A skilled, joyful tour of the 'Dance for Gold'
The benefits to viewers when culture cable channels share programs with Public Broadcasting are becoming visible. To Dance for Gold (PBS, Wednesday, 9-11 p.m., check local listingsm), produced by ABC Video Enterprises (which owns ARTS), in cooperation with the Mississippi ETV Network and the South Carolina ETV Network, is a prime example. This two-hour documentary, chronicling the events of the II International Ballet Competition held last summer in Jackson, Miss., was aired last year on ARTS. Now it has come to PBS. One hopes there will be many such crossover programs in the future - it's in everybody's interest that major cultural events get as wide coverage as possible.
''To Dance'' is a joyful conglomeration of dance, dance criticism, and dance background. Although it records a competition, it does not concentrate on the competitive aspect. Instead it focuses on the art of the dance and on the dedicated artists who make up the dance community. Prizes are awarded, but the attention of the viewer is always drawn to the grace and skill of the performers. Extra pluses for casual lovers of dance are the behind-the-scenes interviews, the chats with performers, the basic information about complex ballet movements. In its own way, ''To Dance'' is a kind of primer of dance, both classical and contemporary.
To lead viewers through the competition, ''To Dance'' provides some expert guides - Jacques d'Amboise and Marge Champion, with ice-skating great Dick Button to help out with the commentary. Also appearing on camera is Robert Joffrey, who served as a judge.
The site for the International Ballet Competition, held biennially, alternates among Varna, Bulgaria; Moscow; and Jackson, Miss. When Miss Champion asks Jackson Mayor Dale Danks, ''Why Jackson?'' he has the perfect answer: ''Why not Jackson?'' Past winners of the competition have been Baryshnikov, Bujones, Godunov, and Makarova.
The award-winning performances, as well as three behind-the-scenes segments, are filmed expertly by director Lou Volpicelli, who does not hesitate to indulge in split screens and other illuminating devices. Lovers of the dance may possibly criticize some of the performances on a technical level, but the love and enthusiasm of all the contestants are a wonder to see.
Viewers will get an amusing climactic surprise when the camera reveals gold prize winner Janie Parker euphorically biting into her medal to prove to the world that it is not made of chocolate.
''To Dance for Gold,'' too, is pure gold. But at the same time it's a delicious bonbon for TV viewers.