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Ashton Celebration Film Reviews

by Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
July 30, 2004
Lincoln Center
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc.
140 West 65th Street
New York, NY 10023
212.875.5456

About the Author:

Ashton Celebration Film Reviews



Lincoln Center Festival Presents
Director: Nigel Redden
(Festival Website)
Ashton Celebration
(Ashton Bio)
Director, Publicity: Eileen McMahon
Manager Publicity: Marian Skokan

With
Film Society of Lincoln Center
(Film Society Website)
Film Ticket Coordinator: Joanna Ney

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
July 30, 2004

(See Ashton Festival Ballet Reviews)

The Jealous Lover (from The Story of Three Loves): Vincente Minnelli and Gottfried Reinhardt, US, 1953, 40m selection, Starring: James Mason and Moira Shearer.

The Jealous Lover, directed by Reinhardt, is the first of three stories in one film, as three passengers on an ocean liner recall lost love. Only the first segment has Ashton ballet choreography, danced by Moira Shearer (also of The Red Shoes). James Mason is a ballet Impresario, Charles Coudray, and he has created a new ballet, Astarte. Paula Woodward (Ms. Shearer) may have danced in this ballet, but for a serious heart condition, and she was forbidden by her aunt and doctor to dance again. Upon seeing Astarte, she found herself onstage, after hours, still dressed in evening clothes, dancing to Rachmaninoff's score, in her mind.

Coudray comes upon her and begs her to return to his studio, so he can sketch her personal choreographic improvements for future performances. He falls in love with her and decides to star her in this ballet, but she disappears. She returns home and immediately dies of a heart attack. Coudray presents Astarte only once more, with Woodward's concepts, so she can be honored appropriately. The film takes it's name from Coudray's misunderstanding that Woodward has a jealous lover waiting for her, and that's why she had stopped dancing and was hesitant to return home with him. Their one kiss was divine. Woodward told her aunt, in her dying words, "I'll always be with him". Films like this are priceless.

Ashton's choreography was astounding, and the ballet within a ballet, in Coudray's studio, was breathtaking and a whirling dervish of scintillating motion. It was amazing how Reinhardt and Ashton were able to direct Ms. Shearer in a room filed with furniture and antiques. Mason's character lived in a mansion, and this dance was surreal. This was an exquisite and passionate film segment, and I plan to see the entire film, especially since Leslie Caron is featured in a different segment, as well as Michael Douglas.

Dance Pretty Lady: Anthony Asquith, UK, 1932, 64m, Starring: Ann Casson, Carl Harbord, Michael Hogan, Moore Marriott, Flora Robson, Leonard Brett, Norman Claridge, Sunday Wilshin, Rene Ray, and Eva Llewellyn. This black and white 1932 film is well preserved and concerns a child, influenced against her family's wishes by a tenant in her building, to follow her dream to become a dancer, and she is soon found in Music Halls of London, dancing to Les Sylphides and Swan Lake. After falling in love with Maurice (Carl Harbord), who abandons her, she succumbs to the advances of a new suitor. When Carl returns, a classic embrace ensues.

The scenes of Swan Lake, with no sets, minimal tutus, no affect, no wings, and no sight of the Prince, Odile, or Rothbart are quite simple and set as casual dance events. Men wait in the wings for the women and even motion to them midst the dance. This is the antithesis of ethereal. Dancers were human, not swans. But, this simple choreography was quite interesting and quite lovely, reminiscent of Degas' dancers in the wings, similar figures and similar expressions.

The Tales of Hoffman: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger, 1951, UK, 127m, English Libretto from the French text by Jules Barbier, Conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Written, Produced, and Directed by Michael Powell, Choreography by Frederic Ashton, Star Singers: Robert Rounseville, Monica Sinclair, Fisher-Morgan, Dorothy Bonn, Margherita Grandi, and Ann Ayars, Star Dancers: Robert Helpmann, Moira Shearer, and Leonide Massine.

This was an extremely long work, over two hours, and mostly an opera. However, midst operatic angst, as Hoffman's three romantic adventures arrive and depart, there is the most existential ballet choreography, danced by Moira Shearer (Prologue and Epilogue), Leonide Massine, Robert Helpmann, and even Ashton himself. Moira Shearer, born in Scotland, was a dancer in Sadler's Wells Ballet and toured in America. Leonide Massine was born in Moscow. He worked with Diaghilev and danced and choreographed many ballets and then worked on three Hollywood films. Robert Helpmann was born in S. Australia. He danced in the Vic-Wells Company and Sadler's Wells Ballet, choreographed ballets, and appeared in films.

Offenbach's Grand Opera tells the tale of Hoffman and his three loves, Olympia, Giulietta, and Antonia. There are magnificent sets and tremendous operatic arias by Robert Rounsville, as Hoffman, and others. In the Prologue and Epilogue, Moira Shearer, as a colorful dragonfly on water lily pads, dances with Frederic Ashton, as the male dragonfly with a mask and wild costume. In the three romantic adventures, with Olympia, a mechanical doll from Paris, Giulietta, a courtesan from Venice, and Antonia, a singer from Greece, Rounsville performs virtuosically.

The ballets for Helpmann, Ashton, and Massine involve masks, primitive leaps, and the tale of Hoffman's muse, Pamela Brown, and his archrival, Robert Helpmann, in several disguises. There is a magnificent gondola scene, as well as interior scenes in Paris and unusual sets of Greece. For opera and ballet, visual effects and lush scenery, this is one classic film. I will never forget Moira Shearer and Frederic Ashton as passionate and elegant dragonflies.

Ondine (from The Royal Ballet): Paul Czinner, UK, 1960, 76m selection, Starring Margot Fonteyn and Michael Somes. I am a lifelong fan of Margot Fonteyn and remember her so well, partnered with Rudolf Nureyev, her flame onstage and off. To see her dancing here as Ondine with Michael Somes as Palemon, one could see how ripe she must have been for Nureyev, and, although she and Mr. Somes had a legendary 11 year partnership, there was no colossal chemistry between the two in this most passionate of films. A segment of Ondine was performed in the Ashton Festival by the Royal Ballet. I remember ethereal dancing and the ecstatic final embrace, the cause of Palemon's death.

Ms. Fonteyn was youthful, exuberant, and graceful in this ballet film, and Mr. Somes was dynamic and daring. This film was a fitting closure to the incredible Ashton Festival, part of Lincoln Center Festival 2004, with a tribute to the legendary Royal Ballet and its renowned ballerina extraordinaire, Margot Fonteyn.

Kudos to Lincoln Center Festival 2004.

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