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DVD/Videos: Giselle with Ulanova

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In 1956, when I was 9, my dad took me to see the Bolshoi on their first visit to England. He queued up for hours outside the Royal Opera House box office in order to get tickets and somehow managed to persuade the clerk to sell him three tickets for three performances. Apparently the rule was 2 tickets per person, but my dad told the clerk that his daughter was going to be a ballerina, and she just had to see the Bolshoi dance! I am so glad he did - those three performances made a lasting impression on me - I even wrote to Ulanova afterwards and invited her to tea. I got a lovely letter back declining graciously and still have the signed photo by my bed to this day. I think it was the turning point when I knew that this was how I wanted to spend my life.


Anyway, to cut a long story short, when I was in London this summer I found that they had released the original film of that visit by the Bolshoi on DVD. It's not great film quality, but it includes almost all of Giselle (minus first act solo and some other bits which had probably perished over the years) with Ulanova as Giselle and Raissa Struchkova as the Queen of the Willis, plus some divertissements. I have to say that I was a bit afraid that it would not live up to my expectations - I have so often seen performances on film from the 50's and 60's which disappointed me. However, even judging it by today's standards, I found it riveting. Ulanova was so special, her acting so true and technically she was great even at 48, which I think she was then. Struchkova was much younger and so technically she was even more outstanding, but Ulanova held the audience in the palm of her hands and her mad scene was the best I've seen and I've seen a lot of Giselle's in my life. The DVD is by Deutsche Grammophon and is called The Best of the Bolshoi Ballet. If you want to see ballet history live, get this DVD.

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