Waltzing in ‘War and Peace’

Thanks to my friend Svenja at Castleholic, I have been rewatching the waltz scene between Natasha Rostova and Prince Andrei Bolkonsky in four film adaptations of Tolstoy’s War and Peace (I’m not including the 1972 BBC adaptation).

‘They must know how I long to dance, how splendidly I dance, and how they would enjoy dancing with me.’- Natasha Rostova

1956 – Movie

This was the very first film adaptation of War and Peace that I watched and I loved it. Audrey Hepburn stars as Natasha and Mel Ferrer plays Prince Andrei. I hadn’t read the book when I watched it at age 13, so I was devastated to learn that things would not end well between Natasha and Andrei. The only consoling fact for we viewers is that Audrey and Mel were married to each other at the time and later had a son together, Sean Hepburn Ferrer, born in 1960. Sadly, the marriage ended in divorce in 1968.

Unless someone knows more, the lovely ballroom was created inside a studio in Rome. The couple waltz beautifully to Nino Rota’s Natasha’s Waltz.

1966-67 – Film Series

One film is too short, a TV series isn’t good enough, so the Russians released four feature films from 1966-1967. Война́ и мир (‘War and Peace’ in Russian) was the most expensive film(s) ever made in the Soviet Union at 8,291,712 Soviet Rubles at the time (equivalent to $67 million USD in 2011). Moreover, it took six years to make! It was well worth every Ruble spent as 135 million tickets were sold in Russia alone (not counting the other countries the films were screened in), bringing an estimated 58 million Rubles to the box office. Interestingly enough, the film writer/director, Sergei Bondarchuk, cast himself as Pierre for the first two films. (After Bondarchuk suffered a cardiac arrest in 1964, many of the scenes in the last two films were substituted by a journalist who resembled him, Yury Devochkin.)

Prince Andrei was played by Vyacheslav Tikhonov and Natasha was played by 19-year-old ballerina-turned-actress, Ludmila Savelyeva. It’s clear from the waltzing scene that Ludmila is a ballerina in every movement. Just from this scene, I think they have great chemistry and we can feel the joy that Natasha (or Lyudmila) felt. Although the scene also focuses on the other dancers in the room, we are brought back to a slow-mo or close-up of Natasha and her eyes only for her Andrei.

The music is Natasha Rostova’s waltz by Ovchinnikov. It was shot in Mosfilm’s Studios with 500 extras. Another source mentioned that Natasha’s first ball took place in Tavrichesky / Tauride Palace in St Petersburg. As I have not see the film, I wonder if only the exterior was used.

…Approaching Natasha, [Prince Andrei] held out his arm to grasp her waist before he had completed his invitation. He asked her to waltz. That tremulous expression on Natasha’s face, prepared either for despair or rapture, suddenly brightened into a happy, grateful, childlike smile.

“I have long been waiting for you,” that frightened happy little girl seemed to say by the smile that replaced the threatened tears, as she raised her hand to Prince Andrew’s shoulder. They were the second couple to enter the circle. Prince Andrew was one of the best dancers of his day and Natasha danced exquisitely. Her little feet in their white satin dancing shoes did their work swiftly, lightly, and independently of herself, while her face beamed with ecstatic happiness.

2007 – TV Mini-Series

Updated: This is terribly embarrassing but you’ll have to forgive me as I’ve only just watched the first episode of War and Peace (2007). The video from YouTube was a fan-made dubbed version with Aram Khachaturian‘s Masquerade Waltz, composed in 1941, more than a century after the ball took place in 1809. It is the perfect piece, so grand and Russian (I’m sorry, I really lack the words to describe this fantastic piece), and I was rather upset to find out that this is not the piece played for the waltz! The waltz Clémence Poésy and Alessio Boni (Natasha and Prince Andrei, respectively) are dancing to is Johan Strauss II’s Wiener Blut (Viennese Blood). Not exactly fitting, and somewhat ironic, considering that Czar Alexander I has just signed a peace treaty with Napoleon? Wiener Blut was performed in 1873, more than sixty years after this ball takes place!

On the other hand, the waltz does change to Jan A.P. Kaczmarek’s The Promise of Things to Come, as the scene goes into slow motion. Perhaps an idea from the Russian film series, later also adopted by the 2016 BBC TV series?

Natasha’s first ball is filmed inside the Grand Hall inside the Catherine Palace. The biggest clue is the blue and white exterior that viewers see as the guests are entering the palace. I can’t tell you how much I wish I had the chance to visit this palace in 2014!

2016 – BBC TV Series

The 8-part BBC TV series aired earlier this January. Stealing our hearts as Natasha and Prince Andrei were Lily James and James Norton, waltzing away to Andrei & Natasha Waltz (official soundtrack The Dance is a slightly different variation) by Martin Phipps. The waltz also goes into slow-mo, like the 2007 miniseries, with slow piano notes, as if to keep us lost in a reverie.

Natasha’s first ball also takes place inside the Grand Hall in Catherine Palace. Unlike the other films, the room appears as if it is solely lit by candles, despite the fact that it’s still clearly small lightbulbs. Not only does this feel more authentic but dimly-lit ballrooms feel so much more romantic!


Which waltzing scene(s) was/were your favourite? Vote for your favourite(s) below!

Better yet, tell me which Prince Andrei (or Natasha) with whom you would like to dance in the comments below!

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