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From London and Moscow to Seattle: SIFF Presents Ballets in Cinema

Written by Steve Ha

Roberta Marquez as Lise and Steven McRae as Colas
in Frederick Ashton’s La Fille Mal Gardee. The Royal Ballet 2009/10
A growing trend in the world of classical ballet has been the rise of live streams of performances by the finest companies in the world, particularly the Royal Ballet (broadcasting from their home at Covent Garden in London, England) and the Bolshoi Ballet (likewise, from the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, Russia). For fans around the globe, the live broadcasts present amazing opportunities to see dancers and choreography they may otherwise not have access to. Unfortunately for Seattle, an actual live broadcast is problematic after taking time zone differences into consideration, as morning showings would neither be effective nor lucrative. However, the SIFF Cinema continues to air replays, so audiences can still enjoy watching timeless classics on the big screen.
The Bolshoi Ballet in Raymonda

So far this season SIFF has presented the Bolshoi’s productions of The Sleeping Beauty, Le Corsaire, and Alexei Ratmansky’s The Bright Stream, (reviewed here on SeattleDances) as well as the Royal Ballet’s production of Romeo and Juliet, choreographed by Sir Kenneth MacMillan. Still on tap are the Bolshoi’s Raymonda, and two more from the Royal Ballet, Sir Frederick Ashton’s La Fille mal gardée, and their own staging of The Sleeping Beauty. While Seattle is lucky enough to boast great talents in Pacific Northwest Ballet, it is a different experience to witness the grandeur of companies more rooted in a particular tradition and with less problems in securing funding. The Bolshoi’s aesthetic is extravagant, glittering with the opulence of Imperial Russia, which remains a source of great pride for their history. All three of Beauty, Corsaire, and Raymonda are derivative of originals created by ballet master Marius Petipa, retaining his choreography where possible with a few interpolations by his successors. Boasting its own academy far beyond the scope of the imagination, the BolshoiAcademy employs strict standards for entry and training, with the end result being a veritable horde of miraculous dancers. The difference is most apparent in the corps de ballet, where the Russians set the standard with mirror image precision that is both wildly impressive and aesthetically pleasing.
The Royal Ballet has more charm and theatricality, boasting the likes of Ashton and MacMillan, and perfecting the art of the narrative ballet. Though it is far from the first, it is in fact MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet that is the most well known staging of Shakespeare’s story, with Ashton’s La Fille mal gardée similarly superseding other productions of the same namesake. Between Romeo and Juliet, Beauty, and La Fille, there is a great romantic tragedy, a classic fairy tale à la Petipa, and a great comedy, thus showing the Royal Ballet’s incredible range of repertory, as well as a dazzling array of talent amongst its ranks of dancers. The diversity of dancers in the Royal Ballet makes different casts exciting, and although the Royal Ballet has released La Fille on film twice—a 1981 recording with Lesley Collier and Michael Coleman in the principal roles, and one from 2005 starring Marianela Nuñez and Carlos Acosta—current principals Roberta Marquez and Steven McRae invigorate the ballet with vastly different characterizations. McRae in particular makes for a devilishly fun Colas, the sweetheart of Marquez’s character, Lise.

Though the Bolshoi hasn’t been to Seattle in over a decade, and the Royal Ballet in more than 20 years, SIFF’s presentations of ballet in cinema make them accessible to the public in an exciting new way. While Seattle has long been treated to classical ballets in the image of Petipa, it was perhaps the inclusion of Ratmansky’s The Bright Stream and Ashton’s La Fille mal gardée that served as the bread and butter, simply because comic ballets are so rare in an art form that is prone to indulgences into drama and romance. Though The Bright Stream has already aired, La Fille is a refreshing remedy to the proliferation of heavier and complex themes seen in dance today—one can simply delight in its charms and leave with a lighthearted air of merriment.

All screenings are on Monday’s at 6:30 pm at the SIFFFilmCenter. La Fille mal gardée airs July 23, Raymonda airs August 6, and The Sleeping Beauty airs August 20. To purchase tickets and find out more information, see: