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Symphonic Variations - Hamlet - Gloriana Choral Dances - La Valse [1977, London, Royal Opera House]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0442
Run Time
0h 55m 33s
Date Produced
This video appears to represent a recording of a television broadcast of a series of Silver Jubilee performances for Queen Elizabeth II at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. It would have taken place in May or June of 1977. In order, they include:
  1. Symphonic Variations - Sir Frederick Ashton
  2. Hamlet Prelude [a.k.a Hamlet with Ophelia] - Sir Frederick Ashton
  3. Gloriana Choral Dances - Kenneth MacMillan
  4. La Valse - Sir Frederick Ashton
"Symphonic Variations" is a one-act ballet choreographed by Sir Frederick Ashton to the 1885 composition of the same name by César Franck. It was premiered on April 24, 1946 by the Sadler's Wells Ballet at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. 

"Hamlet Prelude" (or, Hamlet with Ophelia) is a brief ballet choreographed by Sir Frederick Ashton specifically for the occasion of Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee in 1977. It is set to a tone poem by Franz Liszt. 

"Gloriana" is an opera composed by Benjamin Britten. It was premiered in 1953 at the London Royal Opera House. Kenneth MacMillan choreographed a work to Gloriana's choral dances specifically for the occasion of Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee in 1977.

"La Valse" is an orchestral ballet piece written by Maurice Ravel in 1920 under commission by Sergei Diaghilev. While Diaghilev never produced a ballet for it, later choroegraphers did. Frederick Ashton choreographed his version in 1958.
The video begins with a shot of closed stage curtains, over which titles are laid: "ER II, 1952-1977;" "Symphonic Variations;" "MUSIC: César Franck;" "CHOREOGRAPHY: Sir Frederick Ashton." Then, on the next screen: "THE DANCERS: Merle Park, Ann Jenner, Jennifer Penney, David Wall, Michael Coleman, Wayne Eagling;" "SOLO PIANIST: Anthony Twiner." The titles then disappear, and the curtains open to reveal three female dancers standing at center, and three male dancers standing further back on each side of the stage and in the center. The camera slowly zooms in on the three women as they begin an ensemble dance. Before long, the male dancer at the back of the stage joins them and partners each of them in turn, occasionally bringing all three together for an ensemble dance in unison. Eventually, two of the female dancers recede and the male partners the third female toward the edge of the stage, and then all three of the male dancers convene at center. The initial male leads the other two in an ensemble dance.

The two female dancers who had receded return to join the men and dance in the "windows" of their row before being given center stage to perform a quick petit allegro together. Before long, one of the male dancers joins them. These three soon move to the back, allowing one of the other male dancers to perform a solo, occasionally echoed by the other dancers. He is then replaced by one of the female dancers, who performs her own solo. After awhile, one of the male dancers arrives and partners her in a pas de deux. All of the dancers then arrange themselves into three couples and dance as an ensemble in this formation. 

Eventually, the center couple breaks away from the other two and performs separately, flanked by the other couples still dancing. Then, after a brief solo by the central man and a brief duet by the outer two women, the couples come back together for another ensemble dance. The pattern then repeats: the central couple breaks away for their own choreography but then rejoins the others for more ensemble work. This soon leads into the finale, which ends with the dancers running as a chain and fanning back into their original positions for the final pose. 

The video then cuts to the audience applauding, and a voiceover announces, "And here they come," naming off the dancers once again as they bow onstage. He goes on to explain that all works on the program this night were choreographed by either Royal Ballet director Sir Frederick Ashton or his successor, Sir Kenneth MacMillan; he then introduces the next ballet as one Ashton choreographed specifically for this event. Its titles flash on screen, again overlaid onto the closed curtain: "ER II, 1952-1977;" "Hamlet - Prelude;" "MUSIC: Franz Liszt;" "CHOREOGRAPHY: Sir Frederick Ashton;" "THE DANCERS: Margot Fonteyn, Rudolph Nureyev." The voiceover explains that despite the title of the program, Sir Frederick intended the ballet to be called "Hamlet and Ophelia." After briefly cutting to a shot of the orchestra's conductor, the video cuts to the stage's curtains, which open to reveal Fonteyn standing on a platform as Ophelia. She performs many gestures that are difficult to make out before the camera cuts to Nureyev, who suddenly appears posed at the foot of the platform. He, as Hamlet, is distraught and unwell, and he performs a long solo demonstrating this emotional/physical state. 

Ophelia reenters and dances a rather ethereal introductory solo. When Hamlet approaches her, the two excitedly dance around each other before they finally embrace and launch into a pas de deux. Ophelia seems alternately distressed and euphoric, eventually throwing herself to the ground and shielding her face from Hamlet, only to then reach for his feet as he backs away. As she rises and begins to perform strange, jerky movements, Hamlet seems to realize that she has gone mad. His slow, shocked upper body movements contrast with her flightly full body flitting about; just as he snaps out of it and reaches for her, she runs off. 

Hamlet is left to dance a solo of realization and thoughtfulness. An even more ethereal Ophelia then floats across the platform amongst mist--as if a dream--and Hamlet's solo quickly becomes more dramatic. After he falls to the ground in mourning, he rises again almost in a daze. The curtain closes on him as he walks blankly forward. The voiceover then returns to remind viewers of information about the piece as the dancers bow before the curtain. The voiceover describes them as "two of the most loved artists of the ballet, not only in this country but all around the world."

While the applause continues, the titles for the next piece appear over the curtain: ""ER II, 1952-1977;" "Gloriana Choral Dances;" "MUSIC: Benjamin Britten;" "CHOREOGRAPHY: Kenneth MacMillan." The second page of titles follow: "THE DANCERS: Lynn Seymour, Wayne Eagling, Michael Coleman, Stephen Beagley, Derek Deane, Ashley Page, Andrew Moore, Graham Fletcher;" "The Royal Opera Chorus, CONDUCTED BY Robin Stapleton." After a quick cut to the conductor, the camera cuts to a shot of the stage, curtains now open. It zooms in to a group of dancers clustered at center--these six male dancers in modified Elizabethan costumes then separate into two lines and begin an ensemble dance. They complete the segment with a group bow as a couple enters from stage right. 

The couple moves to center as the group of male dancers exit, and they launch into a slow pas de deux. After some complex weight shifting partner work, the two complete their dance by laying down together. This marks the end of the piece, so the camera cuts to a shot of the royal family applauding before returning to the stage for bows as the voiceover repeats information about the piece and its dancers.

As the curtain closes, he then announces the final piece and its titles appear onscreen: "ER II, 1952-1977;" "La Valse;" "MUSIC: Maurice Ravel;" "CHOREOGRAPHY: Sir Frederick Ashton." Then, on the next screen: "THE DANCERS: Vergie Derman, Monica Mason, Georgina Parkinson, David Drew, Stephen Jefferies, Donald Macleary;" "ARTISTS OF: The Royal Ballet." After a shot of the orchestra, the camera cuts to the stage, where ten couples stand posed and begin dancing. A few couples then dance brief, separate pas de deux while the rest stand posed and all everntually separate by gender into rows at either side of the stage. The two groups slowly move toward one another, meeting at center. They then fan out again, reassembling as two groups of five couples covering the stage and dancing in unison--they are joined in this my more and more couples until all exit ot move to the sides. Next, a group of three female dancers enters and performs an airy ensemble dance. The ten couples lining the stage soon dance along in place. Male soloists then enter one at a time to greet each of the three female dancers at center. They then inaugurate a brief couple's dance with the three women before exiting with them.

A group of ten men then takes the stage and begins an ensemble dance; they are joined almost immediately by eight more. When they reach the final pose of their ensemble dance, the female dancers all feed in from the sidelines and all of the couples begin partner dances in unison. After they once again moves to the sides, the group of three female dancers returns, each with a handkerchief in hand. Once they'e exited, along with all of the other female dancers, the group of men returns for a second ensemble dance. Before long, a single couple arrives in the back and the men all exit; after the couple comes forward, they are joined by two more (the complete female trio and their partners have now arrived). The three couples perform another partner dance and, as they continue, other dancers flutter onstage and swirl briefly behind them before exiting again. Eventually, the three couples exit.

They are soon followed by the entrance of the many initial couples, who dance in a circle around the stage. Once again, the female dancers then exit to allow the men to dance as an ensemble. When they exit, the female trio and their partners return for a quick waltz together. They exit and the whole groups returns--a row of five couples, followed by a row of four, another five, another four, and the final three. The twenty-one couples all dance together, which leads them into a grand finale. The piece ends with the female trio and their partners spinning in a tight center circle, surrounded by a ring of the rest of the couples weaving around each other. After the curtain closes for the final time, the voiceover returns to reiterate the details of the piece. The video ends before bows can take place.
Additional Credit
Ashton, Frederick (is choreographer)
Franck, C├ęsar (is composer)
Liszt, Franz (is composer)
Stapleton, Robin (music)
Actors, Performers and Participants
Park, Merle (is performer)
Jenner, Ann (is performer)
Penney, Jennifer (is performer)
Wall, David (is performer)
Coleman, Michael (is performer)
Eagling, Wayne (is performer)
Twiner, Anthony (is musician)
Fonteyn, Margot (is performer)
Nureyev, Rudolf (is performer)
Seymour, Lynn (is performer)
Beagley, Stephen (is performer)
Deane, Derek (is performer)
Page, Ashley (is performer)
Moore, Andrew (is performer)
Fletcher, Graham (is performer)
The Royal Opera Chorus (is performing group)
Derman, Vergie (is performer)
Mason, Monica (is performer)
Parkinson, Georgina (is performer)
Drew, David (is performer)
Jefferies, Stephen (is performer)
Macleary, Donald (is performer)
The Royal Ballet (is performing group)
Related Place
London (production location of)