Weird, distracting camera-work mars a great Giselle
Ivy Lin | NY NY | 07/18/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Erik Bruhn and Carla Fracci were one of the most famous dance partnerships, and it's our good fortune that one of their "trademarks," Giselle, was preserved for posterity. (I mean, imagine how cool it would have been to have a video of Nijinsky and Karsavina dancing together.) Both Bruhn and Fracci are better in the first act than the second. Fracci's radiance and beauty make her an enchanting village lass. You can see why Albrecht would fall in love. And I love the little touches Fracci puts in her mad scene. Instead of letting her hair fall down completely (like most Giselles) Fracci simply loosens one strand of hair from her bun. As she runs around the stage the bun becomes messier and messier. There are also real tears flowing from her beautiful face. Erik Bruhn has a stiff, aristocratic bearing that's also very appropriate for this role. Unfortunately, I dont think Fracci and Bruhn are as great in the second "Wili" act. The second act is supposed to be about Albrecht's redemption. Bruhn doesn't show much in the way of remorse -- he's still the stiff noble of Act 1. I also own a Giselle with Rudolf Nureyev as Albrecht and with Nureyev you can see the remorse and ardor. The second act also exposes some flaws in Fracci's technique. At the start of the pas de deux one notices that her developpe is not very solid, for one. Her balances are a bit shaky. But emotionally I also didnt warm to Fracci's Giselle in Act 2. Fracci chooses to make her somewhat cold and remote, with a ghostly pale-powdered face and stern expression. It's important to remember that Giselle is *not yet a Wili.* Her spirit is still filled with love. I didn't see enough tenderness in Fracci's Giselle. The thing about this film that *really* bugs me though is the way it was directed. The director Hugo Nieberling decided to be "cute" and shoot the movie somewhat like a music video. Tilted angle shots, weird cut-aways from the dancers to a basket of grapes, and a strange, long-take fixation on the backsides of some horses. It gave me a headache. I thought this nonsense would end in Act 2, but nope. Nieberling cuts away from the dancing of Giselle, Albrecht, Hilarion, and the Wilis to shoot their *reflections* in a pond. Unfortunately, Giselle seems to be like Odette/Odile in that ballerinas, even the greatest ones, fall into the "either/or" category. Natalia Makarova, for instance, is hauntingly beautiful in Act 2, but she lacks the wholesome joie de vivre to be entirely convincing in Act 1."
Peter J. Binkert | 11/13/2005
(1 out of 5 stars)
"I detest this film. What should have been a glorious opportunity to capture Fracci and Bruhn in their signature partnership is ruined by the meddlesome and ignorant direction of Hugo Niebeling and David Blair. Giselle is a ballet; ballet is about dance; dance should be the focus of attention. We should have unobstructed views of the dancers dancing. Instead, we get shots through villagers eating and talking, shots from above, shots from the side, shots through machinery, shots reflected in pools, and so on - absolutely infuriating, unartistic, and puerile. What a shame and a sham! What a colossal misunderstanding of art!"
A TRAVESTY OF DANCE
Ian Fishman | 04/04/2006
(1 out of 5 stars)
"How David Blair could allow this insult to the dancers is beyond me. I noted that some people liked the performance, but I'm at a loss to know how they actually saw the performance! Trying to watch an artist dance, through the back of huge hats, bad quality glass and anything else the director could find to put in front of them, was, to say the least, distracting. Add to that a camera that was moving so constantly that I almost felt sea-sick and editing that rarely stayed on the same shot for more than a few seconds and constantly interrupted the dance with completely irrelevant and distracting views of everything from a plate of fruit to galloping horses as seen from a galloping horse! Ballet is a theatrical art, but many others have shown that it can be totally cinematic. If you trust it and leave it alone, it will automatically weave its magic spell."
A Visually Beautiful, Artistically Satisfying GISELLE For Fi
Warmgoy | 08/15/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I was much looking forward to this release as I had never seen this, one of the most notable ballet films ever done.
And "ballet film" is the operative phrase here; this is not so much a filmed ballet as it is a sort of "Dance Cinema", a re-imagining of the classic piece in cinematic terms. As such, it is replete with touches one would expect to see in a feature film - extreme close ups, reaction shots, unusual camera angles, and a focus on environmental ambiance. It is often very effective, but be prepared - the camera is the star here, not the choreography, and intermittently, well, you can't really see the people dance. The Act One peasant interlude is one example - though it appears to be very well performed, the dancers are shot here through the revolving mill wheel, there through the feathers of a noblewoman's hat, with director Niebling focusing a bit obessively on village folk eating fruit and gossiping, nobles drinking wine, and a little old man who appears to be the village monk crossing a bridge. It can become a bit wearing, and ironically in its attempt to break beynd the conventions of staged ballet, the film perhaps ignores some conventions that make ballet special to begin with. At times it is very effective however - Act Two responds particularly well to this approach. I personally like some of the camera work and reflections in the Willi/Hilarion episode; the Willi's homicidal stalking of the poor guy is truly threatening and scary, as it rarely is on stage. But here too, the approach may wallow in cinematic opportunity to some detriment; as Hilarion meets his fate we see the dancer's face whirling madly about, when we might want to see more of the footwork involved. Much of the work does feature full lengths shots, but here too, the camera could have been pulled back about four feet.
HOWEVER, and this is a big however, the above should not be interpreted to disqualify a filmed interpretation that - when the viewer make the necessary expectational adjustment - presents a most effective musical/dramatic experience. The film may indulge itself here and there, but some of the shots are simply gorgeous, Myrtha's entrance for one is beautifully done, camera wise. The production is very beautiful, based on the ABT production of the time, though the film opens it up with exteriors and so on. Technical presentation is superb - despite the film's age, this is the most visually stunning GISELLE available at the moment. The picture quality is dazzlingly clear and the sound, with a choice of PCM Stereo or DTS 5.1 is excellent. Lanchbery diddles with the orchestration here and there, but effectively so, the textures are lush and enveloping, and the extension of the creepy Willi entrance music is justifiable in this filmed context.
Oh yeah, some people get up and dance too. The film is of great historical value with its preservation of the Fracci/Bruhn partnership in this piece, even it is perhaps hell-bent on preserving it from the waist up. Fracci's Giselle is lovely (God, she is a beautiful woman), and charmingly unaffected and natural - one is never aware of this as a diva-turn, it is a nicely fleshed out assumption. The mad scene is really heartrending. Bruhn is a trifle stiff here and there, but is nicely in character and partners her well. Bruce Marks is one of the best Hilarions on DVD, and Toni Lander's technically impressive Myrtha is one cold, scary chick on tippy-toe. I have to say too, that I find the aerial shots of the Willi scenes very effective, looking down as they do on the circle of death created by the spirits, an effect only possible with film. In moments like this, the film is really stunningly beautiful.
I would definitly go for this one, with the understanding that this is very much a GISELLE for camera. People who want a more straightforward, staged presentation may be annoyed, but if you are able to accept the film in film terms (and perhaps accept that the opportunities the medium provides are a trifle over-exploited here) you will love this DVD. I do.
I need to shut up, but here is the bottom line. If you want a staged production preserved on DVD, go for the Scala/Ferri. If you prefer a studio presentation, this is definitly the one to have. The two complement each other very well, so skip lunch this week and get them both."
Problematic but Worth It Anyway
K. Boullosa | 10/18/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Being of a certain age, I saw these two luminaries of ballet history perform Giselle with American Ballet Theatre in 1967 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music - a never to be forgotten evening. This DVD captures the qualities that made those performances legendary. Erik Bruhn's nobility of line and clean technique, Fracci's ravishing second act, with her melting port de bras and weightlessness, her touching and unforced first act with its beautifully acted Mad Scene, are all here. Bruhn, at about 42, was at the end of his career here while Fracci, at about 30, was at the height of hers, but they work magically together. Fracci has a beautiful face but a less than beautifully muscled body compared to other ballerinas, yet somehow, her (I believe underrated) technique infuses all Giselle's movements with beauty. I respectfully disagree with the reviewer who preferred Fracci's first act to her second act. I think her second act here is stunning - as a TIMES reviewer once put it reviewing her "Giselle", "She touched the heart as well as the eye." To me she was not "cold and distant" as characterized by a reviewer below, but out of reach, as a ghost naturally is.
Not to be overlooked is the late Toni Lander's marvellous Myrthe, Queen of the Wilis - all cold purpose and fine technique - Lander, who was Bruhn's countrywoman as well as his colleague, was a wonderful dancer and Myrthe's opening solo in Act II is a very difficult one.
Ted Kivitt and Eleanor D'Antuono, ABT's home-grown soloists who did eventually become principal dancers with the company, are delightful in the Peasant Pas de Deux in Act I. Both went on to dance the leading roles in "Giselle" but received scant attention because of the presence in the company of superstars like Bruhn, Fracci, Makarova, and Baryshnikov. Kivitt's and D'Antuono's earnest, well-danced performances were no match for the charisma of the foreign stars that ABT imported. It was an unfair situation but one containing some inherent truth - Kivitt and D'Antuono simply lacked the top tier presence that allowed dancers like Bruhn and Fracci to command a stage, rather than merely to dance upon it. That said, it is nice to see Kivitt's and D'Antuono's genuine talents also preserved for posterity on this DVD.
That's the good news. The bad news: the self-indulgent camera antics of a moron who thought that ballet lovers would really be interested in watching Erik Bruhn do one of his first-act variations from behind a jug instead of face on, or watching Carla Fracci's floating arms as a (poorly visible) reflection in a pool, all for the sake of "atmosphere". The cameraman who did it, and the director who allowed it, should both be hanged.
Well, nothing is perfect. As ballet history alone, and as a record of legendary performers in roles they were justly famous for, this DVD is worth the price and the watching time. But how wonderful it would have been if someone with intelligence and taste had been around to restrain the egoism of the cameraman!"