Saw this ballet for the first time on January 19th of this year at OC’s Segerstrom Center … and was unexpectedly sparked to write about it.
Fashioned on a mock tale of romance, greed, foolishness and mischief, this ballet brings us into the bygone era of comedic theatre accompanied by music and stylised dance.
With the character of a court Jester in the lead, we are invited to travel into the realm of the magical and mystical where all is possible.
The unlikely hero is not only colorful in costume, but reveals the tone of this production, which is painted if not saturated with humor, satire, and whimsicality.
The Jester as well as other roles in this ballet are modeled after stage archetypes seen in the beginnings of professional Italian theatre, called Commedia dell’arte, no doubt serving as the palette for the creative genius of Marius Petipa, who originally choreographed the ballet in 1900.
The costuming is exquisitely executed by uber-talented Robert Perdziola who has been creating costumes and set design for over three decades – and this guy gets around! Case in point, Perdziola designed the sets and costumes for the Finnish National Ballet’s Alice in Wonderland (2016 premiere).
But why am I really inspired to write about this ballet?
A Higher Beauty
Apart from the more obvious facets including the remarkable craftsmanship of costuming, set design, storytelling and choreography – the latter having been profoundly described as the art of giving physical form to music – apart from all this, I am astounded by yet another composition showcasing an artform that in itself is an instrument for elevating the consciousness of mankind.
A ballet production integrates in itself the highest artforms, with music and classical dance at its core.
The artform of classical dance (aka, ballet) is by definition an artform of highest integrity, as it requires its practitioner to integrate all the separate parts of the body into one harmonious, working unit, a unit which becomes an instrument capable of channeling and thereby physically expressing higher beauty.
Higher beauty, is in turn evoked through the harmony of working parts acting as one unified whole.
Bringing it back to the performance, what caught my eye most was the children’s numbers in Harlequinade.
It is an exceptional sight to see some-30 youngsters on a stage in an organized, uniform manner, each member holding his or her own, whilst contributing to the beautiful aesthetic exuded by the group.
This was seeing the integrity of ballet on a collective scale and beyond words.
As our in-the-know ballet lecturer Elizabeth Kaye informed us, we were about to see the revival of a classic masterpiece with its face-lift from none other than ABT’s artist-in-residence and today’s IT-boy choreographer, Alexei Ratmansky.
It is no small task to preserve the integrity of the original whilst filling in the holes and gaps lost in time and giving it new life. Thus Ms. Kaye revealed to us before the show that Alexei Ratmansky and his wife devoted a great amount of time to meticulously combing through Petipa’s original notes in an effort to keep the master’s work in tact amidst the restoration process.
The notably accomplished choreographer, artistic director, former Bolshoi principal dancer and good friend of George Balanchine, Pyotr Andreyevich Gusev teaches at Novosibirsk Theater (circa 1960s—70s)
Ratmansky is not the first to restage this classic work.
Once again our dear ballet friend Anna comes through, sending a commentary by a distinguished ballet figure who shines some light on the subject!
In his article, Preserving Masterpieces of the Past (from the Journal of Soviet Ballet, 1983, №4), the Ballet Master Pyotr Gusev tells us that Harlequinade fell out of the Mariinsky/ Kirov Theatre repertoire in 1923, with its first reconstruction some 38 years later in 1961 for the Novosibirsk Theatre.
The 1963 debut planned at Novosibirsk never took place, and three years later work resumed on the project.
“The restoration of a ballet production or its choreography – is always a collective project,” Gusev emphasizes.
The Ballet Master recounts how in 1961, the oldest surviving performer in the main role of Harlequin, B. Shavrov, headed up a large group of veteran dancers, gathering old performers from every role all the way to the corps de ballet (with the exception of Lèandre, as no living dancers of this role remained). In 1963, Shavrov finished compiling all the materials, but as mentioned the production did not take place.
In evidence to the complexity of the process, Gusev also mentions that the stage settings or “tableaus”, were only partially recovered and more difficult to restore than the choreography.
In 1975, after further remastery, the ballet was relocated to the Leningrad Maly (Small) Theatre of Opera & Ballet, aka, Mikhailovsky Theatre where it continued its rehab process.
Surviving an arduous transformative journey Harlequinade retains the essence of its identity, delighting audiences anew while connecting past and present as only the thread of timeless art can do.