Ballets in Celebration of Ballet


Paquita, without doubt, would have answered to the tastes of our age, with its penchant for all kinds of melodrama. The heroine, a girl of aristocratic origin, whom bandits kidnapped as an infant, lives a nomad existence with a band of gypsies, traveling through the towns and villages of Spain. After undergoing various adventures, she is eventually reunited with her parents and acquires a suitor of noble birth. But Time has been harsh on Paquita: jettisoning both storyline and itspantomime development, it spared only the dance element in the ballet.

This was the first ballet that the young Marius Petipa produced on the Russian stage (1847, Sankt Peterburg), a year after its first performance at the Paris Opera, with music by Deldevez and choreography by Joseph Mazilier. Soon, a year later, the ballet would be reproduced at Moscow's Bolshoi Theatre.

In 1881, Petipa did a new production of Paquita for the Gala Evening of one of his favorite ballerinas, Ekaterina Vazem. In addition to significantly reworking the ballet, the maestro added to it a final Grand Pas (and a children's mazurka) to music by Minkus. This Grand Pas, choreographed for the wedding of the ballet's main characters, together with a pas de trois from Act 1 and the above-mentioned mazurka, was all of this major, full-length ballet that was to survive into the 20th century. This, of course, is not fortuitous, for the Grand Pas is certainly one of the pinnacles of Marius Petipa's achievement. The Grand Pas, an example of an extended classical dance ensemble, is marvelously structured, providing an opportunity for nearly all the leading soloists to display their virtuosity - and to recklessly compete with each other. Among them is the soloist who dances the title role and who has to demonstrate an unheard of level of skill and ballerina charisma. This choreographic painting is often referred to as the ceremonial portrait of a Company or its visiting card for, in order to be able to dance it, the Company has to possess a truly dazzling array of skills.

It was in his early youth, that Yuri Burlaka made his first acquaintance with Paquita: for his debut at the Russian Ballet Company, which he had joined on leaving ballet school, he danced the Pas de trois. Later on, by which time he was actively engaged in his research into old ballets and ballet music, he participated in the publication of the piano score of those musical numbers from Paquita which had survived and the notation of the Petipa text. Thus the Bolshoi receives this Petipa masterpiece from the hands of a connoisseur. And it is not surprising that it is with this very ballet that the artistic director designate of the Bolshoi Ballet Company has chosen to initiate the new stage in his career.

The Bolshoi's new production of the Paquita Grand Pas will be given back its Spanish coloring which it lost in the 20th century, while it will retain the male variation it acquired - thanks to Leonid Lavrovsky - (the 20th century expected more from the male dancer than just to act as support for the ballerina). The aim Yuri Burlaka has set himself is to recreate the imperial image of the Grand pas, to revive in so far as is possible, the original Petipa composition and to make maximum use of the variations which were once danced in this ballet. Seven, out of the eleven surviving female variations, will be danced in the course of the evening. The interpreters of the title role were allowed to choose their favorite variation, thus each ballerina will be dancing the one she likes best (in addition of course to the grand adagio with partner which forms part of the role's 'fixed program'). The choice of variation for the other soloists was made by Burlaka himself. Thus each performance of the Paquita Grand pas will differ, i.e., it will have a different set of variations a fact which, for the true balletomane, will add to its interest.

The costumes reproduced by Elena Zaytseva have an imperial aura (as in the case of Le Corsaire they do not impede modern dance technique). Sets are by scenographer Alyona Pikalova and the ballet is conducted by Pavel Klinichev.
Grand Pas from Paquita will be danced by the cream of Bolshoi Ballet Company ballerinas - Nadezhda Gracheva, Svetlana Zakharova, Maria Alexandrova (Paquita), Andrei Uvarov, Alexander Volchkov, Ruslan Skvortsov (Lucien), and also Anna Antonicheva, Marianna Ryzhkina, Yelena Andrienko, Anastasia Goryacheva, Yekaterina Shipulina, Natalia Osipova, Ekaterina Krysanova, Anna Leonova, Xenia Kern, Anastasia Stashkevich, Denis Medvedev, Vyacheslav Lopatin.

Russian Seasons
The Bolshoi Theatre has once again turned to the music of the popular Petersburg composer, Leonid Desyatnikov. In 2005, the Theatre presented the world premiere of Desyatnikov's opera The Children of Rosenthal. This time it has mounted a ballet to the music of Russian Seasons, a work for violin, soprano and string orchestra, written by Desyatnikov in 2000, for the world famous violinist, Gidon Kremer. Here is how the composer himself characterizes Russian Seasons: "This work is based on the authentic recordings and music interpretations of folk singing, published in the book The Traditional Music of the Russian Poozere (Poozere - areas of the Pskov, Smolensk and Tver regions bordering on the Vitebsk region of Byelorussia)… The work is in twelve parts, as in Tchaikovsky's The Seasons, but the composition of Russian Seasons is more reminiscent of the cycle of Vivaldi concertos. Each part is linked to a specific moment in the Russian orthodox or traditional agricultural calendar… At any rate, the union of Gidon and his orchestra, producing brilliance, elegance, Europeanism, with such primordially rough (though beautifully rough - I'm speaking here of the folklore sources) material can certainly be defined as a clash, conflict of interests and so on… Is Russian Seasons perhaps a search for national cultural identity?"Alexei Ratmansky seizes on and develops this thought. His ballet is also an attempt at 'national self-determination', a return to his Russian roots. As is well known, this return took place in America where, in 2006, the New York City Ballet Company, founded by George Balanchine, presented the world premiere of Russian Seasons. Now this ballet "with its Russian roots" is to be performed on Russia's main stage.

"The stories told in the sung passages are not literally conveyed in dance steps, but the emotions they evoke make up the substance of the ballet. The girl in orange picks flowers and mourns, as the singer recounts the story of a husband lost at war; the girl in green is mischievous in one section, soulful in another, while the ballerina in red is wildly spirited during another segment. At the end of the ballet the couple previously in orange comes on stage dressed in white. The soprano's song says that while we may want to take all we can, we need very little, only a small patch of earth and four walls at the end. The couple moves off into a distant light as the other dancers look on. This is a beautiful, but sad image that is a fitting conclusion to a ballet rich in emotion and metaphor", such is the synopsis of Russian Seasons New York City Ballet provides for itself and its public.

The New York Times on the production:
"It would be too easy to say that the choreography owes its originality to its inspirations from folk dance, though it does make happy use of such dancing. Mr. Ratmansky is a fountain of movement ideas, with sweeping stiff arms and vigorous floor-stamping and clapping and every sort of catlike pose, from freshly funny to deeply tragic".

John Rockwell

"In "Russian Seasons, " with its folk sensibility, sly humor and bold, bright strokes, Mr. Ratmansky’s goal was to explore his Russian roots; the resulting ballet captures his wonderfully uncanny spirit. The artistic director of the, Mr. Ratmansky trained at the Bolshoi [presumably, it is the Bolshoi Ballet School that is meant here - ed.] before performing with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and the Royal Danish Ballet. He understands the modern world, yet he is also an old soul with a tender touch who can readily identify the humor in pathos and the pathos in humor.

But while "Russian Seasons" is deeply rustic and Russian to the core - recurring themes are love and separation - it also points to a universal place: all cultures have their share of superstition, spiritualism and whimsy…

Handsome costumes by Galina Solovieva - flattering Empire-style, knee-length dresses for the women and silky ensembles with matching boots for the men - transform the stage into a moving painting, awash in vibrant color. The women also wear matching pillbox hats with chin straps, though it's a mystery why they are removed midway, then strapped on again for the ballet's "Closing Song." They’re splendid and, more important, of another time…

A natural director unafraid of emotional texture, Mr. Ratmansky also seems to have tapped into a subtly different approach to muscularity and weight in ballet, in which the arcs, not the aggressive edges, give way to a full-bodied accentuation".

Gia Kourlas

Dancing in the first night performances are: Svetlana Zakharova, Anastasia Goryacheva, Yekaterina Shipulina, Natalia Osipova, Yekaterina Krysanova, Nelli Kobakhidze, Anna Nikulina, Anna Rebetskaya, Anastasia Meskova, Anastasia Stashkevich, Chinara Alizade; Andrei Merkuriev, Alexander Volchkov, Artem Yachmennikov, Vyacheslav Lopatin, Denis Savin, Alexander Vodopetov, Pavel Dmitrichenko, Alexei Matrakhov, Dmitry Zagrebin, Vladislav Lantratov, Igor Tsvirko, Alexei Koryagin. The ballet is conducted by Igor Dronov. The soprano part is taken  by Yana Ivanilova and Yekaterina Kichigina.

This evening of premieres, which includes an example of brilliant 19th century classical ballet without a storyline and an early 21st century work, Russian in spirit with several hints at a story, is logically brought to an end by a great neoclassical ballet of the 20th century - Symphony in C, George Balanchine's unsurpassed masterpiece created as a celebration of classical dance by a choreographer who, as is well known, considered that the dance of men and women has the makings in itself of a good story for a small ballet.

The first night series of performances are on November 15, 16 and 17, 2008.