The Flames of Paris, and Emerging Pictures’ Ballet in Cinema Series

Yesterday, I was invited to a preview of a filmed recording of the Bolshoi’s The Flames of Paris. The film will begin showing in New York at the BIG Cinemas Manhattan on November 2nd and will be broadcast nationally in over 30 locations starting on that day as well.

This film is the first in Emerging PicturesBallet in Cinema series, which, like the Met Opera’s high definition series, is a series of live (or recorded, but most are live) ballet performances that will be broadcast in various movie theaters. I’m psyched about this, especially since I’d bemoaned that ballet didn’t have such a thing when the Met Opera first started their film series.

Flames, by the Bolshoi, is the first ballet, and, as I said, it begins showing on November 2nd. That performance is recorded. Here is the rest of the schedule:

The Nutcracker, performed by the Royal Ballet (London), December 1, 2010 (Recorded)
The Nutcracker, performed by the Bolshoi, Sunday, December 19, 2010, 11 a.m. EST (Live)
Giselle, Royal Ballet (London), January 19, 2011, 2:30 p.m. EST (Live)
The Class Concert and Giselle, by the Bolshoi, January 23, 2011 11 a.m. EST (Live)
Caligula, Paris Opera Ballet, February 8, 2011, 1:30 p.m. EST (Live)
Don Quixote, Bolshoi, March 6, 2011, 11 a.m. EST (Live)
Coppelia, Paris Opera Ballet, March 28, 2011, 11 a.m. EST (Live)
Coppelia, Bolshoi, May 29, 2011, 11 a.m. EST (Live)
Children of Paradise, Paris Opera Ballet, July 9, 2011, 1:30 p.m. EST (Live)

At this point I’m not sure of all the locations or the time on the top date, but will let you know more specifics when I know. For now, for more info, visit their website or Facebook page.

Anyway, on to The Flames of Paris. This production is from March of this year, in Moscow, and stars Natalia Osipova, Denis Savin, and Ivan Vasiliev (as excellent a dancer as Osipova). It was originally choreographed by Vasily Vaynonen and performed in 1934, but Alexei Ratmansky has reconstructed it. Music is by Boris Vladimirovich Asafiev, a Russian and Soviet composer, and is based on songs of the French Revolution. Interestingly, it was Stalin’s favorite ballet, which confuses me, unless Ratmansky substantially re-worked things, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

It’s set during the French Revolution and tells the story of a pair of brother and sister peasants, Jeanne and Jerome (Osipova and Savin), a Marseillais (revolutionary fighter) named Phillipe (Vasiliev), and Adeline (danced by Nina Kaptsova), the daughter of the local Marquis. Jeanne and Jerome are young, energetic free spirits at the beginning of the ballet but, upon meeting Phillipe (whom Jeanne eventually falls in love with) become revolutionaries too. Adeline, bored at one of her father’s aristocratic parties (and perhaps jilted by a man there as well – I couldn’t really tell), wanders off, and eventually finds herself in the camp of the Marseillais. She hooks up with Jerome and they fall in love.

Eventually, as well all know, revolutionary fervor leads to the deaths of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. During the last scene, Adeline sees her father, the Marquis, dragged toward the guillotine. She becomes hysterical and begins rushing toward him, trying to save him. Jeanne and Jerome try to hold her back – Jerome out of love for her and Jeanne seemingly out of now hysterical patriotism, demanding the Marquis’ death along with the other Marseillais. But Adeline won’t leave the executioners alone, and when they discover who she is, she is put up on the platform, under the guillotine as well. The ballet ends with her crying and looking terrified as the guillotine comes down on her head.

Jerome keels over crying and Jeanne comforts him, but then, as he is given Adeline’s head wrapped in some kind of gauze, Jeanne is lifted and off she goes with the other Marseillais fist pumping in the air, French flag overhead, with the creepiest most possessed, horror movie-esque look in her eyes I may have ever seen.

When I left the theater I felt very unsettled and more than a little scared of revolutions in general and the uncontrolled murderous mob activity they can lead to. Unless Ratmansky completed changed the ending, I don’t see how this was a piece of propaganda, glorifying the French Revolution and likening it to the equally glorious Russian. I thought Ratmansky had been criticized for bringing back two Soviet-era propaganda ballets – this one and Bright Stream – during his time at the Bolshoi. I feel like either I missed something, or he changed things. New Yorkers will be able to see Bright Stream at ABT next summer.

Anyway, the dancing was tremendous, and Natalia Osipova is just as spellbinding on screen as she is onstage. She just moves so fast and with such precision and power and impeccable technique; when she’s done you feel like you can’t believe what you just saw. I can’t imagine there’s going to be another dancer quite like her. She’s also a very good actress. She had the tomboyish, peasant-like gait down solid here; there was no flirty Kitri anywhere in this performance. She also, as I said, perfectly embodied the almost crazed Marseillais, sad for her brother but too hateful toward the Marquis to feel much for Adeline.

Vasiliev is also an excellent dancer, and his final final pas de deux with Osipova was fantastic. Crowd went wild, of course. And Russian crowds are a bit more fun than American 🙂 They clap in unison, all clapping on the same beat, as if they’re cheering the dancers on to do an encore to the rhythms they’re making. But there were no encores, just bizillions of bows. I realized that the ABT production of the pas de deux, during their City Center season a couple years ago, was altered probably to suit the strengths of Daniil Simkin. Vasiliev did none of those crazy over-rotated barrel turns that Daniil in known for and I thought I remembered a no-hands fish at the end of the ABT performance?… It wasn’t here. Also, they remained dressed in their regular street clothes; no fancy princess tutu for Natalia.

I thought Savin, tall and wiry, was a bit out of control in his dancing in parts, but maybe that was just part of the character. I think the Russians try to move the audience, to tell the ballet’s story, with their acting just as much as with their dancing, which is somewhat different than American-trained dancers, who seem to focus more on technique and movement quality than characterization. I thought Nina Kaptsova was a beautiful dancer. And she was perfect for the part of vulnerable Adeline. But I’m sorry, I can’t help but feel for anyone who has to share the stage with Osipova!

I loved the camera work – it panned in and out, just like in the Met’s HD films, homing in on various characters at certain points in order to make it more cinematic.

I’m really looking forward to the other performances. We don’t otherwise see much of the Bolshoi, the Royal and the POB here and, if the other films are as well-made as this one, I feel like you do get a very full experience.

Above photo (of Osipova, Savin, and Vasiliev) taken from here.


  1. I think this is wonderful. I will attend Cinema Paradiso next Sunday, Nove 28 at 12 noon to enjoy of this great production. WE are blessed to have this kind of movies to watch over and over the magnificent art of Ballet.

  2. Despite the skewed English of your last sentence, this report is meritorious. I had the privilege last evening of attendance at a showing of the stunning, sublimely executed FLAMES. A week ago notice of the forthcoming screening was contained in ARTVOICE, the first I had heard of the work, and when upon initial research I learned that this was a revival of what must surely have been in its origins a piece of Stalinist socialist realism, I thought I might like to read a review of the 1932-33-34 staging but as yet have been unable to find one.

    The photography of this performance is noteworthy in itself, reminiscent of that of RUSSIAN ARK, seducing the viewer almost into believing that he is part of the film, with in the instant case the prelude of iconic Moscow scenes, then sweeping the viewer up into the crowds presumably heading for the Bolshoi, then taking one inside to his seat.

    Asafeyev, Ratmansky, Sorokin, (the photographer), Vasiliev, Osipova—bravo, indeed!

    Keep up with your reviews and writing.

Comments are closed