The artist management agency International Classical Artists has launched an audio and audio-visual label featuring archive material and historic musical performances by the agency’s own artists from around the world since 1953. Of 74 titles released to date under the label ICA Classics Legacy series, the catalogue includes a small collection of historic dance performances filmed in black and white, mainly from the 50s and 60s and featuring great dancers such as Fonteyn, Nureyev, Nadia Nerina, Svetlana Beriosova, Alicia Markova, and Galina Ulanova in classics such as Les Sylphides and Giselle, but also delectable ballets of the period such by John Cranko’s The Lady and the Fool, Ashton’s La Fille mal gardée with original interpreters, and the first act of The Stone Flower.

It has been a real pleasure savouring the particular delights of their Choreography by Bournonville disc, which includes not only a complete performance of La Sylphide recorded by the BBC in 1961, but also a bonus all Danish performance of the Act II pas de deux from 1960, and the Flower Festival in Genzano pas de deux recorded in 1974.  The Ballet Rambert production of La Sylphide was mounted by Elsa-Marianne von Rosen with loving care as to authentic style and dramatic coherence; accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra the studio filming in a relatively intimate space achieves a satisfying balance between detail in close up and the whole picture, so that it is possible not only to enjoy the choreography’s spatial design and lively ensemble dances but also to engage with the characters, their believable emotions and human dilemmas.  Lucette Aldous as the Sylph is light as thistledown, buoyant with soft arms, alighting gently, wistfully capricious.  I noted with interest the relaxed feet of her romantic poses, unlike the steely extended dégagés of more recent interpreters to be found on YouTube.  As James, Flemming Flindt combines an impetuous boyishness with elegant clean technique and apparently effortless Danish elevation.  Sympathetic performances too from Shirley Dixon as the abandoned Effie, and John Chesworth as the jealous Gurn.

In the additional recording of the Act II pas de deux Elsa-Marianne von Rosen herself and Flemming Flindt exemplify the Danish style in affecting simplicity.  The Flower Festival in Genzano pas de deux was recorded at a live performance at Covent Garden, in brightly colourful costumes against a flower power drop cloth, and is performed with great panache by Merle Park and Rudolf Nureyev.  Park dances with nice insouciance capturing the choreography’s playful spirit with a light touch; although charismatic and passionate in his technical exactitude, Nureyev Is too effortful for my taste.

Such historic performances give real insights into matters of shifting style and issues of authenticity, as well as the opportunity to see great interpreters from previous generations all too easily forgotten.  Here’s hoping that ICA can unearth some more gems.

Susie Crow

16th June 2013

This review is reproduced with grateful thanks to Dance UK in whose online newsletter of 28th June 2013 it originally appeared.

Order the Choreography by Bournonville DVD here