats and the like...) and the costumes are rather heavily embroidered. I guess this reflects the Russian taste for rich materials, but one has to compare it to London's staging - which is truer to the original concept - to realize that rich fabrics don't necessarily make rich costumes. Ilse Liepa's make up is so heavy as to be embarassing (she plays the title role). Mr Andris Liepa - who directed the films - does not have much do do... there are no solos or variations for him, but his partnering is elegant without being too refined. As for "Petrushka", there are two other stagings available, and I believe they are both far superior to this one. In Mr. Liepa's chcracterization, Petrushka is a pathetic creature, with no sense of human dignity. After all, this puppet is supposed to have a human soul... The version staged by the Joffrey Ballet with Rudolf Nureyev, and the version of the Paris Opera are to be preferred.Which leaves us with "Scheherazade". As there are no other versions to compare, I must admit that I liked this one. Ms Ilse Liepa is stunningly beautiful! The role was originally created in 1910 by a rather poor dancer - Ida Rubinstein - who was better known for her beauty than her dancing, so Mr. Fokine coreographed her part with restraint. The great surprize is the dancing of Mr. Victor Yeremenko, a former dancer at the Sevchenko Ballet in the Ukraine. He dances the role of the Golden Slave, created by the mythic Nijinsky. And what a formidable dancer he is! Of course, there are no recorded documents of Nijinsky's performance, but I believe Mr. Yeremenko does an amirable job. His dancing shows him to be able to diplay both lusty eroticism in the pas de deux and a frantic desperation at the final sequence, when the slaves are murdered. The role of the fat eunuch is poorly danced. The performer is obviously slim with a lot of padding in his costume to make him look fat. Also, instead of being mischivious, he's merely comical, which detracts fom the psychology of the character. The corps de ballet is fine, with the male dancers performing vigorously, in marked contrast to the girl's langorous movements. The coreography seems to have been tampered with. Cyril Beaumont - who was able to see the original productions of the Diaghilev company - claims that the third movement of the score was not used, but here the full score is danced. Who may have coreographed the extra numbers? Was it Isabelle Fokine, who went to Russia in the 90's to restore her grandfather's coreographies?In "Scheherazade", the stunning original sets by Léon Bakst have been done in three-dimensions in order to admit coreography in the round. I don't think this was a good idea, as in the original there was an illusion of three-dimensionality, whereas in the film the camera travells liberaly through the stage, often with close-ups. Although less cluttered than in "Firebird", I still find some of the props obtrusive."
A nice treat
Scott D. Richardson | Oklahoma City, OK USA | 11/11/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"In October 2004 I was in Riga, Latvia and saw the live performance of these three ballets by the "Russian Ballet" company. Very impressive performance. I bought the DVD when I returned to the United States and comparing it to the live performance I can say that this DVD is a rare treat. I highly recommend it."