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Merry Widow [1977, Pittsburgh]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0488
Run Time
0h 48m 34s
Date Produced
"The Merry Widow" (originally "Vilia") is a ballet choreographed by Ruth Page, based on the operetta by Franz Lehár. It was first premiered in Manchester, England at the Palace Theatre on April 30, 1953 by the London Festival Ballet. Lehár's score was arranged by Isaac Van Grove and Hans May, with scenery and costumes by Georges Wakhévitch. The ballet's first U.S. performance was in Chicago at the Lyric Theatre on November 16, 1955 by the Chicago Opera Ballet (with Alicia Markova as the widow); scenery and costumes for that version were designed by Rolf Gérard. The Merry Widow then opened in New York City at the Broadway Theatre on December 20, 1955. Additional key performances of The Merry Widow occurred in 1956 (Marjorie Tallchief as the widow) and 1962 (Sonia Arova as the widow and Rudolf Nureyev as Prince Danilo). The ballet's first television appearance was in 1958, when the Marsovian scene appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show (CBS) on April 6. The full-scale television treatment (in five scenes) first aired on Chicago's WTTW and PBS in spring of 1983 (Patricia McBride as the widow, Peter Martins as Prince Danilo, 30 members of the New York City Ballet); Ruth Page appears in the telecast as narrator.

This video appears to be a recording from a performance in Pittsburgh, PA in 1977. 
The video opens with a distant view of stage, lined with the set of a grand home, where a well-dressed man and woman (presumably the Baron and Baroness Popoff) stand. After the two interact briefly, a servant enters stage and hands the man an object, apparently a letter of some sort (during this sequence, the camera zooms in somewhat). Moments later, various couples begin arriving, apparently for the Marsovian ball that the Baron is throwing for the Baroness Popoff's birthday. Soon, seven couples (apparently including the Baron and Baroness at center) are dancing while two men (perhaps one of whom is Count Jolidon?) survey the group. As the dance continues, there seems to be some fighting over who may dance with the Baroness--Count Jolidon shows a particular interest in her.

Eventually, the dance ends and all of the women leave; the men gather into a group and welcome the arrival of the Merry Widow herself, Sonia. She dances a solo as they look on, at times dancing their own ensemble dance as they follow her around. She is then partnered by one man while the rest continue to look on and occasionally join in, eventually following her offstage. Next, a group of eight women enters and they greet Prince Danilo, joining him in a dance. As all strike their final pose, two more men (perhaps one of whom is the Baron?) enter. They seem to shoo away many of the women, during which time the stage is somewhat chaotic. 

A group of men then kneels to re-introduce Sonia, and the Baron encourages Prince Danilo in particular to meet her. Danilo refuses, and then resists. The group of men and the Baron soon exit, leaving Danilo and Sonia alone to dance a pas de deux. As they exit together, three couples enter and begin dancing. When these exit, several other couples enter and dance as well--including Jolidon with the Baroness. As the couple dancing continues, the scenery rises and a garden scene begins. A row of young women dance a "traditional" Marsovian dance while some of the others look on. Then Prince Danilo enters and dances a brief solo; Sonia enters after him and dances one of her own, during which she holds two scarves. Afterwards, the two dance a pas de deux based in competitive jumping and turning. The lookers-on congratulate them as she gives him one of her scarves as a sign of love--and the two are pulled apart.

Afterwards, the Baroness reenters alone and dances a brief solo; she is then joined by Jolidon and the two dance a pas de deux. As they exit, Sonia and Danilo reenter and dance another pas de deux of their own, during which they seem to fall in love again. When he carries her offstage, the Baroness returns with her paper fan and once again Jolidon joins her; this time, he finally wins her over so she follows him offstage and into another room, as it were. The Baron then appears, looks around, and begins dancing an solo, peeking through the window on-set into the other room and apparently assuming it contains Sonia and Danilo. Instead, however, he bumps into his wife with Jolidon. As the two rush off again, the Baron is joined by a group of other dancers, including Jolidon, who has switched partners and is now bestowing his affections upon Sonia. Before long, Danilo enters and dances a furious solo around Jolidon and Sonia. At the end of it, he angrily throws the scarf Sonia had given him at their feet and storms offstage. The group (except Sonia) continues dancing together for a few more moments and then strike a final pose, apparently marking the end of the Act.

For the next scene, an apparently drunk Danilo enters alone but is then joined by six can-can girls, two at a time. They dance flirtatiously around and with him until, tired of their charms, Danilo runs offstage alone. The can-can girls exit soon after; several couples then enter stage and dance pas de deux, apparently representing a return to the ball. Danilo enters and sits on a couch, where he appears to fall asleep. The couples all exit, and Jolidon and the Baroness return, dancing together briefly and exiting as Danilo awakens. He is then joined by four nymphs standing posed, with their hands covering their eyes. He checks all four (but none are Sonia) and they exit, after which Sonia as a nymph (Vilia) enters and catches his attention. Danilo reaches for her while she dances her solo, and she eventually comes to his spot on the bench and initiates a long, loving pas de deux. Vilia eventually exits, and when Danilo awakens from his dream, he dances an excited solo--only to realize it was only a dream. The can-can girls then come back and begin flirting with him again; he joins them for an ensemble dance until all strike a final pose together.

Next, the Baron, Baroness, Count, and several others intervene, sending the girls away and forcing Danilo to confront the real Sonia. She is able to explain that it was really the Baroness with Jolidon, so the two are reconciled and surrounded by other happy couples. The two dance a happy final waltz, soon joined by the other couples, including the Baron and Baroness. To complete the dance, all couples spin in place as the curtain slowly closes. The video ends moments later.
Additional Credits
Page, Ruth (is choreographer)
Related Place
Pittsburgh (production location of)