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Merry Widow

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0477
Run Time
0h 55m 22s
"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 represents a rehearsal of the ballet on a stage, but all of the dancers are wearing practice clothes and no sets are present. It appears to be recorded from the balcony of the theater. 
The video begins with a long shot (from above) of a stage, where a male and female dancer (the Baron and Baroness Popoff) stand; a servant appears to bring them something. Before they have the chance to do much with it, 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 what appears to be the Baron with two partners. He seems to be replaced by Jolidon, who is joined by the Baroness.

After the couple dancing continues for awhile, the couples disperse and 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--the rest then exit 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 and once again Jolidon joins her. During this dance, a body momentarily walks in front of the video camera. After some stops and starts (the couple appears to be receiving notes or struggling with the choreography), Jolidon finally wins her over so she follows him offstage through the back curtain and into another room, as it were.

Afterwards, a group of women enters, one of whom is dancing with the Baron, but she is stolen away by another young man. The two who remain then dance with him instead. After they leave, another man seems to emerge from the back curtain, which catches the Baron's attention, so he dances an excited solo (perhaps thinking Danilo and Sonia are back there). He is then startled when Danilo alone enters stage; moments later, Jolidon emerges with Sonia (and a group of accompanying dancers), which clearly upsets Danilo but relieves the Baron. Danilo dances an angry solo around this new "couple" at center. Everyone is dismayed together when he throws Sonia's scarf (and symbol of love) down at her feet before exiting. The ensemble surrounding the couple (apparently now including the Baron) continues to dance around them as they separate; the Baron seems to faint with relief several times. The dancers all then break character and the video goes black before cutting to Act II.

This scene is set with a bench on stage right. Prince Danilo enters from stage left and dances a brief solo before being joined by two can-can girls. Four more girls soon join, dancing around him and then with him. Unfulfilled by their charms, Danilo runs off; they exit as well. Immediately afterwards, six couples enter stage and dance pas de deux (it is unclear whether the women are meant to be nymphs or attendees from the ball). Danilo then enters alone, taking repose on the bench as the dancing couples exit and a couple in the back (perhaps Jolidon and the Baroness Popoff) begins a pas de deux of their own. 

Danilo only awakens as they exit; he then sees 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 pas de deux. Vilia eventually exits, and when Danilo awakens from his dream, she is of course gone. He dances alone and returns to his bench, only to be rejoiend by the can-can girls. Eventually, 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 loving final waltz, soon joined by the other couples, including the Baron and Baroness (and the Count). All end the waltz while spinning in place; the dancers then break character and the video goes black. It ends several seconds later.
Additional Credits
Page, Ruth (is choreographer)