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Merry Widow [circa 1955]

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Film Identifier: F.2011-05-0168
Run Time
0h 41m 0s
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. This film, which appears to be a full rehearsal in practice clothes, dates from around this period. 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) eventually 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.
The film opens with a shot of a stage, on which a man (Baron Popoff) and woman (Baroness Popoff) stand together. Someone brings them some documents to review, and they soon begin greeting guests to their ball, held in honor of the Baroness's birthday. Count Jolidon enters with the final round of guests, and pays particular attention to the Baroness while all dance--indeed, he dances mainly with her while the Baron is otherwise occupied. Eventually, the Baron calls all the men together as the women exit, and they greet the Merry Widow (Sonia) all together. She then performs a solo while all the men watch. The Baron exits, leaving the other men (especially young Prince Danilo) to take turns partnering her. After she finishes her solo, Danilo carries her offstage and the men all follow. Then, a group of young women enters (led by the Baroness) and spreads throughout the stage. They are soon joined by Danilo, who dances a solo while the women dance as an ensemble; he then dances with the Baroness, Sonia, and a few others as the rest continue their ensemble dance. All then strike a final pose as the Baron enters; a few women fawn over Danilo as Sonia exits, but once all the other women exit, she returns and the Baron encourages Danilo to pursue her--he refuses. The rest of the men chase her offstage instead. Jolidon and the Baron do a dance together to try to convince Danilo; she reenters for a solo (followed by her troop of admirers) and he is intrigued. Still, the two do not get along--at first. Everyone else exits and leaves them to dance the pas de deux of ex-lovers reunited. They are eventually joined by four more couples dancing the same pas de deux. Danilo and Sonia soon exit, followed by the four other couples, which are then replaced by four more. The Baron then brings Sonia and another girl onstage; after they dance together and exit, more couples enter, along with Jolidon and the Baroness. These two lead all the other couples onstage until they exit, after which the Baron enters and seems to search for his wife while everyone else dances on. Eventually, all eight couples strike a final pose and exit as a group of girls enters to signal the garden scene. They perform a brief ensemble dance, after which Sonia and Danilo enter for the scarf dance, a modified grand pas de deux. At the end of it, Danilo takes one of Sonia's scarves as a sign of love and the two are dragged apart by other attendees of the ball. Soon, however, everyone else exits and the two are left alone again, so they dance another pas de deux. After they exit, the Baroness enters and dances alone for a moment; she is soon joined by Sonia and her husband. The three dance a pas de trois, during which Count Jolidon enters and peers at the back curtain as if through a window. The women exit and the Baron catches the Count, shooing him offstage for it. The Baron then takes a quick peek himself and launches into a solo. Near its end he sees someone pop out of the back curtain (presumably his wife with Jolidon), and becomes shocked and upset while, behind him, a quick switch is enacted. Jolidon and Danilo both arrive to see what the Baron's fuss is about. Soon Sonia arrives with a strange man, accompanied by eight background dancers, and all three men become upset. More background dancers arrive but Danilo pushes them all back and confronts Sonia; he throws her scarf at her feet while the rest look on. After he exits angrily, Sonia and her mystery man look away from each other, a bit upset and forlorn, while Jolidon, Baron Popoff, and the other dancers dance a vigorous ensemble response of their own. The film then goes blank for a few moments, before opening again onto the stage with a bench on it. Danilo enters and dances a brief solo before being joined by six can-can girls; he then dances with them, eventually becoming fed up and leaving them behind. After they chase him offstage, the film goes black for a few moments; it opens again on the same stage, but with eight couples lining the back curtain. All dance the same pas de deux and exit, after which Jolidon and Baroness Popoff enter and dance a brief pas de deux. Once they exit, Danilo returns and slumbers on his bench, surrounded by the can-can girls. When they exit, he dreams about a nymph version of Sonia, Vilia. She initiates a pas de deux with the dreaming prince. After she exits, leaving him asleep, he awakens and dances a solo, only to be inundated by the can-can girls once again. He dances with them both individually and as an ensemble but when they all strike their final pose, the Baron, Baroness, Jolidon, and a fourth man enter and stage an intervention, removing the can-can girls and bringing forth Sonia, who dances one of her entrancing solos. Danilo forgives her, the Baroness returns to her husband, and all happily watch Danilo and Sonia dance a final pas de deux. Near its end, the entire cast rejoins them for a triumphant group waltz that fills the stage. As the couples begin their final spins, the Baron stands atop the bench and tosses out paper (money?) joyously. All then strike a final pose and the film ends there.
Additional Credit
Lehár, Franz (is composer)
May, Hans (music)
Page, Ruth (is choreographer)
Van Grove, Isaac (music)
Actors, Performers and Participants
Johnson, Kenneth (is performer)
Steele, Barbara (is performer)