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Catulli Carmina & Soirées Musicales (Studio I) [1973]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0425
Run Time
0h 47m 13s
Date Produced
"Catulli Carmina" is a ballet choreographed by Ruth Page, set to a cantata composition of the same name by Carl Orff from the 1940s. It was premiered in 1973 by the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, with scenery, costumes, and masks by André Delfau. "Soirées Musicales" is based on a collection of songs composed by Gioachino Rossini in the early 1830s. Both are present on this video in rehearsal form.

The video's original container notes suggest it was filmed on November 4, 1973 in a "Studio I," presumably either in Pittsburgh or Chicago. Catulli Carmina represents the first three-quarters of the video; Soirées Musicales follows afterward. Both pieces are rehearsed by dancers wearing (mostly) practice clothes in the classroom context.
The video opens with a shot of a ballet studio, barres lining the walls, where six (seemingly teenaged) couples stand posed as the music begins. A few fellow students watch at the edge of the frame. Soon, the couples begin an ensemble couple's dance involving both lifts and weight sharing. They then move to the edges to line the space and a male soloist bursts into view. As he dances his solo, five more dancers (one male, four female), also burst into view and join him at center. To conclude the section, the new male dancer lifts and carries one of the female dancers around the center and then all strike a final pose. 

Next, all retreat into small groups (of three) and dance shared choreography in these trios. This blends into an ensemble dance, during which the group splits into two and makes room for the initial male soloist to perform a solo at center once again. Some of the dancers circle around him and he then leads the group in its continued ensemble dance. He is soon joined by the other male soloist while the rest continue to dance behind them. This second man then rejoins the rest of the group and all seat themselves on the ground to allow the soloist to continue alone. The pattern then repeats once or twice more: the soloist performs alone, rejoins and leads the group, is accompanied by another dancer or several, etc. Afterward, this male soloist is displaced by a female soloist, who then exits as the rest of the group kneels on the ground in a row.

A new scene then begins: two men carry some sort of tinsel-haired goddess offstage, annd they are followed by a large group of children and a series of six men (four wearing large masks). All then surround and bow down as if to worship this goddess, who performs a dance with the assistance of her male attendants. The original male soloist, mesmerized by her, follows her offstage.

The six couples from the beginning then reassemble themselves on the floor, rolling back and forth while the masked men stand along the back. The couples then sit up, embrace, and freeze in these embraced positions. The masked men then begin to circulate among them, using walking sticks as if old and frail, but seeming to laugh at the naive couples around them; this becomes an ensemble dance by the masked men. As they recede, the couples stand up and dance together. Once they exit and the masked men reassemble themselves along the back, a woman in a white cloak enters, followed by the initial male soloist. She removes the cloak and dances a pas de deux with him. During a particularly intense section, the masked men emerge menacingly from the back; they exit as the man throws himself at the woman's feet. He soon rises and the two continue their (long) pas de deux.

Eventually, the two appear to retire to a "bed," and several dancers holding a large curtain slowly shuffle behind them. As the two lovers finally separate, another man appears behind the bed and 'steals' the woman as his own sensual dance partner atop the "bed" as the ex-lover looks on. In response, he begins an angry solo as the two continue their dance. Soon, he grabs the female dancer and tears her away from the new man, throwing her on the ground. This results in a disagreement between all three, eventually culminating in the original man collapsing on the ground alone as the new couple collapses together on the bed.

In response, a man wearing a coyote(?) mask enters to comfort and guide the scorned lover. He is followed by two children and a man dragging himself along the ground, and then joined by another man with a torch of some kind. The scorned lover is directed to the bed, where he is guided to leave a blessing (or perhaps a curse). The coyote-masked man then leads his mini-procession through a series of leg-lift exercises before guiding the scorned lover in a dance. The scorned lover then lays again on the ground as the new couple comes forward to taunt him with yet another pas de deux before returning to bed. The third member of the procession provides the scorned lover with a long white sash. The group then proceeds offstage, ending with the man in the coyote mask.

Suddenly, more men rush onstage and raise the female dancer (whose new lover has exited) above their heads while the scorned lover moves to the back and sways in agony with a few other men. Before long, they run offstage with her and the scorned lover's companions scurry off as well, leaving him all alone. Then two groups of five women enter stage and dance around him once he stands up again. When he emerges from the group and collapses twice, they help him back up. Suddenly, they all run offstage and a single female dancer enters and performs a fiery solo before the scorned lover. As he watches, a bit timidly, it becomes a pas de deux. Eventually, it ends as he chases her offstage.

Next, the group of ten female dancers reenters for an ensemble dance. They reveal the scorned lover, now cloaked, and take turns dancing around and with him. As all cluster around him to support his weight, his ex-lover appears in her cloak and they run off. Ignoring his attempts to reach out to her, she dances a very brief solo and exits, shielding her face with her cloak. He collapses to the ground in response. At this point, the six couples from the beginning return to surround him and spin in place, and four soloists enter in front and jump over his body. All then run offstage. The ballet then "ends," and the dancer on the ground gets up and breaks character.

The video then goes black. When it returns, it presents a shot of the same ballet studio, where a handful of dancers are gathered by the barre. As music from Soirées Musicales begins, one couple enters the 'stage' space and dances a pas de deux. Before long, they are joined by another couple who seems to be competing with them. As the new couple jumps in front of the initial one, a trio (two male dancers, one female) enter from the back with joined hands. Then the three couples (plus the odd man out) all dance together before exiting all at once.

The three members of the trio then reenter stage one at a time, and the men take turns partnering the woman, even coming together briefly to partner her together. They eventually exit off to the right, where other dancers are gathered to watch.

Next, one of the couples runs onstage and dances a passionate, 'exotic' pas de deux. Once they eventually strike a final pose and exit, the next couple enters. They dance a lively pas de deux of their own. When they strike their final pose, they break character and simply walk offstage.

The finale seems to follow: the first couple quickly dances across stage for a reprise, followed by the trio, and then returns. All perform many turns and jumps. Then the second couple returns to do the same. Both the first couple and the trio return after that, and appear to 'disagree' over who dances next: the female from the trio prevails for a set of turns at center. At this point, all join together in a single row and perform an ensemble dance. For final poses, they seem to compete over who gets central position. The dancers all break character immediately after the final pose; the video then ends.
Additional Credit
Orff, Carl (is composer)
Page, Ruth (is choreographer)
Rossini, Gioachino (is composer)