Bavarian State Ballet
December 13, 2014
by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf
Blowing the dust off from an aged stage vehicle like “Paquita” and polishing it up for a premiere usually draws very few out of the woodwork. Bavarian State Ballet, however, promoted the project confidently. Quite rightly as no less than Alexei Ratmansky and Doug Fullington had devoted themselves to revive the love story of the orphan girl Paquita. Bavarian State Ballet’s original plans were that Ratmansky would make his German debut as choreographer with “Paquita” but the indefatigable Ratmansky had already staged his “Namouna” in Berlin and the “Tanzsuite” for Semperoper Ballet Dresden. However, this didn’t harm the project because doing justice to a significant piece of art and its creator was the root of the matter.
Ratmansky’s and Fullington’s aspiration was to reconstruct Marius Petipa’s original “Paquita”, not present a traditional one, but his last version which had premiered in December 1881 at the Bolshoi Theatre in St. Petersburg. Happily, the result is ravishing! It beams with vivacity, bursts with captivating dance, is laced with pantomimic humor and is complemented by Jérôme Kaplan’s gorgeous décor – eye candy throughout!
At first sight one has to agree with dance critic Théophile Gautier who, after the world premiere of “Paquita” in Paris in 1846, commented in his review that one cannot expect a ballet to be completely meaningful and logical. The beautiful, young Paquita, best dancer of the gypsy folk, falls in love with Lucien, son of the French general Count d’Hervilly. But aware of their class distinction Paquita turns down Lucien’s courtship. It’s at the end of the Spanish War of Independence (1808 – 1813) in the region around Saragossa. Spaniards and their French occupiers are on bad terms with each other and Lucien was actually supposed to marry Serafina, the daughter of the province’s Spanish governor Don Lopez de Mendoza to diffuse local political tensions.
But the peacemaking liaison was in fact a thorn in the side of the bride’s father. He hires the leader of the Gypsies, Inigo, to kill Lucien. Inigo, himself having a crush on Paquita and bursting with jealousy, eagerly agrees, but this evil plan to murder Lucien is thwarted by the clever Paquita. The intrigue’s cover is blown and, as a photo in Paquita’s medallion reveals that she’s in fact the daughter of Count d’Hervilly’s assassinated brother, nothing remains in the way of her and Lucien’s marriage. The story sounds absurd but – as is plausibly explained in the playbill – refers to various historical particularities of the Spanish-French conflict around 1800. During the research even broader historical dimensions loomed up: In old librettos from Naples and Milan the story is played out one-hundred years earlier, around 1700 – food for future dance historians!
Exhaustive research was the production’s Alpha and Omega, its backbone Fullington’s reading and transcription of the Stepanov notation of “Paquita” stored in the Sergeyev Collection at Harvard University. Only two minutes of dance were choreographed by Ratmansky to draw up one of Paquita’s dances in the rock tavern and fill a gap in the finale. The rest is based on Petipa’s steps or on what he kept from his predecessor’s work, that is from Joseph Mazilier’s version for Paris in 1846. Thus the outcome is naturally different from the version Pierre Lacotte staged for the Paris Opera Ballet in 2001 not only in terms of choreography but also regarding details of the libretto.
Little gems were thus rediscovered, for example, the Pas de manteaux (danced by twelve couples, the men’s roles – toreros swinging their red capes – are danced en travestie) or the Pas de sept bohémiens (consisting of four dances, one of them including tambourines). In the third act’s festive ball a variation Franz dances in “Coppélia” was added for Lucien, otherwise he wouldn’t have had a solo. Further sources for the reconstruction were old photos of “Paquita” productions from czarist Russia and drawings by the dancer Pawel Gerdt from 1894. Verbal descriptions of the multiple mime scenes survived to a great extent. However, attempting to come as close as possible to the original, the production team points out that there were major shifts in classical dance between the 1881 premiere and the completion of the notation in 1905 which might have had impacts on the written result.
Assembling the music was a difficult jigsaw puzzle. Maria Babanina, in charge of the musical arrangement and faced with a great number of scores from various origins, had the agony of making the right choices. Myron Romanul revised the orchestration and also guided the Bavarian State Orchestra through Deldevez’ and Minkus’ lively music which were supplemented by numbers from Cesare Pugni, Adolphe Adams, Leo Delibes and others.
Laurels to Kaplan for designing marvelous French and Spanish empire fashions – posh uniforms of different ranks, beautiful ball gowns, and colorful frilled skirts for the gypsy women – and a ball room scene in the third act which won applause the moment the curtain was raised. Also the stage curtain depicting a view to the town Saragossa based on an old painting was tasteful. The only minor problem was Count d’Hervilly’s sword nearly getting in the way of his mother next to him. The elderly Countess had linked arms with her son on the wrong side.
Over the years Petipa repeatedly adapted his choreography to make the ballerina in the leading role shine best. Daria Sukhorukova, Munich’s Paquita, thus had to master the steps of famous prima ballerinas like Anna Pavlova or Ekaterina Vazem. Never overdominating on stage, Sukhorukova radiated the warmth and soulfulness of a young woman. Turning and spinning around the stage she dazzled with nimble footwork, many little jumps and old school port de bras, but she was also convincing in the acting scenes. (The photos show a partially different cast from the second performance.) Tigran Mikayelyan was her very spruce suitor Lucien. Awkward at first in his attempts to win Paquita’s heart – offering her money was a complete faux pas – he was actually a likeable, honest soul. Partnering went well as did multiple mime scenes. Deemed an old-fashioned and outdated way to bring the story forward, the mime scenes might have caused critical frowns. But as anelya integral part of the original they are indispensable. Sukhorukova, Mikayelyan and Cyril Pierre, who was Inigo, the mercenary, sly chief of the Gypsies, conveyed their mimed messages in a crystal clear manner without ever ridiculing them. “I have only this medallion showing my father whom I cannot remember. He was murdered when I was a little girl, the Gypsies brought me up and made me dance for money.” That’s quite a story one has to tell with a few gestures! Kudos to Ratmansky and the dancers, for reviving this example of past days’ storytelling!
The Bavarian State Ballet’s ensemble also embarked readily on the unfamiliar old dance style. Little initial tensions swiftly vanished and made way for a perfectly balanced variety of captivating divertissements in a rocky valley, called Valley of the Bulls, near Saragossa. In the pas de trois, Javier Amo jumped with panache. and, with a beaming smile, partnered Katherina Markowskaja and Mai Kono, his two companions. I would have loved to have changed places with the gypsy couple who stood on a path over an arch in the rocks, having a perfect view of the goings-on down in the valley. Petipa understood how to play with classical and folkloric styles, how to merge patterns and arrangements to please the spectator’s eyes! The third act’s festive ball was actually so entertaining that its concluding scene almost came as a surprise.
Naturally the children’s mazurka, danced with aplomb by students of the local University of Music and Performing Arts, received much applause. Allowed to watch, as spectators, the subsequent ball from an elongated indoor balcony they lined along the balustrade like the little angels in Raphael’s Sistine Madonna. Against the backdrop of a star-spangled afterglow – the ball room’s back curtains had been pulled open to reveal the townscape of nearby Saragossa – a romantic yet noble atmosphere arose. Paquita had transformed from a young gypsy woman into a charming lady. Her delicate solo contrasted nicely with Lucien’s variation which he self-assuredly nailed.
The playbill states Ratmansky allowed himself the luxury to reconstruct “Paquita”. I would rather call it a welcome humbleness. Certainly no one would have noticed if some steps weren’t according to the notation and, especially for one of Ratmansky’s caliber, it would have been much easier to create new choreography than to unearth the old. Instead he restrained himself and made the work of an ingenious predecessor shine. The detailed, transparent documentation of the research process, in which the playbill offers informative insight, bestowed on him and his team total integrity. An impressing accomplishment. Bravo!
There will be a livestream of “Paquita” on January 11, 2015.
|Links:||Bavarian State Ballet’s Homepage|
|Photos:||(The photos show a partially different cast from the second performance.)|
|1.||Daria Sukhorukova (Paquita) and Cyril Pierre (Inigo), “Paquita” by Marius Petipa and Alexei Ratmansky, Bavarian State Ballet, Munich 2014|
|2.||Cyril Pierre (Inigo) and ensemble, “Paquita” by Marius Petipa and Alexei Ratmansky, Bavarian State Ballet, Munich 2014|
|3.||Ensemble, Pas de manteaux, “Paquita” by Marius Petipa and Alexei Ratmansky, Bavarian State Ballet, Munich 2014|
|4.||Javier Amo and Katherina Markowskaja, Pas de trois, “Paquita” by Marius Petipa and Alexei Ratmansky, Bavarian State Ballet, Munich 2014|
|5.||Matej Urban (Lucien), Ekaterina Petina (Paquita) and Norbert Graf (Inigo) in the tavern, “Paquita” by Marius Petipa and Alexei Ratmansky, Bavarian State Ballet, Munich 2014|
|6.||Jonah Cook, Luca Giaccio and ensemble, “Paquita” by Marius Petipa and Alexei Ratmansky, Bavarian State Ballet, Munich 2014|
|7.||Students of Munich’s University of Music and Performing Arts and ensemble, “Paquita” by Marius Petipa and Alexei Ratmansky, Bavarian State Ballet, Munich 2014|
|8.||Ensemble and students of Munich’s University of Music and Performing Arts, “Paquita” by Marius Petipa and Alexei Ratmansky, Bavarian State Ballet, Munich 2014|
|9.||Ekaterina Petina (Paquita), Matej Urban (Lucien) and ensemble, “Paquita” by Marius Petipa and Alexei Ratmansky, Bavarian State Ballet, Munich 2014|
|10.||Ensemble, “Paquita” by Marius Petipa and Alexei Ratmansky, Bavarian State Ballet, Munich 2014|
|all photos © Wilfried Hösl 2014|