Swan Lake - Bolshoi Theatre, (1957) - Maya Plisetskaya dances – Iconic Arts
Swan Lake - Bolshoi Theatre, (1957) - Maya Plisetskaya dances

Swan Lake - Bolshoi Theatre, (1957) - Maya Plisetskaya dances

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Title: Swan Lake
Composer: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Date: Winter, 1957
Location: Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow, Russia
Media Type Available: Digital Video (DVD)
Quality: Good/Professional

Details: Yuri Fayer conducts and Maya Plisetskaya dances. Maya Plisetskaya is universally regarded as one of the supreme ballerinas of the 20th century. 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 role of Odette and Odile.

Review: Historic performances must be evaluated utilizing entirely different criteria from those applied to contemporary works. To judge a recorded performance from the past using modern audio-visual standards is to entirely miss the point of historic art preservation. Even precious snippets of performances, however poor the quality, enable us to time travel back to an earlier era in which artistic practices were markedly different from today's. These differences, however, in no way diminish the gifts and genius of earlier talents.

These older and sometimes extremely rare artifacts are a spectacular opportunity for those of us who appreciate having these otherwise lost cultural treasures salvaged and preserved.

In this case, we have the legendary Maya Plisetskaya - youthful, beautiful, and phenomenally flexible, charismatic and dramatic, in the quintessentially Russian Swan Lake.

The sound and picture quality are by no means inadequate. It is a stunning experience just to be able to see Plisetskaya in her milieu at the Bolshoi, creating two completely different characters - one vulnerable, magical, the other seductively evil and predatory. Her gracefulness, her almost supernatural ability to incarnate the soul of a bird, make the cuts and audience shots irrelevent.

In fact, for those who truly appreciate history - cultural and political as well as artistic - this video is priceless. We see the Soviets at their propagandistic best. It's as if we're seeing two videos - one an historic ballet performance starring one of the 20th century's immortal artists, the other an adroitly executed and subtle propaganda film - in which the well-groomed, appreciative audience from all classes in this classless society is as much a part of the performance as the dance.

Besides Plisetskaya, the other stars of this film are the audience and the stage crew: beautiful young intellectuals mingle with sturdy loyal Party members. The less elegant but apparently no less artistically informed workers, both in the audience and behind the curtain, seem to appreciate ballet as much as the intelligentsia in the boxes. We even see Maya, behind the scenes, relieved and gratified to receive the loving approval of the woman who helps her change her costume. After all, in this vast Marxist experiment, all comrades are equal....

The conducting of the Bolshoi orchestra is excellent. The dancing is consistently superb. The jester has the outstanding athleticism and power we associate with the Russian school. The Rothbart plays out his death scene with such dramatic potency that the audience explodes with spontaneous applause.

Yes, there are cuts; yes the film quality is not Hollywood. But to have the opportunity to view Plisetskaya at the Bolshoi, in her youth, in the stellar role of her career is priceless.