PLOT: MELODRAMA TO THE MAX
Perhaps it is time to pull-out that yellowed Beaumont tome? Every bit of the tale has been maintained in this revival. This translates to a rather complex plot, necessitating clear miming skills in the dancer-actors.
The ballet is set in the French-occupied Zaragoza, Spain, during the era of Napoleon and Goya It is the story of a young noblegirl, Paquita, who was reared by gypsies after her family was killed in a massacre. Now a beautiful woman, she is living under the thumb of a Macho-Gypsy Chief named Inigo. She falls in love with a French nobleman, Lucien, whose entourage stops at the Gypsy Camp for a rest (setting of Act I)...much like the nobles stop for refreshment and entertainment by Giselle's cottage in some other ballet...a great excuse for dancing! But, alas, Lucien has just become betrothed to a Spanish noblewoman, Dona Serafina, through a diplomatic marriage of convenience. However, Serafina's father is not enthused about his daughter having to marry a French Invader (Have I lost you yet?) . Macho-Gypsy Inigo, suspecting future hanky-panky between his Slave (Paquita) and Lucien, is all-too-willing to assist Serafina's dad in assassinating Lucien. The plot thickens.
Act I, scene ii is almost all mime. It is set in the living room in the house of Inigo & Paquita. A big fireplace dominates the back wall. This 'gypsy hut' has Moorish high ceilings akin to the Grand Mosque in Córdova. (Gypsies obviously lived very well in 19th-century Spain!) Paquita overhears the plotters in their dastardly scheming - Lucien will be arriving for dinner, upon which he will be drugged to unconsciousness, then stabbed. Plot is averted as Paquita warns Lucien in the nick-of-time and they escape the house through a neat bit of stage trickery...which I won't reveal here.
Act II - the final act - is all set in the grand arcaded ballroom of the French Governor of Zaragoza. Celebrations for the wedding of Lucien and the Spanish senorita are under way, Lucien & Paquita run in breathlessly. Lucien proposes to Paquita who, in her simple gypsy dress, is embarrassed to be in the midst of such luxury and must refuse. Then - lo! - she bumps into a portrait on an easel....which looks just like the picture of her long-lost daddy, which she carries in her locket. Yes - it is the same man. She is truly a noblewoman! Hoorah --she can marry Lucien after all! Hoorah - the wedding dress, which just happens on a mannequin in the middle of the ballroom, fits her! Hoorah - we can have a Pas de Deux and Grand Pas Classique!!!
DESIGNS FIT FOR AN EMPEROR
OK - you can breathe a sigh of relief. PAQUITA has not been set in a minimalist spaceship or in a drug addict's tenement. My utter frustration with John Neumeier's SYLVIA or Eks' SLEEPING BEAUTY would not be repeated on this Parisian vacation! The moment that the curtain went up on designer Luisa Spinatelli's realistic canyon in the Spanish hills, I knew that all would be well. And Spinatelli's costumes were stunning - simply stunning. Act I featured rows of corps ladies in multi-tiered Cachucha-like red skirts, with flounces of gold, copper or black lace. Other ladies wore romanticized, pastel-toned 'fantasies on a Tziganesque theme.' Delectable, platter-skirted classical tutus take over in the Act I pas de trois & Act II grand pas classique.
Philippe Albaric's lighting added greatly to the dramatic effectiveness of the work.
My #1 Favorite Scenic Moment: the start of the Grand Pas Classique in Act II, when the back-curtain goes up to reveal Paquita & Lucien walking down the most splendid staircase in balletdom, complete with lion-headed banisters. Now THIS is the stuff of which Grand Ballet is made!
MUSIC TO MAKE ONE WHISTLE WITH GLEE
Kudos to the evening's conductor, David Coleman, who elicited heavenly playing from the POB's resident orchestra, the Orchestre Colonne. Mr. Coleman was also tasked with reviving and arranging the tuneful score by Edouard Deldevez, with additions by Ludwig Minkus from the 1881 Russian production. Coleman maintained most of the original score and, when necessary, provided orchestrations that are true to the style of the period, rather than resorting to the modern practice of over-sweetening ballet scores to the point of saccharine disgust. (Take note, Mr. Lanchbery.)
Interesting Aside for Ballet-Music Enthusiasts: During the course of his musical research, Mr. Coleman discovered that the 'Golden Pas de Trois' music - heretofore attributed totally to Minkus, was not so. Only the coda, with its galloping airs, is by Minkus. The entrée and both female variations are by Deldevez. The male variation is from Adolphe Adam's score to DIABLE á QUATRE..which ABT fans fondly remember as Mikhail Baryshnikov's "goblet variation" in his version of DON QUIXOTE!
AH...AND THE DANCING!!!
I'm leaving the best for last. The dancing? SPECTACULAR, as one can only expect from - perhaps - the finest ballet troupe in existence at the moment, the Paris Opera Ballet.
Paquita on both evenings: Marie-Agnes Gillot displayed a remarkable versatility in dancing the title role. A very tall and large-framed dancer, albeit rail-thin, Gillot was unexpectedly adept in most of the terre-a-terre, petite-batterie dancing in Act I. Such fleet-footed dancing is normally the domain of shorter ballerinas, such as Clairemarie Osta (who danced the premiere on January 25), but Gillot did quite well, with exception of one small falter on her first evening. Her mime was clear and comic in all the right places. Gillot was in her queenly element in Act II, especially in the gazelle-like grands jetes that commence her solo. In the coda, her fouettes were spot-on and included multiple doubles.
Lucien d'Hervilly: Jean-Guillaume Bart and Jose Martinez. The handsome & statuesque Bart was a revelation to me, due to his elegance & perfect partnering of the queenly Gillot. The very thin but powerful Martinez had a bit a trouble in lifting Gillot but he was his magnificent, high-flying self in his solos.
Soloists in the 'Golden Pas de Trois' for two women & one man: The men did it for me! Both men who I saw in this role left me in wide-eyed wonder. On the 26th, it was the airiness and elegance of Jeremie Belingard; on the 27th, the in-your-face dynamism of Emmanuel Thibault (one of the all-time great Bluebirds at the POB, by the way). Among the four soloist ladies whom I saw in this work, over the course of the two nights, Clairemarie Osta and Fanny Fiat (on the 27th) were far and away the best.
Grand Pas Classique soloists: In this original version of the Grand Pas, unlike the Russian "multiple soloists" version, only Paquita & Lucien dance solos. Nonetheless, the corps of Spanish senoritas includes parts for six demi-soloist girls who appear in pairs (as in the Russian and ABT versions). I was particularly impressed by the long line, stretch & elegance of Geraldine Wiart in the second pair.
Other soloists: In the role of Inigo (Macho-Gypsy), both Yann Saiz and Karl Paquette danced with the appropriate degree of dastardly abandon. The exotic, raven-haired Isabelle Ciaravola was a gorgeous-looking Dona Serafina on the 27th and left me wanting to see wore of her dancing.
Children's Corps: Alas, this is where this production's quality wanes notably. Why the POB chose to use the youngest of students-aged 9 and 10-is beyond me. The stately 'Children's Polonaise & Mazurka" in the ballroom scene is supposed to reflection a 'nobility in miniature,' as we are used to seeing at the Vaganova Academy/Kirov-Mariinsky in Russia...and even in the Kirov Academy of Washington, DC. Instead of nobles, the POB children galumphed like peasants at a hoedown.
Adult Corps: Exquisite, especially in the Grand Pas Classique. The POB corps of ladies is the only one on earth, in my opinion, to rival the Kirov-Mariinsky's. The men were also quite wonderful, although the Toreadors in Act I were not quite 'in synch.'
Special Post-Varna IBC note: How nice to spot the POB's 2000 Varna IBC competitors, Jean-Sebastien Colau, and Julianne Mathis, among the dancers. Bravi to both!
FINALLY...THE IRONY OF IT ALL
The POB PAQUITA is a balletic event made in heaven. We who prefer our favorite art "straight-up and classical" can smile and know that conservative splendor continues to flourish in the world of ballet, at the dawn of the new millennium. How ironic that, as an American, living relatively close to the purported "World Capital of Ballet - New York," I must usually - not always -- travel beyond my shores to satisfy my hunger for old-fashioned ballet of the purest form, danced in luxurious settings. All I can say is, "Lord, keep the airline prices from going up much further, so that I can continue to enjoy the best that European ballet has to offer!"
Washington, DC, USA