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Chariots of Fire [London]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0441
Run Time
0h 34m 54s
"Chariots of Fire" is a ballet version of the Ancient Greek myth about Phaedra, choreographed by Israeli choreographer Domy Reiter-Soffer to music by 20th century Greek composers Nikos Mamangakis, Jani Christou, and Iannis Xenakis. It was premiered by the Irish National Ballet (then the Irish Ballet Company) at the Abbey Theatre in Dubin, Ireland in 1977. Its US premiere was by the Chicago Ballet in January 1978 at the Chicago Civic Opera House.

This video appears to represent a rehearsal of "Chariots of Fire," and its original container note suggests it took place in London. However, the video seems to be a copy of a copy; it is very fuzzy and flickery. Several times during the recording, the image is lost to static or darkness.
The video begins with a shot of a stage, where a curtain opens to reveal a row of dancers performing an ensemble dance. A dancer near the middle then breaks out for a momentary solo and leads the group into a cluster upstage, though they soon split into two ensembles dancing in turn. They eventually move to the sides to reveal three dancers at center, one standing on some sort of throne. The two dancers flanking this center throne (Hippolytus and his wife Aricie?) come forward and dance a long pas de deux. 

As they complete it, the two groups of dancers on the sidelines gather behind the couple with arms outstretched. The group then breaks into couples who weave around one another in a fast-pased ensemble dance, once again shifting into two groups who take turns dancing and freezing. Eventually, these two groups drop to the ground and allow a female soloist to emerge from the back by the throne. She is soon joined by a male partner, and the two dance a pas de deux, also leading the other dancers (now standing up) in another ensemble dance. At the end of it, the group once again converges at center with arms outstretched. Then, nearly all of them exit as the person on the throne (Theseus?) runs forward and begins an intense solo. As he does so, two women (Phaedra and her nurse Oenone?) descend from a platform near him, only to re-ascend it. One of the female dancers exits; Theseus is then joined by another man (Hippolytus?) who had been standing nearby. After thse two dance a duet, they are joined by the remaining female dancer (Phaedra?) for a pas de trois. One of the men (Hippolytus?) defects and collapses on the ground; the other two eventually join him and the other man (Theseus?) leaves Phaedra there with him.

Before long, another female dancer (Aricie?) enters and dances a solo while the other two remain still. After awhile, Hippolytus leaves his position and joins her for a pas de deux; Phaedra backs away to the platform and watches them, once again joined by her nurse Oenone. As their dance begins to wind down, Phaedra leaves her platform and runs around the couple; as the exit, she reaches after Hippolytus longingly. She then begins an equally longing solo, reassured every so often by Oenone.

Suddenly, Hippolytus and Aricie return, giddy, and Phaeda stares. When Aricie exits, apparently preparing a surprise for her husband, Phaedra attempts to seduce Hippolytus. The two dance a long, sensual pas de deux. Eventually, Oenone and Theseus arrive and interrupt them. Phaedra runs into her husband's arms, apparently laying all blame on Hippolytus. An enraged Theseus comes after his son and throws him to the ground. A 'punishment dance' of sorts then ensues until Theseus simply walks away, refusing Hippolytus's pleas.

As Theseus escorts his wife offstage, Hippolytus becomes enraged about his entrapment. A group of three men playing the roles of his horses then enter stage confidently and perform an ensemble dance. Hippolytus jumps up on the platform and uses a large whip to direct his horses, who suddenly turn on him and appear to trample him to death. Phaedra then reappears and dances a despairing solo. She then grabs the whip from his corpse and, aided by a group of dancers (furies?) who appear behind her, hangs herself with it.

Next, Theseus arrives and the furies guide him to discover his son's corpse. He begins a solo of mourning over this loss. Before long, the furies also reveal his wife's corpse. As they place her body before him, he cries out in agony over this second loss. As he continues the solo, the fates/furies surround him and claw at him; pick him up only to drop him again on the ground before exiting. He stands alone, unstable, and the furies return to place the bodies of his wife and son on his shoulders. Carrying these burdens, Theseus backs away into shadows. The curtain closes; the video cuts to static and ends.
Additional Credit
Christou, Jani (is composer)
Mamangakis, Nikos (is composer)
Reiter-Soffer, Domy (is choreographer)
Xenakis, Iannis (is composer)
Related Place
London (production location of)