Monday, February 28, 2011

Serge Lifar - 'Les Sylphides

This is unique June 1928 silent film footage of the original now fabled Ballets Russes of Serge de Diaghilev.

It shows Serge Lifar and rehearsing 'Les Sylphides' with a corps de ballet outdoors at the 'Fetes de Narcisses' in Montreux, Switzerland.

What makes this discovery particularly exciting is that Diaghilev never permitted the Ballets Russes to be filmed, and so this unauthorised rehearsal footage may well be the only record of the company.

The footage was originally uploaded by British Pathe onto their website (, unrecognised, until identified in February 2011 by Jane Pritchard, curator of the Ballets Russes (Ballet Russe) exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and Susan Eastwood, a member of the London Ballet Circle.

They were aided in their identification by a photograph taken during the Ballets Russes' first visit to the 'Fetes de Narcisses' in 1923, which showed the company on an outdoor stage performing 'Aurora’s Wedding'.

The Ballets Russes, 'Aurora’s Wedding', the FĂȘtes des Narcisses, 1923

There are now many articles on the internet about the discovery including one by Jane Pritchard herself:

Ms Pritchard says:

What we see is I believe the June 1928 Festival (the topiary arch indicates this is the Ballets Russes second visit to Montreux when they danced 'Les Sylphides', 'Cimarosiana' and the Polovtsian dances from 'Prince Igor'). I believe that Serge Lifar was dancing the lead role – sometimes referred to as the poet. No doubt the long wig worn confused the [British Pathe] cataloguer to suggest ‘One female dancer (representing Narcissus?).

The film confirms what many have said - that while the principle dancers were often extraordinary (Vaslav Nijinsky, Tamara Karsavina, Leonid Massine and so on), the corps could be a far more ordinary affair.

I have added an audio - music from 'Les Sylphides' which does not attempt to be that of the various little mini segments of choreography in the footage.

Hope you are as bowled over by the find as I was - I never expected such a thing!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Scrapbook Memoriam of Great Charm
Angus Fitzroy
Toby McCutcheon
The other day, Art Mariano sent me the URL for a curious little 85 page scrapbook memorial put together by Angus Fitzroy to commemorate the thirty year relationship with his friend/lover (?) Toby McCutcheon.
I thought it was absolutely charming, if somewhat slight, but have found myself coming back to it over and over again. A sure sign of something of greater interest. And for a post.
The book charts the relationship between the two men in a potpourri of sketches, photographs, cards, magazine covers and stamps. Most are captioned - with pithy, erudite, thought-provoking, gay funny, or just plain quirky remarks.
There are images of the two friends at home in England. And in gay company. The comments here often reflect the particular humour of the period - like a photograph of two men dancing captioned 'Foxtrot anyone?'
There are pictures of Angus and Toby in all corners of the globe - from France to Cuba to Algeria to Athens to Istanbul to Egypt. One with the cute 'I was forever hungry in Hungary'.
Snaps of muscular athletic men, mostly from the athletics/health magazines of the day. One sticks in my mind - of a body builder whose nipples Angus has saliently 'annotated' with gold stars.
Tender reflections on the relationship - Will something of me survive? And ask 'What was that?' 'You?'
There are sketches of nudes - the one I love best is of a guy with a hard-on, captioned 'Surprise!'
This is the most easy and delicious document of gay social history.
Now I've probably overdone the inclusions but ...
Then, after all the gaiety and lovely lightness of the scrapbook, there is a final entry opposite a woodblock of a medieval knight ...
... which brings the notebook into closing dedicatory focus:
Dear Toby, you shall forever be my number one man. My knight in armour. You will forever shine in my dreams as hero. Galahad has nothing on you. I would rededicate myself to you over and over again for all time.
The perfect epitaph we'd all want our loved one to be able to write of us. Or vice versa!
After wiping the tear from your eye, were there any entries that particularly took your fancy?

The source of this extraordinary diary is JD Doyle’s site - I hope Mr Doyle will let us keep this post but I perfectly understand if he would like it removed.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sing It Out Baby, Sing It Out

Jean Mounet-Sully as Hernani in Victor Hugo's 'Hernani ou l'honneur castillan'

A few months back, I saw a London Weekend Television extended biographic interview - 'Lawrence Olivier - A Life'.

And I was reminded of a section in it today, watching early C20 film, with added wax cylinder audio track, of the great Comedie Francaise actor Jean Mounet-Sully (1841-1916) playing Oedipus in 'Oedipe Roi'.

In fact I was almost rolling round on the floor, shrieking and kicking my legs in the air, as Mounet-Sully melodrama-ed and sang his way through the Sophocles text - way way beyond what I thought was humanly possible. And he was considered the Great Classical Actor of the French theatre of his day!

Olivier touches on this 'phenomenon' in the context of the Royal Shakespeare Company of the same period and the delivery of blank verse ...

... with John Gielgud reflecting on how early in his career he must have seemed like 'an old operatic diva singing'!

At the beginning of the French footage, you'll need to listen behind the talking head for Mouney-Sully but by the end he's in full flight, singing out his 'aria'. Dramatic high notes, and seriously fortissimo!

So without further ado, buckle your seats belts ... so you don't do yourself a harm.

Any broken bones from tumbling your chair over?

But seriously, it's interesting to reflect on just how the measure of great acting (or anything much) is relative to the tastes and fashion of the time.