In 1987 a two-part television programme called The Ballerinas featured Carla Fracci, with some of the top male dancers of the period, in a series of reconstructions putting various ballets and their interpretors in an historical context. Fracci was an amazingly youthful 51 when she danced these extracts.
Dance Magazine critic John Gruen wrote:
The nineteenth century clings to Carla Fracci like an invisible mantle – her aura, her look, her demeanor suggest everyone’s conception of the romantic ballerina. How fitting that this great poetic artist should portray some of her most fabled predecessors – the very ballerinas that, like Fracci, were the embodiment of romantic fragility and lyric classicism.
In The Ballerinas, a sumptuously produced two-part ballet drama, Fracci places her rare artistry in the service of dance history as she recreates roles first premiered by such luminous ballerinas as Marie Taglioni, Emma Livry, Carlotta Grisi, Fanny Elssler, Giuseppina Bozzacchi, Carlotta Brianza, Matilde Kschessinska, Anna Pavlova, Tamara Karsavina and Olga Spessitzeva. Indeed, not only does Fracci offer superbly danced excerpts from such classics as La Sylphide, Giselle, Coppelia and The Sleeping Beauty, among others, but enacts salient moments in each ballerina’s life as a versatile dramatic actress.
Thus, The Ballerinas is more than a ballet film, but a series of vivid and historically accurate vignettes, given added impact by the presence of Peter Ustinov who appears in Part I, as the great French poet, writer and ballet critic Theophile Gautier and, in Part II, as the fiery ballet impresario, the Russian, Sergei Diaghilev. Moreover, in the dance sequences, Fracci appears in partnership with some of today’s most illustrious male dancers, among them, Vladimir Vasiliev, Peter Schaufuss, Michael Denard, Richard Cragun and Charles Jude.
Engrossing, instructive, lavish and thoroughly entertaining, The Ballerinas is a must for all ballet lovers.
Here are the links to the 8 YouTube videos:
LA SYLPHIDE, 1832: Carla Fracci, Marie Taglioni; Peter Schaufuss, Joseph Mazilier.
LE PAPILLON, 1860: Carla Fracci, Emma Livry; Michael Denard, Louis Merante.
LA CACHUCHA, from Il Diavolo Zoppo, 1836: Carla Fracci, Fanny Elssler.
ESMERALDA, 1907–1908: Carla Fracci, Matilde Kschessinska; Stephen Jeffries, Nicolas Legat.
LES SYLPHIDES, 1909: Carla Fracci, Anna Pavlova; Charles Jude, Vaslav Nijinski.
SLEEPING BEAUTY Rose Adagio: Carla Fracci, Olga Spessitzeva.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.