I bought this DVD largely because I love Fonteyne's dancing and this film is one of the earliest available, made in 1955 (well before she met Nureyev in the early 1960s). Indeed, she was still at the height of her partnership with Michael Somes and this must have been a fabulous performance to witness. Comments from people whom I know who saw her live on stage at the Edinburgh Festival around this time indicate that she was quite simply different in her style and technique from any other dancer on the stage.
This film is from a telecast on December 12, 1955 by the television company NBC. Sadly the company who made the DVD did not seem to have access to the original film which was in colour; instead we are presented with a black and white version and I wonder if it was a recording of a television broadcast from some time in the 60s or 70s. Certainly wherever this version of the film came from, it is a little disappointing in quality; quite clearly the tape from which the DVD was made had been well loved to say the least, and some of the picture is difficult to see clearly. In addition the sound quality is not always good - but if the original film has indeed been lost we are very fortunate to have even this much. Fonteyne was famed for her role as Princess Aurora, especially for the style in which she makes her entry to the stage with her arms curved round her head. She was the first ballerina to do this and since then every ballerina has copied her style in the Rose Adagio. Seeing Fonteyne herself in the role is wonderfully exciting and very special.
Despite the shortcomings of the DVD (which includes no historical information other than a cast list and dance programme, and no special features) this is a terrific performance to watch. Dame Beryl Grey is a wonderful Lilac Fairy and Michael Somes was perhaps the best Prince Florimund of his day. And we get to see Sir Frederick Ashton in a rare cameo as Carabosse, the wicked fairy. He indeed choreographed the ballet and although some of his choreography is a little jerky and unflattering to the dancers this is very much a traditional Sleeping Beauty. Despite the occasional untidy dancing of the Corps de Ballet this is still a performance which you should see if you are interested in ballet history.
It is a pity that we cannot see this performance in colour because the costumes are wonderful. The cats for the Puss in Boots dance have terrific furry masks and the clothing for the court and other dancers is exquisite. Staging is simple and although there are one or two rather gawky moments in TV special effects (for example in the Vision scene when Fonteyne is brought on and off stage) this is really very much TV production of its time and not cutting edge like the fabulous Paul Czinner films.
All in all despite the aforementioned shortcomings of film and sound quality, I had a most enjoyable evening watching this DVD.
The Sleeping Beauty with Dame Margot Fonteyne is available from amazon.com via the link provided, if you would like to buy it.