If you're familiar with the dancing of Viviana Durante and Darcey Bussell, you'll appreciate the interviews with them and tributes to their excellence dominating a 1992 episode of "The South Bank Show" that airs on Bravo cable today at 5 and 10 p.m.
Newcomers, however, may find "Two Ballerinas at the Royal Ballet" a mite puzzling. Throughout the hour, ballet authorities talk about Durante and Bussell as wonderful dancers, but you can't prove it by the performance tapes presented as evidence here.
For instance, while we watch footage of Bussell at 16, a voice-over praises "a naturalness and an openness in her movement." Unfortunately, the video shows no such thing--only a highly cautious dancer with a terrific extension.
This impression of Bussell remains as the clips grow longer and more recent. Her finest dancing comes during the final credits, but even this performance of Balanchine's "Agon" looks tentative and uneven compared to the glowing account of the same choreography that she gives on the upcoming PBS "Balanchine Celebration" (airing Christmas Day).
Durante's abilities also seem oversold and unproven here, inevitably eclipsed in passages from "Giselle" and "Manon" by the greatness of her partner: ex-Bolshoi principal Irek Mukhamedov. But if "Two Ballerinas" fails in its primary mission, it offers compensation when detailing the stresses of training and competition in the contemporary ballet world.
The weight of tradition and pitfalls of a dancing career are illuminated by an array of Royal Ballet luminaries, including founder Ninette de Valois, choreographer Kenneth MacMillan, current artistic director Anthony Dowell and his former dancing partner, Antoinette Sibley.
And no telecast that provides even a fleeting Sibley/Dowell reunion should be judged anything less than memorable.