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Léonide Massine's Gaîté Parisienne: A film by Victor Jessen
The legendary “in-house” filming of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, shot and edited by Victor Jessen, is now available on DVD, with fascinating bonus features. The ballet stars Alexandra Danilova, Frederic Franklin, and Leon Danielian. DVD extras include audio commentary by Franklin, optional explanatory subtitles which identify many of the dancers in the ensemble, an interview with Frederic Franklin, a documentary titled “The Saga of Victor Jessen,” and a complete list of the ballet productions filmed by Jessen.
B&W/Color (bonus segments), 87 minutes, 4:3, All regions
“I simply wanted,” Victor Jessen once said, “to make a permanent record on film of some of the most important works of the most perfect living art: The Dance.” To service this obsession, he mostly abandoned his job as an engineer in Los Angeles to film the great ballet companies of the age in theaters around the country.
Over a ten-year period beginning in the mid-1940s, he would enter dressed all in black, camera hidden in a briefcase and pockets stuffed with film magazines. His 16mm camera required rewinding every thirty seconds, and so he had to return repeatedly to fill in gaps. In all, he recorded twenty-four complete dance works and substantial portions of nine more.
In 1954, in a caper he called “The Ultimate Daring,” Jessen lugged a bulky tape recorder into one theater, plugged it into a light socket, and recorded the music from a Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo performance of Léonide Massine’s comedy ballet, Gaîté Parisienne. He then laboriously edited his footage to this recording and created the remarkable film presented on this DVD. It shows the company featured on the brilliant and affecting 2005 documentary, Ballets Russes, in top form, performing one of its most popular ballets led by the legendary Alexandra Danilova, Frederic Franklin, and Leon Danielian.
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