Chaplin – Ballet by Mario Schröder, Blu-ray (2014)

by | Apr 24, 2014 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews

Chaplin – Ballet by Mario Schröder, Blu-ray (2014)

Dancers: Mario Schröder, Urania Lobo Garcia, Oliver Preiß, Isis Calil de Albuquerque
Director: Sonia Pamaro
Performers: Leipziger Ballet/ Gewandhausorchester /Matthias Foremny
Studio: Les Films Figures Libres/ EuroArts [Distr. by Naxos] (4/29/14)
Video: 1.78:1 for 16:9 1080i HD color
Audio: DTS-HD MA 5.1, PCM stereo
Subtitles: English, French, German
Worldwide region code
Length: 100 mins.
Rating: ****

Schröder wondered who the man behind the Little Tramp really was, and created this unusual ballet as a result. It’s interesting that this comes from Germany, where Chaplin had been Hitler’s favorite silver screen celebrity—that is until The Great Dictator.  Schröder employs two dancers to represent Chaplin thruout the work: the tall and lanky Schröder himself portrays Chaplin the person, while a female dancer portrays the Little Tramp, with all the motions and gestures we’re familiar with from Chaplin’s movies, stressing the somewhat feminine motions the Little Tramp often made. He begins with Chaplin putting together the idea of the Little Tramp starting with a pile of costumes, including floppy shoes and a worn bowler hat. The first half is a bit of a slog but the second half picks up considerably.

There is a scene with Chaplin the person lost amidst a procession of dancers in pink robes but wearing black & white photographic heads of various Hollywood stars who ignore him. Another ingenious scene has first the Little Tramp and then Chaplin himself attacked by and fighting off a giant mic windscreen, which represents how Chaplin fought against talkies and didn’t make a sync-sound film until his 1938 The Great Dictator, which scene follows on this one—with the Hitler stand-in in a balloon mouthing nonsense. There are also scenes depicting the later unfounded U.S. criticisms of communism which forced Chaplin to move to Switzerland.

The use of many different music cues during the ballet is one of its most fascinating aspects. Their are three selections actually by Chaplin, including of course his classic tune (which seems to getting a sort of revival), “Smile.” The Prologue to Pagliacci, one of Brahms’ Hungarian Dances, a Charles Ives selection, the storm music from Britten’s Peter Grimes, and Barber’s emotional Adagio for Strings to close the ballet are examples of the perfect matching of music selections to the stage action and scenario. Also, they seem to flow well into one another and sound like a thru-composed score. Probably the highlight scene is done to a background of animated gears which call up Chaplin as the harried worker in Modern Times, and most of the dancers dressed as identical Little Tramps, all dancing with the usual Chaplin moves as the two Chaplins dance in front. The music for this section is the very effective The Chairman Dances by John Adams from his Nixon In China opera.  The music’s original wood block strikes fit beautifully with the synchronized movements of all the Little Tramps.

All three of Chaplin’s wives are represented by dancers in the production: Mildred, Paulette (Goddard), and Oona O’Neil. The video was shot during a live production at the Leipzig Opera House last year and is beautifully filmed with an excellent soundtrack. It rekindles a new appreciation of the genius of Chaplin.

—John Sunier

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