Review of Doug Fullington and Alexei Ratmansky’s reconstruction of “Paquita”

December 2014 saw the first of Alexei Ratmansky’s reconstructions of Petipa – Paquita, originally created by Frenchmen Joseph Mazilier (choreographer) and Édouard Deldevez (composer) and premièred at the Salle Le Peletier in Paris in 1846. However, the version that we are all familiar with today is Petipa’s 1881 revival for the Imperial Ballet in St Petersburg, which was notated in the Stepanov notation method ca. 1904 while Petipa was coaching the great Anna Pavlova in title role. It was in Petipa’s 1881 revival that the ballet’s two most famous pieces were created to new music by Ludwig Minkus – the Pas de trois and the Grand Pas Classique.

Unlike other surviving 19th century Parisian ballets (e.g. Giselle, Le Corsaire, Coppélia), Paquita is not often danced as a full-length production today. Aside from this reconstruction, the only other full-length production is Pierre Lacotte’s 2004 staging for the Paris Opera Ballet. Lacotte’s production is certainly not a reconstruction, but rather a recreation for which he used Petipa’s revival as a foundation. Only the Grand Pas Classique and Pas de trois are performed today and are two of the most popular pieces on the gala circuit, which makes the full-length ballet very underrated. However, as far as full-length ballets go, Paquita is certainly not one of the strongest, primarily due to its very non-interesting libretto. Despite this, there is still more than just the two most famous pieces (both of which were created and added by Petipa and Minkus) to enjoy.

Paquita is a two-act ballet about a young gypsy girl, who falls in love with a French nobleman and is unaware that she, herself, is a long-lost noblewoman, who was abducted by gypsies when she was an infant. Accompanying the story is a charming score by Deldevez, with the additional numbers by Minkus, and beautiful choreography by Petipa (it is unknown if any of Mazilier’s choreography survived). Every ballet in the Sergeyev Collection is more than worthy of being reconstructed and this was certainly a very worthy start for Alexei Ratmansky in his journey to reconstruct full-length Petipa. In this first step, he teamed up with Stepanov notation expert, Doug Fullington and reconstructed Paquita for the Bayerisches Staatsballet in Munich; Fullington had previously reconstructed Petipa passages for the same company.

I had the pleasure of attending a performance of Fullington and Ratmansky’s reconstruction of Paquita in July 2015 and here is an account of what I saw.

The ballet was staged very well in regards to the reconstruction of the notation and the restoration of mime scenes; the dances were beautifully danced and the mime scenes were excellently acted. The style that Ratmansky staged the choreography in was so refreshing with the low leg extensions, the low cou-de-pied and retiré positions, the batterie, the turnings on demi-pointe and allegro work. From the moment the dancers first entered the stage in the first act, it was clear that Ratmansky avoided making the same mistakes as Sergei Vikharev, who had previously reconstructed The Sleeping Beauty, La Bayadère and The Awakening of Flora for the Mariinsky Ballet. However, there is a huge choreographic difference between Vikharev’s and Ratmansky’s stagings of the notated choreography. Unfortunately, poor Vikharev, perhaps mostly due to the demands of the Mariinsky dancers and coaches, staged what he reconstructed from the notation scores in a very modern style – gymnastic extensions, slow tempi, lack of allegro, etc – which, as a result, misled the public into thinking that the notation scores are very open to interpretation, which they are not. Ratmansky, however, stayed completely faithful to the notations and proved that there is only one style that can truly showcase the beauty and splendour of Petipa’s choreography.

Ratmansky’s staging of the reconstructed choreography is, by far, the most authentic version I have ever seen. With no leg extensions going over 135 degrees, wonderfully fast tempi and brilliant fast, decorative footwork (similar to the choreography of Sir Frederick Ashton, whom Ratmansky has rightly declared an inheritor of Petipa), Petipa’s long-unseen choreography lives once again. His spectacular groupings for the corps de ballet, especially in the Grand Pas Classique, prove how groups dances were by far one of his strong points. But one very exciting highlight was the male variations presented in this reconstruction. There were two male variations – one for Lucien d’Hervilly in the Grand Pas Classique and the male variation in the Pas de trois. Today, we are very used to seeing male variations full of nothing but grand allegro with huge jumps and turns. Here, however, we were presented with male choreography full of petit allegro with jumps and turns at almost every second, much more challenging than the male variations we mostly see today and much better than what the men mostly do today in the classics.

The notated version of the Grand Pas Classique was by far the highlight of the evening, beginning with a group of very talented children performing the Mazurka des enfants, who rightfully received a storm of applause from the audience. Six variations were performed – four for soloists, one for Lucien and one for Paquita – all of which are traditionally performed in the Grand Pas, except for the reconstructed variation for Lucien, which is set to the music of the male variation from Sylvia. For the variation of Paquita, Ratmansky and Fullington presented the “harp” variation for Anna Pavlova to music by Riccardo Drigo from Petipa’s exotic ballet Le Roi Candaule. No fouettés and no helicopter jumps were anywhere to be found in the coda and the Grand Pas and the ballet ended on a very sweet and lovely note – rather than with Lucien lifting Paquita onto his shoulder, they simply embraced, which was a lovely touch and very Petipa.

Dancing the title role of Paquita was the Russian-born Daria Sukhorukova, who brought a heart warming charm to the heroic gypsy girl, presenting excellent technical and acting abilities, and as Lucien d’Hervilly was the Armenian-born Tigran Mikayelyan. Tall, dark and handsome, Mikayelyan brought great nobility and charm to the role of the lovestruck nobleman and proved to be an excellent partner for Sukhorukova. Both dancers presented a strong partnership with genuine chemistry and they took to the choreography, style and mime like a duck to water. Other performers worth mentioning are Adam Zvonar, Mai Kono and Ilana Werner, the performers of the Pas de trois. Zvonar did a marvellous job in presenting the notated male variation and partnering both women. Mai Kono was lovely and charming and danced her variation beautifully, but Ilana Werner seemed very nervous and as a result, her performance lacked. However, she held it together and completed all the choreography.

The only downside of the reconstruction was the scenery, especially in the first act, which my friend and I both thought it was very cheap-looking, but the costumes were beautiful and the cheap-looking scenery did not ruin the show. The scenery of the ballroom in the second act was much better, though even it could have been stronger, and the Napoleon-era costumes were beautiful. Between Ratmansky and Vikharev, Vikharev definitely staged more stunningly-looking reconstructions with the phenomenal restorations of the gorgeous original scenery and costume designs from Petipa’s stagings.

As a whole, Ratmansky and Fullington’s hard work paid off; Petipa’s revival of Paquita is finally out of the shadows and proves there is more to enjoy than just the Pas de trois and the Grand Pas Classique. With this as the first step in Ratmansky’s reconstructing of Petipa, the 21st century ballet audience is shown how ballet is a serious art form that is not about showing off how high a dancer can put their leg up (which Petipa called a “clown act”) or how many fouettés or split jumps they can do and that Petipa was a distinguished and sophisticated choreographer who did not present “clown acts” in his ballets. In short, Ratmansky and Fullington’s reconstruction of Petipa’s revival of Paquita was a more than successful beginning to Ratmansky’s reconstructing of full-length Petipa and there is still more to enjoy.

 

Libretto of Ratmansky and Fullington’s reconstruction of Paquita

Act 1

  • Introduction
  • No. 1 Dévoilement du monument
  • No. 2 Mise en scène
  • No. 3 Mise en scène, divertissement sur l’engagement de Serafina et Lucien
  • No. 4 Entrée des gitans, entrée d’Iñigo
  • No. 5 Mise en scène, entrée et variation de Paquita
  • No. 6 Scène – Paquita et Iñigo
  • No. 7 Scène dansante
  • No. 8 Mise en scène, Paquita avec le Medaillon, entrée de gouerneur et son entourage
  • No. 9 Invitation à la danse – Divertissement des gitans
  • No. 10 Pas de trois
    • (a) Entrée
    • (b) Variation I
    • (c) Variation II
    • (d) Variation III
    • (e) Coda
  • No. 11 Pas des manteaux
  • No. 12 Scène – Paquita rencontre Lucien
  • No. 13 Pas de sept bohémiens (Pas de Carlotta)
    • Entrée
    • Variation des coryphées
    • Variation de Paquita – musique de Riccardo Drigo de La Fille du Pharaon pour Mlle. Anna Pavlova
    • Coda
  • No. 14 Scène
  • No. 15 Paquita et Lucien, conspiration entre Don Lopez et Iñigo
  • No. 16 Finale

Act 2, scene 1

  • No. 17 Scene
  • No. 18 Entrée d’Iñigo et Don Lopez
  • No. 19 Entrée de Lucien
  • No. 20 Scène: Paquita troqué les lunettes et permet d’économiser la vie de Lucien
  • No. 21 Danse de Paquita, Iñigo hébété endormi
  • No. 22 Scène finale: Paquita et Lucien s’échappent

Act 2, scene 2

  • No. 23 Entr’acte
  • No. 24 Contredance Française
  • No. 25 Entrée des généraux
  • No. 26 Gavotte
  • No. 27 Scène: entée de Paquita et Lucien, véritable identité Paquita est effacée
  • No. 28 Mazurka des enfants
  • No. 29 Grand Pas Classique
    • (a) Entrée
    • (b) Adagio
    • (c) Allegro
    • (d) Variation I – Variation pour Mme. Alexandra Shaposhnikova
    • (e) Variation II – Variation pour Mlle. Maria Gorshenkova: musique de Riccardo Drigo de La Vestale
    • (f) Variation III – Variation pour Mlle. Varvara Nikitina: musique de Alexei Papkov
    • (g) Variation IV – Variation pour Mlle. Ekaterina Vazem: musique de Ludwig Minkus
    • (h) Variation V – Variation de Lucien: musique de Léo Delibes de Syliva
    • (i) Variation VI – Variation de Paquita, variation pour Mlle. Anna Pavlova: musique de Riccardo Drigo de Le Roi Candaule
    • (j) Coda
  • No. 30 Finale

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