PARIS OPERA BALLET.
Although Joseph Mazilier originally choreographed Paquita in Paris in 1846, the Paquita that we generally see these days has very little in common with its origins. The ballet was judged too difficult by the dancers of the time, and by 1851, it was dropped from the Paris Opera Ballet repertoire. It subsequently moved to St. Petersburg, where in 1881, Marius Petipa pushed the ballet to a greater, more complicated level. Petipa's grand pas and the pas de trois have, until now, been the ballet's only surviving moments.
All that changed when, in February, the Paris Opera Ballet opened the new year with the full version of Paquita as imagined by both Mazilier and Petipa. This extraordinary event was inspired by POB Artistic Director Brigitte Lefevre, while the indefatigable Pierre Lacotte undertook restoration work.
What spectators discovered and rediscovered was a fresh and lively interpretation of this timeless love story between a seductive young gypsy and a French officer. From the choreography to the magnificently glittering costumes designed by Luisa Spinatelli, this full-length nineteenth-century ballet was immensely beautiful, bringing both a new shine to an old jewel and revealing the young talents blossoming in the halls of the Palais Gamier.
With the help of Lubov Egorova, whose memory of dancing Paquita under Petipa's direction from 1900 to 1910 was the first source of information, Lacotte, 69, set off on his fact-finding mission like a modern-day sleuth. Both oral recollections and written documents were helpful, but it was during a trip to Germany that the detective struck gold. There he discovered a copy of the original choreography as imagined by Mazilier, explaining the production's staging, its inventive array of pantomimes, as well as two additional variations.
For Lacotte, a former POB first soloist known for his revivals of such classics as La Sylphide and Giselle, recreating a historical piece implies respecting and adapting the original steps in order to avoid creating a kitsch stereotype. "If we were to see dancers performing deboules on demi-pointes as in the past," he said, "we would be shocked!"
As a result of his research, Lacotte's version, as historically accurate as possible, was fast, airborne, and tastefully adapted. Not only did the argument remain authentic, but the choreography revealed a distinctively modern Lacotte touch.
Lacotte's enthusiasm was evidently contagious as dancers jumped at the chance to participate in this momentous revival. Over the course of two weeks, four pairs of soloists shared the roles of the enchanting Paquita and the audacious Lucien d'Hervilly. They included etoiles Agnes Letestu and Aurelie Dupont, and the spritely and dynamic first soloists Marie Agnes Gillot and Clairemarie Osta, both of whom are destined to enjoy a promotion to etoile.
They were brilliantly partnered by etoiles Manuel Legris, Jose Martinez, and Jean-Guillaume Bart, with a surprise appearance by the little-known 26-year-old second soloist Jeremie Belingard who, on February 21, was rewarded for his talent with a well-deserved promotion to first soloist.
The POB dancers appeared simply blissful as they skillfully performed this lighthearted but technically challenging ballet. They included sixteen endearing young students from the ballet school whose gracious performance of the Polish interlude was delightful. At times comic, with a heavy emphasis on miming, theatrical gestures, and quick foot-work, this re-worked Paquita was a feast for the eyes, turning this nineteenth-century ballet into a twenty-first-century masterpiece.