News: Ballet history month on the BBC

Tuesday 18 February 2014 by Carmel Smith

Rediscovered footage of Margot Fonteyn in 'Sleeping Beauty' BBC.

March is ballet history month on the BBC. Highlights of a spring season just announced include rediscovered footage of Margot Fonteyn dancing in Fonteyn ’59: Sleeping Beauty (BBC Four); classic dancers who inspired Darcey BussellDarcey’s Ballerina Heroines (BBC Two); Dancing In The Blitz: How WW2 Made British Ballet featuring rare footage presented by Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Artistic Director, David Bintley (BBC Four); and English National Ballet’s Tamara Rojo on Swan Lake in Good Swan, Bad Swan: Dancing Swan Lake (BBC Four).

Jan Younghusband, Head of Commissioning Music and Events, says: “BBC arts and music programming likes to put artists centre stage, as their knowledge gives us a unique insight into great performance and how it is achieved. In this season of films presented by three great talents of the ballet stage, we will not only see the great performers of the past but important rare and rediscovered ‘lost’ archive. BBC audiences will be able to re-experience some of the greatest ballet performances from the past and understand how great ballet roles were achieved from the great practitioners of now.”

Watch the season trailer on the BBC site

Programme details (all transmission times to be confirmed).

Darcey’s Ballerina Heroines BBC Two, Saturday 1 March
Former Royal Ballet Principal and Strictly judge Darcey Bussell tells the stories of the amazing ballerinas who inspired her and made ballet what it is today. In this film she explores the history of the ballerina through the female ballet stars who came before her. Travelling from Versailles in France, to the Winter Palace in St Petersburg and back to Covent Garden the theatre which welcomed Darcey’s earliest dance heroine, Marie Sallé, nearly 300 years ago in 1734.

Dancing In The Blitz: How WW2 Made British BalletBBC Four, Wednesday 5 March
David Bintley, Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet, explores how the Second World War was the making of British ballet and how fundamental the years of hardship and adversity were in getting the British public to embrace ballet. Bintley shows how the then Sadler’s Wells Ballet Company (later to become The Royal Ballet), led by Ninette de Valois and featuring a star-studded generation of British dancers and choreographers including Margot Fonteyn and Frederick Ashton was forged during the Second World War. Using rare and never-before-seen archive, plus interviews with dance icons such as Dame Gillian Lynne and Dame Beryl Grey, Bintley shows how the Sadler’s Wells Ballet survived an encounter with Nazi forces in Holland, dancing whilst the bombs were falling in the Blitz, and how they managed on rations to bring ballet to the British people. Their role in the war became the antidote to the austerity the country faced.
During his interview for Dancing InThe Blitz, one of the original 1946 dancers, Henry Danton, remembered that rehearsals had been filmed by an amateur cameraman, in colour. Thanks to BFI archivists this extraordinary footage was uncovered and has now been restored and clips of this restored version will be shown as part of this programme for the first time publicly in over 60 years.

Fonteyn ’59: Sleeping BeautyBBC Four, Friday 7 March
Darcey Bussell introduces an edited hour of highlights from Sleeping Beauty, a hidden treasure of the BBC archive, featuring legendary ballerina Margot Fonteyn in the leading role, in this performance from the 1950s. The original BBC Television version was specially produced and shot in a studio for TV broadcast but some years later footage of Act II (which features the the iconic moment when the prince awakens Sleeping Beauty from her 100 year sleep with a kiss) was lost. During the course of research for this programme, a master set of six film cans, containing one surviving copy of the elusive Act II was found. This 60 minute version will be the first time British audiences have had a chance to see extracts from the ballet since the live transmission in 1959 – giving a fascinating glimpse of 1950s style, post war ballet.

Good Swan, Bad Swan: Dancing Swan LakeBBC Four, Sunday 9 March
Tamara Rojo, the Artistic Director of English National Ballet, takes viewers backstage as she prepares for one of classical ballet’s biggest challenges, the dual lead in Swan Lake. The disarmingly candid Rojo talks about the role’s physical and psychological challenges, taking viewers into the hidden world of the corps de ballet, and through demonstration and masterclass reveals how to read the choreography of some of Swan Lake’s most famous scenes. It is the ultimate role for any dancer requiring her to play the completely contrasting characters: Odette the White Swan, and Odile, the Black Swan. The role demands not only superlative acting skills, but extreme stamina and the ability to master complex choreography, as well as the awe-inspiring capacity to dance 32 fouetté turns perfectly.
Rojo also looks at the history of Swan Lake and some of the great ballerinas who have inspired her (including the Bolshoi’s Galina Ulanova and legendary Natalia Makarova), and leads the way forward, coaching the next generation of rising stars who bring their own fresh interpretation. Beyond the dancing, she looks at other of the reasons behind Swan Lake’s extraordinary success, such as Tchaikovsky’s score, and the collaboration of two great choreographers – Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov – which fused the formal and naturalistic to create a phenomenon unseen before in the history of ballet.

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