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Susanna and the Barber (Parts 1 & 2) [1956, Chicago, University of Chicago, Mandel Hall]

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Film Identifier: F.2011-05-0130
Run Time
0h 34m 46s
Date Produced
"Susanna and the Barber" is a ballet choreographed by Ruth Page and based on the Gioachino Rossini opera The Barber of Seville.  It was premiered by the Chicago Opera Ballet on April 25, 1956 at Mandel Hall, The University of Chicago, with costumes by Antoni Clavé.

This film appears to represent a later dress rehearsal of the ballet at the University of Chicago in May of 1956.
The film opens with a shot of a stage with a curtain down, in front of which a wagon (meant to represent a traveling barber shop) is stopped with an older man (a customer) seated in it and another man (the barber) outside of it, standing and talking to a young woman (predumably Susanna).  While flirting with Susanna, the barber disturbs his customer and begins teasing him, much to Susanna's delight.  He snatches the man's wig and she puts it on backwards; he physically mounts the customer just to give him a shave.  While the two are having their fun, some sort of well-dressed official enters and appears to beg for an appointment.  As his appointment is being scheduled, yet another man enters and does a pained dance with one had clasped to his cheek; the current customer rapidly rises to give him the chair and the barber gasps as this new man's condition.  The barber mimes the pulling of a long string and suddenly the man is cured, jumping up and dancing a happy jig.  The other customer and the barber then join him for a trio dance while Susanna tidies up and looks on.

Once the two customers exit, the official from earlier returns with a piece of paper which causes the barber to pick up and roll the barbershop offstage.  Susanna is then joined by three other women and four men (including the barber with a guitar) from offstage and the three dance merrily together.  As they do so, the curtain opens to reveal an elaborate set, including a towerlike upstairs landing where a wigged man bids a woman goodbye.  He joins the group and dances a solo before them while Susanna brings the official's paper upstairs to the woman.  The woman then comes down the stairs with Susanna and dances a brief solo before beign joined by her male partner for a pas de deux.  Suddenly, however, the two customers from earlier enter angrily and demand that the young woman be sent back up to her tower.  After the ensuing confusion, Susanna and her barber close the curtains on the scene and stand together in front of them.  

The couple seems to begin a part-spoken-word sequence, followed by a pas de deux.  Eventually, the two reopen the curtains behind them to reveal the three young women from before, seated behind the young woman from the tower.  She dances lovingly with what appears to be the document from before; she then passes it on to Susanna to read while she continues her dance, accompanied by the other young women behind her.  Then all four women rise together and briefly perform a lovestruck ensemble dance before allowing the tower woman another solo while Susanna reads.  Finally, the rest of the women exit, leaving the tower woman alone.

The barber soon enters and brings news to the young woman; the two then dance an excited, anticipatory pas de deux.  After awhile, Susanna enters behind them and the two customers from the beginning enter sternly from stage left.  Susanna hurries the young woman offstage and confers with the barber.  A few moments later, many people scurry through the stage to set up the next scene, which begins with the two customers dancing a foreboding dance together.  This inspires movement from a whole host of other dancers, oddly costumed in large hats and/or skirts turned up and used as shawls.  Before long, the man who initially rescued the young woman from the tower enters and everyone else pauses, but one of the customers then throws him to the ground.  The rest of the stage reacts and many of the dancers circle around him while the two customers pull him back and forth between them.  All then blame/curse him with pointed fingers and begin to carry him off, but the film then cuts to a different film strip in which he is merely condemned and seats himself in shame rather than being carried off.  He then makes his way up to the tower, where he intends to defend himself, but falls off.  The rest chase him offstage, leaving just Susanna and the barber onstage with the two scheming customers.

The couple soon exits and a messenger enters with a message for the older customer.  After a comedic keep-away dance, the man snatches the message.  As he exits to read it (and Susanna looks on), the messenger reveals himself to be the original man from the tower and his tower woman enters to dance a loving pas de deux with him.  But the older customer (apparently also her father) soon returns and catches them together; to defend himself, the young man pulls out his sword.  Comically, the trio of women then enters with kitchen utensils and the father fails to fight at all.  Soon, three soldiers enter and grab the young man, after which the barber jumps onto the group's backs and comes to the young man's defense.  All but the father then arrange themselves into a conga line and other formations to keep him away from the young lovers.  This soon morphs into a group of couples (including Susanna and the older customer!...soon joined by the barber) who dance a pas de deux.  Eventually, the father manages to pull his daughter away from her young lover and the curtains drop as she reaches toward him.

Susanna and her barber once again stand in front of the closed curtain for a spoken word/dancing session of their own.  This time, however, they are joined by what appears to be a dance teacher, who looks a great deal like the tower woman's young lover.  He dances an exaggerated solo, during which the actual young lover enters to see his doppelgänger.  The real lover then takes the other's silly jacket and dances a pas de deux with Susanna.  She and the barber soon shoo him off, however, and open the curtain to reveal the old man with his daughter, running her through what appear to be stiff curtsying drills.  Her lover then enters in his disguise, and is greeted warmly by the older man--the two even engage in a gleeful dance together.  At the end of it, the young lover accidentally drops the father but he pays no mind, and calls his daughter over to be taught by this man.  She pretends to resist and performs her drills stiffly as her lover teaches her to dance--and steals a kiss or two while doing so.  Suddenly upset, the father tries to stand between them but is accidentally knocked out, so the two can dance their lovers' pas de deux freely.  Eventually, however, her father wakes up and the two snap back into their lesson routine.  Just as he begins to get angry at another stolen kiss, the young woman presents a beautiful dancing solo to please her father.  When they dance a pas de deux again, though, he catches on and much confusion ensues.

Her father's fellow customer from the barbershop enters and seems to convince the young woman to break off her love affair with the young man, but just then the barber bursts in to interrupt.  He makes some sort of announcement and the young lover reenters in his rightful costume; all then bow down to him.  The father is once again greatly upset and seems to collapse from the stress of the situation.  Susanna and her barber stand at center and explain things as the lovers happily reunite.  Susanna embraces the barber and they lead the rest in a pas de deux celebrating the young couple.  Even the father and his fellow customer join in the merriment.  The whole stage dances for the finale until all strike a final pose.  The film ends just as the dancers 'break.'
Additional Credits
Page, Ruth (is choreographer)
Actors, Performers and Participants
Steele, Barbara (is performer)
Johnson, Kenneth (is performer)
Schick, Charles (is performer)
Related Place
Chicago (production location of)