By:  Hal de Becker


One of the latest gems in Video Artists International’s (VAI) ballet and opera treasure chest is “Divas on Pointe.”


VAI has combined on a single DVD solos and pas de deux performed by twelve of the 20th century’s most glittering ballerinas, including Alicia Alonso, Maria Tallchief,  Galina Ulanova, Ekaterina Maximova, Nadezhda Pavolva, Violette Verdy,  Nina Ananiashvili, Dame Margot Fonteyn, Maya Plisetskaya, Alexandra Danilova, Raisa Struchkova, Irina Kolpakova.


The dances are choreographed by Balanchine, Ashton, Petipa and others and  include an excerpt from a ballet by Serge Lifar once star of the Diaghilev Ballets Russes and former director of the Paris Opera ballet.  It has special interest because his works are rarely seen on stage or film.


Many of the ballerinas are partnered by the leading male dancers of the period some of whom are not often seen on DVD such as Igor Youskevitch and Andre Eglevsky.   


Youskevitch was Alonso’s favorite partner during the 1940’s and 50’s and they performed together for 14 years.  They are seen here in the adagio from Swan Lake’s ‘black swan’ pas de deux.  Youskevitch’s masterful partnering, elegance and commanding presence are vividly apparent and a match for Alonso’s renowned talents.


During the 1940’s and 50’s Tallchief, once the wife and muse of George Balanchine, was considered by many to be America’s leading ballerina.  With Eglevsky, whose career began as a teenager and spanned the 1930’s, 40’ and 50’s, she performs the adagio from Balanchine’s Scotch Symphony. 


Ulanova’s famed portrayal of Juliet is seen in the balcony scene from the 1954 film of Lavrovsky’s Romeo and Juliet ballet.  Her performance is exquisite and unrivaled.  She is partnered by the romantic Yuri Zhdanov. 


Maximova and her husband Vladimir Vasiliev were probably Soviet Russia’s most famous ballet team.  She had been a student of Ulanova’s and with her beauty and delicacy provided an ideal balance to Vasiliev’s charismatic persona.  He was generally considered the world’s greatest male dancer of his time and later directed the Bolshoi Ballet.   


VAI provides excerpts from two of the ballets they were most famously associated with:  Romeo and Juliet and Grigorovich’s powerful Spartacus.


A scene from Lifar’s Romeo and Juliet is danced by Verdy with Scott Douglas whose technical purity was ahead of his time.  Her career in films and as principal dancer with numerous troupes including NYCB, ABT and Britain’s Royal Ballet extended from 1945 to 1975.  She later directed the Paris Opera Ballet and has authored several books on dance


The recently retired Ananiashvilli was one of the most exciting and lovely ballerinas of any period as evidenced by her immense popularity and public following.  She is seen with Alexei Fadeyechev in the Grand Pas de Deux from Don Quixote.  Her speed, elevation and personal charm are truly remarkable.           


Another excerpt from ‘Don Q’ is provided by two former Bolshoi Ballet stars Nadezhda Pavlova and her husband Vyacheslav Gordeev.  Their performance is thrilling.


‘Dame Margot’ has not one but three partners in a 1956 performance as Aurora in the Rose Adagio from Sleeping Beauty: John Hart, John Field and David Blair.  She performs with Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet which soon afterward became Britain’s Royal Ballet.  The legendary star was the ideal Aurora and it was her most famous role. 


Three Divas perform compelling solos that includes Plisetskaya’s fiery and seductive  entrance from Alberto Alonso’s innovative Carmen.  It was always a show-stopper and still is.  Struchhkova is seen in one more filmed rarity, Lieutenant Kije, and Kolpakova in a scene from Raymonda.  She later taught ballet regularly in America.  Both ballerinas perform brilliantly.