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Mariinsky Ballet's Paquita at The Kennedy Center


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43 minutes ago, Douglas Allen said:

Thank you for the review, they are all welcome and informative for those of us who can't attend all of the performances across the United States - please keep them coming.

I second that;  thanks so much for your continuing reports on what's happening Stateside.  I read this one with particular interest as I have never seen this ballet live. 

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8 hours ago, Douglas Allen said:

Thank you for the review, they are all welcome and informative for those of us who can't attend all of the performances across the United States - please keep them coming.

 

Thank you for your support, @Douglas Allen!

 

7 hours ago, Sim said:

I second that;  thanks so much for your continuing reports on what's happening Stateside.  I read this one with particular interest as I have never seen this ballet live. 

 

I am so happy to hear this, @Sim - thank you!

 

5 hours ago, maryrosesatonapin said:

From the review, some of the problems seem to have been due to the venue rather than the company, I think?  The pictures certainly look absolutely gorgeous.  Thank you for the report.

 

You're very welcome, @maryrosesatonapin. Perhaps the gypsy traveling scene traffic is a venue compatibility issue. The hearing stage crew speaking...absolutely not; to me, this was a gross slip of professionalism. The scenery and costumes are absolutely glorious and spectacular, as one has come to anticipate in a Mariinsky production!  

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I have seen the production in 2017, when the Mariinsky brought it to their annual residence at Festspielhaus Baden-Baden, and I loved it, especially compared to the Munich reconstruction by Ratmansky. In one sentence, there is much more dancing than mime. Yuri Smekalov re-invents the storyline by using the novel "La Gitanilla" by Cervantes, he changes the male protagonist from the refined Lucien d’Hervilly into the handsome, adventurous aristocrat Andres. As in the original, the hero falls in love with the gypsy Paquita, but here, she tempts him to come with the gypsies and become a dancer, a rather romantic turn.

Smekalov still keeps the original contrast between the strict and noble world of aristocracy (with the huge festivity in empire costumes at the end) and the gypsies on the other side, who are proud, independent and funny. He makes Paquita an even more interesting character: she loves to dance, just like Giselle, and she has a noble heart. She is a self-confident person from the beginning, not like in the original, where she obtains her identity only by the revelation that she is of noble origin.

Smekalov’s version has a clear storyline which he recounts with admirably few mime scenes. It is lighter and brighter than the somber original with the political entanglements from a long-forgotten conflict between two countries that nobody understands today; sometimes you may even detect a whiff of irony. Smekalov made new choreography for most of the ballet, but he keeps that famous Grand Pas Classique of act 3, it was reconstructed by Yuri Burlaka after the Stepanov notations. He also keeps the famous Pas de trois from act 1 that Petipa made as a divertissement for three solo dancers; Smekalov gives it to Paquita, Andres and another gypsy dancer, so the prinicipals can shine in Petipa’s steps.

Compared to Ratmansky’s Munich version, Smekalov keeps a nice little touch of Soviet ballet (I know that some people will cry out loud now) – his version is breezy and sweeping, it has pizzazz, the virtuosity of his choreography is not confined to small, gracious steps. Compared to the reconstructions of Vikharev and Ratmansky, it is a step back and at the same time a bolder step - the kind of adaptation of the classics that we have known for so many decades before: trying to make the storyline more plausible, cutting the mime scenes, giving the men more to dance. I thought it was a challenge to the reconstructions: Do we, as an audience, like to see the real thing with all the excessive mime scenes, or do we prefer to adjust the classics to what we have known in all the classic productions from the 1950s to the 1980s, with more dancing?

Hold out for the huge portraits that hang over the stage in the opening scene: there’s Petipa, Cervantes, Minkus and, I’m not sure, Kshesinskaya in Baroque costumes – then a servant walks in with a feather duster to mop the dust away. Right at the beginning, Smekalov winks an eye.  It has beautiful sets and costumes

throughout. I saw Tereshkina and Askerov, I thought they were great.
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11 hours ago, The Traveling Ballerina said:

The hearing stage crew speaking...absolutely not; to me, this was a gross slip of professionalism.

 

But occurs frequently: I've heard it numerous times at the Royal Opera House when Russian companies have been appearing there - and sometimes even from up in the amphitheatre!

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I missed it but I believe the excellent Novaya Opera’s visit to the Coliseum a few years ago featured the same. I suppose it bothers some people more than others - I confess to quite enjoying the odd outbreak.

 

(I’ve just looked the Prince Igor up and Rupert Christiansen noted the shouting but still awarded them a rare five stars!)

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8 minutes ago, Lizbie1 said:

I missed it but I believe the excellent Novaya Opera’s visit to the Coliseum a few years ago featured the same. I suppose it bothers some people more than others - I confess to quite enjoying the odd outbreak.

 

(I’ve just looked the Prince Igor up and Rupert Christiansen noted the shouting but still awarded them a rare five stars!)


Off topic as regards Paquita but taking up Lizbie’s post, does anyone know if there is even half a chance of Novato Opera making a repeat visit?
 

I loved them and what a welcome change to be able to watch something colourful and enjoyable, with no political agenda, instead of yet another depressingly worthy director slaughtering what the composer and librettist clearly intended. 

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4 hours ago, alison said:

 

But occurs frequently: I've heard it numerous times at the Royal Opera House when Russian companies have been appearing there - and sometimes even from up in the amphitheatre!

 

What a shame! This is the first time I've ever experienced this.

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10 hours ago, Angela said:

I have seen the production in 2017, when the Mariinsky brought it to their annual residence at Festspielhaus Baden-Baden, and I loved it....

 

Thanks, Angela. I saw the current Mariinsky production several times in St. Petersburg. I have a tendency to minimalize the plots in many of these classics.

 

I do go for the excellence  of the performances, expression of some of the more timeless themes, such as Love and the over-all sensation. In this respect I thought that the production and the performances were fine.

 

Thanks very much for your comprehensive overview. I’m not familiar with these facts contained, but it's certainly an interesting and a pleasantly sympathetic point of view.

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When the Bolshoi danced Corsaire at the Coliseum you could hear voices shouting instructions from the wings on opening night during the Jardin Anime — I don’t know Russian but assume the voices were directing traffic as the stage looked very overcrowded. It is not a good thing, obviously, to hear that, but on an opening night and especially of a production on tour (when it is not as if the companies can dance a few nights of previews) I am inclined not to hold it against them.

 

I went to Paquita Friday and there were no production glitches that I could spot and, from downstairs, no voices overheard either. I will need to see it again before I can really form an opinion, but I will say here that I had a good time throughout and honestly, for my taste, Smekalov could have had the dancers standing on their heads slowly chewing gum for the first two acts and it still would have been more than worth the price of admission (which in my case included flight and hotel) to see the company dance the final Act in marvelous fashion — as they did. Possibly the opening wasn’t as sharp as often openings aren’t the sharpest, but I wasn’t there.

 

 

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This is the production brought to London by the company on their last tour, but we were only offered Act 3. The designs were very attractive, I recall. Having read a number of reviews and comments here and on Ballet Alert, London probably did well having the reduced version.

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    Smekalov’s version has a clear storyline which he recounts with admirably few mime scenes

     

The storyline is very thin and the mise-en-scene amateurish, in my opinion. I saw this "remake" of Paquita several times, with the best casts, and every time the first two acts felt spurious to me, with uninteresting ensembles and unimaginative choreography. The third act is, essentially intact, Grand Pas, as staged by Vaganova. It could be exciting, if danced with panache, finesse and, most of all, conviction. Alas, none of this in the shows I saw. The criteria for selecting the soloists were on every occasion a puzzle to me, one variation danced by a refined artist, another one — by a crude craftsman. Why, if there are sufficiently many fine artists in the company? I prefer Ratmansky's reconstruction to this Mariinsky's tired, and danced without conviction, Grand Pas, preceded by two incongruous, poorly constructed, acts.

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I saw this twice at the Kennedy Center - casts led by Tereshkina/Askerov and Batoeva/Parish - and must agree with Assoluta and others who are less impressed by this production. The staging and mise  en scene in Acts 1&2 are so garbled, with so many irrelevant characters (to provide more bit roles?), set among garish tacky sets with cotton-candy pink trees...that I seriously considered giving away my 2nd set of tickets...but am glad that I did not, as Batoeva and Parish were delightful in the leads on Sat night, despite a partnering mishap in the A3 adagio. Individually, they were grand. Biggest Bravo to the 16 Vaganova Acad kids, who performed impeccably in the A3 polonaise & mazurka.  A true honor to have witnessed this live.

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Paquita is not a Grand Ballet, but a "ballet-pantomime en deux actes"; compared to works like La Bayadere the work has a certain operetta quality, which I perceived in the Paris production by Lacotte and, with all due respect to Ratmansky and Doug Fullington, with all my deep interest in ballet history, also in the extensive mime scenes at Munich that more than once looked like a silent movie. Did I really care for the original historical background of Paul Foucher’s and Joseph Mazilier’s libretto, some long forgotten war between Spain and France? I didn’t. Did I really care for the murderous, clichéd baddie Inigo in the original plot? I didn’t. I thought Smekalov’s new story, which he adapted from a Cervantes novel, was much clearer and funnier. As most other ballet librettos, it will certainly not qualify for a Pulitzer Prize, but it is credible and easier to understand as the original plot. It makes the dramatis personae more sympathetic, more likeable, it changes Paquita from the typical shy, in her case even submissive girl that needs to be saved by a prince, to a prouder, self-confident young woman. That may not be true to the original concept from the 1840s, but it suits a wider audience of today that might not be interested in the details of ballet reconstruction and ballet history. 

Smekalov uses the operetta quality as a ploy; he infuses it into his story instead of taking a plot full of clichés too earnest. In the end, you laugh with the figures of the story and not about them. I admit that you must like this sense of humour, but I did. I simply had much more fun seeing the Mariinsky Paquita than the Munich version – from the Mariinsky I remember lots of dancing and not endless mime scenes. I also liked the colours of the sets and costumes of the Mariinsky production, compared to Jerôme Kaplan’s glitzy and flashy materials at Munich that just don’t suit a historical reconstruction. With all respect for the Munich dancers of the premiere in 2014, I would not dare to compare their reliable, solid technique to the refined style of Tereshkina and the Mariinsky soloists. 

Where Sergei Vikharev’s reconstructed Raymonda for Milano was a glimpse of lost paradise, Ratmansky’s Paquita at Munich proved for me that with some ballets it may be better to move on and change the plot, the choreography, the mime. And along came Yuri Smekalov who did exactly that.  Maybe Paquita was never a work of the quality that we see in La Bayadère or Le Corsaire, that might explain the disappointment.

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It just occurred to me a reason why Acts 1 & 2 of the Mariinsky Paquita is such a turn-off. You know how some 19th-C ballets have one “Gypsy Dance”...we see it, applaud and the gypsies move on? This is one huge gypsy divertissement that doesn’t seem to end... until the A3 Grand Pas. Very little pointe work. Only Paquita wears pointe shoes throughout the ballet.

 

Yes, the Lacotte and Ratmansky editions had gypsies but not so overpowering. (With all due respect for Gypsy and Roma people...termed “travelers” in the Kennedy Center scenario.)

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29 minutes ago, Angela said:

 Where Sergei Vikharev’s reconstructed Raymonda for Milano was a glimpse of lost paradise, Ratmansky’s Paquita at Munich proved for me that with some ballets it may be better to move on and change the plot, the choreography, the mime. And along came Yuri Smekalov who did exactly that.  Maybe Paquita was never a work of the quality that we see in La Bayadère or Le Corsaire, that might explain the disappointment.

 

If he did it right, I would be the first one to greet him. As it is, I prefer a piece of balletic archeology à la Ratmansky to this stillborn production. When comparing the quality of any productions it is unfair to compare the quality of the forces involved, yet it would be even more unfair not to mention that the premiere cast Paquita in Munich, Daria Sukhorukova, represents the same Vaganova standard as Tereshkina and, in fact, may be a more refined dancer.

 

"Raymonda", set to a richly textured, post-wagnerian symphonism of Glazunov comes from the very last years of the 19th Century, while "Paquita" is a typical, light, Romantic musical theatre of the mid 1840-ies. They are incomparable in every respect. Whether Vikharev actually succeeded in his undertaking, is a separate question that we need not to address but I would say that Ratmansky succeeded even more because he was more faithful. It is worth to be reminded that just a few years after "Raymonda" premiered, the press in Paris, and even so more in London, was totally dismissive of "Giselle", denying it any merit.

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21 hours ago, assoluta said:

If he did it right,

 

I fear there is no high court for reconstructed ballets, but only our opinion as avid balletgoers. I don't think there is a wrong and a right in staging old ballets, only a better and a worse.

 

21 hours ago, assoluta said:

Whether Vikharev actually succeeded in his undertaking, is a separate question that we need not to address but I would say that Ratmansky succeeded even more because he was more faithful.

 

How can you be faithful to the old style by chosing the wrong designer, over and over again? For my part, I just can't believe that the steps are those of the 19th century if they are wrapped in polyester floral prints or in glittering materials. But enough of Vikharev vs. Ratmansky.

 

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Angela, as you say, these are just our opinions. While I completely agree with you about Jerome Kaplan’s work on Paquita (shiny polyester tutus, wild gypsy colors), his designs for the Berlin Bayadere are stunning and substantial...especially the 3rd scene (procession, betrothal).  The Zurich Swan Lake was somewhere in between - wonderful Swan costumes vs acid-green mazurka in the ballroom. He seems to improve as time passes!

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17 hours ago, Angela said:

 

I fear there is no high court for reconstructed ballets, but only our opinion as avid balletgoers. I don't think there is a wrong and a right in staging old ballets, only a better and a worse.

 

Your comment is in response to my remark about Smekalov's production. That was not, I repeat it, meant to be a "reconstruction" at all but an on original work wrapped up around Yuri Burlaka's Grand Pas.

 

Considering your comment standing on its own - the reconstructions can be evaluated by competent professionals, "avid balletgoers" can only say how much do they like them. Yes, there are no more than a handful of those , more or less, competent professionals (I happen to know nearly all of them first hand). We analyzed, for example, number by number, leaf by leaf (I am talking about the score and the Stepanov notations at Harvard, Ratmansky's recent reconstruction of "Harlequinade", from the first to the last bar.

 

17 hours ago, Angela said:

How can you be faithful to the old style by chosing the wrong designer, over and over again? For my part, I just can't believe that the steps are those of the 19th century if they are wrapped in polyester floral prints or in glittering materials.

 

I concur with your sentiments re. "choosing the wrong designer, over and over again". Ratmansky admitted in a long recent article published in the Spring-Summer 2019 issue of Ballet Review, that previously he cared essentially about reconstructing the steps, much less about reconstructing the costumes. This has changed, he said.

 

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