Get the best dance DVDs and see the best on film
Although nothing replaces the immediacy of live performance, dance on screen widens our choice for a fraction of the cost and there are some excellent DVDs which work as gifts for loved ones, or as a treat for yourself this New Year.
The Mark Morris Dance Group hasn’t visited Britain for some time, but his lyrical masterpice L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato has finally been recorded on DVD, bringing his genius into our homes. Along with The Hard Nut, his sardonic retelling of The Nutcracker, L’Allegro shows him at the height of his interpretive powers, subtly transforming Handel’s exhilarating score after poems by Milton into memorable movement.
In 2014, the Royal Danish Ballet acquired a new version of Bournonville’s Napoli, devised by Nikolaj Hübbe, the company’s directer, and the mime artist Sorella Englund. Inspired by Fellini’s early films of post-war Italy’s impoverished communities, they set the 1842 ballet in the1950s while remaining faithful to its romantic narrative.
Filmed from odd angles as if the dancing didn’t matter, the DVD of that production muddies the choreography and muddles the story with constant jumpcuts. Yet the dancers’ buoyancy and relaxed, naturalistic acting preserve the ballet’s intrinsic charm so that, far from Denmark, we can still enjoy it.
Two new theatrical films also approach dance from an unusual angle, documenting situations we can never penetrate alone. Following the 2013 acid attack on the Bolshoi Ballet’s director, Sergei Filin, a film crew received uncensored access to the Bolshoi Theatre and the freedom to roam the premises as it wished.
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Through incisive interviews and snatches of rehearsal and performances, the riveting result, Bolshoi Babylon, captures the artistic personalities and internal politics of a company in crisis. Far more penetrating than the “backstage” films that mask reality behind a pretty façade, this one bravely explores some hard truths about the practical concerns of a vast artistic enterprise.
Kate Geis’s Paul Taylor, Creative Domain shadows the renowned American choreographer as he creates his 133rd piece. Now in his 80s, Mr. Taylor has shaped a distinctive vocabulary into a repertory of tragic, comic, abstract and deeply ambiguous works. This film presents a rare glimpse of the trial and error, patience, imagination and trust that yield a brand-new dance.