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Vilia (The Merry Widow) [1953, Paris, Theatre de L’Empire]

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Film Identifier: F.2011-05-0162
Run Time
0h 38m 0s
Date Produced
"Vilia" (later "The Merry Widow") 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. 

This film appears to represent a rehearsal (though with most dancers in costume and with full sets) of the original 1953 version before it was renamed or repremiered in the United States.  
The film opens with a film credit: "Les Films de Pierre Boyer [or perhaps Boyen] présentent" and then cuts to a view of a stage with full sets imitating a royal court.  Two couples stand together, poring over what appear to be documents or letters; they switch partners and continue to examine the items in their hands.  They soon scurry away to hide these items as guests appear to begin arriving for a ball.  All then begin an ensemble dance, organized into couples.  Eventually, all break up and a group of men form a diagonal line to greet the Merry Widow (Sonia), who then performs a solo before the group of men.  She is occasionally joined by the Baroness Popoff, in whose honor the ball is being thrown.  After the Baroness exits with a man (perhaps Count Jolidon, who hopes to seduce her), Sonia dances more directly with the men, and then eventually carry her offstage with them.

Next, a well-dressed man enters (perhaps the Baron Popoff?) and dances an energetic anticipatory solo; soon afterwards, Prince Danilo ushers in a group of six young women to entertain them. Both men dance with the girls individually and as a group.  Then another man (perhaps Count Jolidon?) enters to join them.  Before long, the women exit and the men seem excited over documents, much like the couples were at the opening.  Sonia then enters, followed by several entranced men, and dances momentarily, before running offstage again with her admirers in tow.  The three men again pore over the documents for a moment before Sonia returns.  One of the three men exits;p another shoos off the admirers.  

Sonia and Prince Danilo are thus left aone (at the Baron's design, for he wants Danilo to marry the rich widow for her money).  They are awkward around each other at first, as they are old lovers; after quite literally dancing around each other for a little while, the two come together and dance a pas de deux.  To close the dance, he carries her offstage in his arms.

The film then cuts to the next scene, where a circle of eight couples dance, in varying formations, in what appears to be the garden.  Sonia and Prince Danilo enter and dance a pas de deux together; the other couples follow their lead.  Eventually, the Baron enters and interrupts this dance with two large items he carries (they are difficult to make out--cakes? pitchers of drink?)  and before long, all of the guests follow him offstage.

To begin the next scene, the Baroness enters stage alone and dances a brief, excited solo.  Count Jolidon soon joins her and the two dance a giddy pas de deux together.  They eventually exit together and flirt in an upstairs structure on stage left.  While they do so, two other couples enter stage and dance together.  Once they exit, Sonia reenters alone but is soon joined by Prince Danilo; the two once again dance a pas de deux together.  Upon their exit, a trio of two men and one woman enter.  The two men appear to be fighting over the woman, but she exits with one of them and thereby leaves the other alone.  He soon spies the Baroness upstairs with the Count and seems to lust after her from below, performing a solo to that effect.  Soon, however, Prince Danilo and the other guests return.  Danilo dances a solo indicating anger at Sonia (who is accompanied by another gentlemanm, apparently the Baron)--so much so that he then turns his back on her and exits.

The film soon cuts to the next scene, where Danilo sulks alone with a bottle in another room.  While dancing his angry solo, a line of can-can girls enters to cheer him up. Finding their charms immediately useless, the girls lift up Danilo and put him to bed.  They then exit and Vilia (Sonia as a nymph) appears to entice Danilo in his sleep.  As they begin a pas de deux, they are soon joined by more nymphs who perform an ensemble dance around and nearby the couple.  Eventually, all exit and Danilo awakes, searching for the now-absent Vilia from his dreams.  At this point the can-can girls return to entertain him and he joins them in an ensemble dance.  Suddenly, Count Jolidon, Sonia, the Baron, and the Baroness enter to stage an intervention.  After a bit of confusion and explanation, Danilo and Sonia embrace.  All seems resolved, and the ball's guests begin pouring in and dancing as an ensemble.  Danilo and Sonia are then brought to the front, where they lead the rest in a couple's waltz.  Eventually, the rest exit to leave the couple alone, and the ballet seems to end there.

The film then cuts, however, to a half-complete version of the same set, in front of which a series of couples dances and exchanges partners.  It is unclear if this is from earlier in Vilia or from a different ballet entirely.  Once all exit, the screen goes black and the film ends after a few moments.
Additional Credits
Page, Ruth (is choreographer)
Related Place
Paris (production location of)