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DVDs on The Royal Ballet, Zakharova and Hallberg in Sleeping Beauty, Savion Glover; Contemporary Dance in Cuba book; Alexander Ekman's short film 40 M Under
Sleeping Beauty, on the Evening with The Royal Ballet DVD. Photo © Bill Cooper, Courtesy Naxos.
An Evening with The Royal Ballet
Opus Arte. 90 minutes. $19.99.
A startling number of marquee names appear on An Evening with The Royal Ballet: Carlos Acosta, Darcey Bussell, Tamara Rojo, and Alina Cojocaru (not to mention Ashton, MacMillan, and Petipa). Filmed from 2000 to 2010, this collection of pas de deux and other excerpts is culled from existing full-length releases, a compilation of greatest hits, so to speak. There’s plenty of Ashton, as expected—Marianela Nuñez and Acosta in La Fille Mal Gardée, Leanne Benjamin and Acosta in Voices of Spring, and Bussell and guest artist Roberto Bolle in Sylvia. Of special note is Cojocaru’s signature piece, the sparkling Rose Adagio from Sleeping Beauty. She also appears in a second work, joined by fiancé Johan Kobborg, in the ethereal Act II pas de deux from Giselle. But for dramatic fireworks, look to none other than the passionate pairing of Rojo and Acosta in MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet. —Kina Poon
The Sleeping Beauty
Bel Air Classiques. 138 minutes. $29.99.
It had been two months of headlines: David Hallberg was the first American to be invited to join the Bolshoi Ballet as a premier danseur. In November 2011, he made his company debut as Prince Désiré on the newly reopened mainstage of the Bolshoi Theatre. The following evening, he reprised the role for a worldwide audience in an international simulcast, now available on DVD. And, in his first diagonal of soaring jetés, he knew something was wrong with his ankle.
Even without taking this behind-the-scenes drama into consideration, the audience is treated to an impressive performance. As expected from the Bolshoi, it’s a sumptuous production—a staggering number of corps dancers, sets and costumes embellished in extreme detail. Svetlana Zakharova, the reigning queen of sky-high extensions and willowy glamour, is cast against type as Princess Aurora. Sweet and shy she is not. However, Hallberg’s steady hands allow her to warm up—to both him and the role. In their first meeting, when the Lilac Fairy (Maria Allash) shows Désiré a vision of Aurora, Zakharova displays a newfound tenderness. Hallberg, without any signs of injury, actually reaches new heights with the explosive nature of his jumps (call it the Bolshoi Effect). It’s an exciting development for a dancer with such pristine line and poetic elegance. The playful, assured charisma of Nina Kaptsova as Princess Florine is another performance to treasure. —K. P.
Savion Glover: Fours
Half-Note Records. 65 minutes. $16.99.
Savion Glover is certainly a virtuoso. But while we typically think of the hoofer as a technical genius, watching him perform, you realize that his true passion is using his feet as an instrument to communicate. For those who haven’t seen him in person, this newly released DVD, Fours, puts you right there in the middle of a jazz jam.
In Fours, Glover doesn’t perform the way a dancer might take center stage and bring it for the audience. Instead, he carries on musical conversations with four masterful jazz musicians: pianists McCoy Tyner and Eddie Palmieri and drummers Roy Haynes and Jack DeJohnette. In between each of these jam sessions, filmed at the Blue Note in New York City in 2009, the viewer is treated to interview footage with Glover. In these personal moments, he reflects on how these musicians speak to him, the differences between their styles, and the ways in which they inspire his own musical choices. Discussing his approach to musicality, Glover says, “We don’t think of dance as combination, we think of it as music—melodies, bridges, tunes, the head, the body…the same as a musician would think of the dance.”
This DVD is not about tricks and explosive feats, but rather the subtle intricacies and seemingly endless sounds and beats that can hypnotize you. Close your eyes and you might never know that it’s a dancer who is creating the music. Open them and see dance in a new way. —Emily Macel Theys
Contemporary Dance in Cuba: ‘Técnica Cubana’ as Revolutionary Movement
By Suki John. McFarland Press. 2012. Paperback. 231 pages. $38.
“Cuba is an island of dance,” Suki John tells us at the beginning of her exquisite book. Part diary, part history, John’s writing opens a window into Castro’s Cuba through the lens of dance—contemporary or modern, classical ballet, and the religious rituals of the Afro-Caribbean that take place everywhere in Cuba. She offers a poignant analysis to American dancers and scholars, long shut out of Cuba by our government and theirs. (The political situation did not stop John from traveling to the island through any means possible, carrying supplies that ranged from leotards to aspirin to baby food to underwear.)
To read John’s quicksilver prose is to revel in the rich world of Cuban dance and music. To some extent, the book is a post-revolutionary history of the island, presented through the sweat of dancing bodies: black, brown, and white; young and old; poor and poorer; malnourished, yet all activist, pro-revolution and pro-dance as symbolic of the people’s state. John has packed into 14 chapters an inextricable weave of politics, history, and dancing; none exists without the other. In this way, she is able to explain how “Técnica Cubana” (Cuban contemporary/modern dance) emerged after Fidel Castro came to power in 1959. To unify the country in permanent revolution, Castro, she says, recognized in dance a powerful means of mapping Afro-Cuban political and cultural identity—all intermingling in dilapidated dance studios throughout the island. There may not be enough food, John reminds us, but there is a national love and respect for dance that Americans can only dream of.
Suki John, choreographer, dancer, and scholar, has worked with Cuban dance artists from the studios of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba to the earthen plazas of the religious ceremonies of the Candomblé. Committed to the idea that dance is an act of healing, of bearing witness, of remembering, of love, John has achieved both for herself and her Cuban colleagues a coup. Read it. Whether you are a ballet or modern dancer, it will send you searching for a visa to train in Cuba. —Ninotchka Devorah Bennahum
40 M Under
TenduTV. 19 minutes. $7.99/9.99 in high definition, or rent for $2.99/3.99 HD on iTunes.
Flying lab coats, sinister table pounding, athletic movement synchronized to a T—this is the world of Alexander Ekman’s 40 M Under. The Swedish choreographer—whose works can be found in the repertoires of Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, Giordano Dance Chicago, Nederlands Dance Theater, and NDT2, where he danced and is now its associate choreographer—created the short film in 2009. It takes place in an underground warehouse and deploys, as in Ekman’s work Hubbub for Cedar Lake, tables that the Cullberg Ballet dancers maneuver—for sliding, banging, and crawling with determined vigor. In one section, a dancer calls out the steps as his fellow performers work through them. (“Circle, hit, around, through, now let’s see what you can do.”) Directed by Martin Steinberg, 40 M Under is an opportunity to see the Swedish troupe, which rarely visits the U.S. (although there are two familiar faces in the bunch: Rachel Tess, now co-director of 2010 “25 to Watch” Rumpus Room; and Joaquim de Santana, who currently performs with Cedar Lake). The company of 20 dancers has been led by Anna Grip since 2010, following in the storied footsteps of Mats Ek and Birgit Cullberg, the company’s namesake and his mother. —K. P.