El Poema de las Danzas (Carmen And My Family)

El Poema de las Danzas, or The Poem about the Dance, is the title under which the famous Carmen Suite Ballet was transferred onto the screen in Russia. Here is the story of how the ballet had actually come about (from Video Artists International):

Maya Plisetskaya always dreamed of dancing the role of Carmen and had approached Shostakovich for a score. He demurred out of respect for Bizet’s celebrated opera. It was eventually Plisetskaya’s husband Rodion Shchedrin who agreed to provide the music after seeing some of the initial rehearsals with his wife and the choreographer Alberto Alonso. His Carmen Suite Ballet, based on Bizet, was a perfect complement to Alonso’s choreography and, in its theatricality, a showcase for Plisetskaya’s considerable dramatic gifts. Plisetskaya’s Don Jose is the brilliant dramatic dancer, Nicolai Fadeyechev. Sergei Radchenko dances the role of the Bullfighter. The Carmen Suite Ballet, one of the darkest settings of Mérimée’s tragic story, deeply symbolic and overtly sensual, premiered at the Bolshoi Ballet on April 20, 1967.

The film was made in 1969 and, according to IMDb.com, released in Argentina in 1970.

I have always been somewhat hesitant when it comes to speaking about the members of my family, particularly their accomplishments. I want to tell about these, and I want the world to know that we are related for no other reason that I feel happy and proud of them, as the members of the kin should. Yet I cannot temper my feelings, I am truly HAPPY for them, and for some time I was wary that this may come across as boasting. And because I have had plans for my own accomplishments, the last thing I wanted to do was to be a vain name-dropper.

Nowadays enough accomplishments back me, so without further ado I can say that I have the honour to be the niece of the director who made El Poema de las Danzas. Vadim Derbenyov (this link will take you to his filmography in Russian; a slighly less complete list is at IMDb.com) is the nephew of my Grandma; I mentioned his father, a writer, previously. Vadim went on from being a cameraman to becoming a director who has left his mark on the Soviet cinema with adaptations of crime stories and the Western classics. A televised Carmen Suite, being based on a classical story by the French author, is one such example. Other examples include The Secret of Blackbirds (a version of A Pocket Full of Rye, an Agatha Christie story involving Ms. Marple), and The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins.

I realise now that Vadim Derbenyov is a kind of Russian Peter Sellars or Franco Zeffirelli, with the difference that he turned ballets, not operas, from stage to the screen. In addition to The Poem about the Dance, he also made Spartakus (a story about the Roman rebelious slave) and The Terrible Age (about the Russian tzar, Ivan the Terrible).

Now that I have come back to Moscow, such family connections feel so much more significant, while my interests and goals I pursue suddenly appear not so strange or coincidental… In any case, this is the beginning, and I am hoping to be able to introduce to you my large family fairly regularly.

And maybe I could it earlier, but to talk without showing anything is like bragging. Someone posted the entire El Poema de las Danzas on YouTube, which I include in this post. Our uncle told my mother that making the film wasn’t an easy job, not merely because of the difficulty of filming a ballet, but also because of Carmen herself. Plisetskaya was able to demonstrate her dramatic gift and outstanding dancing technique, but her aging meant that muscles occasionally went stiff, and filming then had to be stopped. Still, with El Poema de las Danzas we have a great example of bringing the ballet to screen, of using the light, as well as the camera movement, to articulate the dramatism of the story, the choreography, and the emotion of the music.

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