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Pharaoh's Daughter at the Met

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Actually, it was better! Very stylistically coherent (no bombastic jumps for the men, just lots and lots of beats and petit allegro), understated and beautiful sets and costumes and some absolutely gorgeous choreography for the women. It was very interesting to see it in terms of what Petipa did later--Aspacia's slave acted as a sort of a Lilac Fairy keeping them apart, charming children's dances, a wonderful vision scene (underneath the Nile), nice peasants doing nice dancing. The story doesn't have much resonance, like the later Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty, but it has enough to hang the dancing on. The main problem was the music, which had lots of rhythm, but made me long for Minkus.

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I think that the only people who will be complaining will be those who expected it to be something that it never was and never will be. There isn't the choreographic equivalent of a "Kingdom of the Shades" or "Swan Lake Act II" in this work and at the time that it was made and for the audience it was entertaining, no such thing was expected or desired. The piece is purely an exotic entertainment to give sensual pleasure. No profundity is really discernable in the story line or in Pugni's very danceable but routine music. Pugni's score doesn't really use any faux-Egyptian motif's unlike Verdi's "Aida" (some of the sets of which were recycled in the original production).

Lacotte has a profound and fluent command of 19th century classical style. The stage patterns and combinations were very convincingly 19th century. Of course it was uneven in style as it probably was by the end of the 19th century when dozens of ballerinas of different techniques and types had done Aspicia and had Petipa refashion the choreography for them. The proponderence of petit batterie and smaller taqueté steps with the ballerina and her partner performing the same steps side by side reminded me of Bournonville (who influence was early Romantic French style). This was then juxtaposed with fouettés, multiple pirouettes and jetés reflecting the virtuosity imported by the italian ballerinas in their blocked shoes after 1868 or so. If there was a stylistic patchwork going on here it probably mirrors what Petipa's choreography looked like by the time Kschessinskaya was dancing Aspicia in the 1890's and early 1900's. I noticed that the real Petipa (Ramseya's solo and the river variations) fit very well with Lacotte's ersatz material. Of course Nikolai Tsiskaridze danced a lot more and with a higher level of technique than what Marius Petipa was capable of when he created Ta-Hor/Wilson. Given that a lot of Petipa has come down to us in revised, updated and diluted form, this evocation looked more consistently authentic than some recensions of "Sleeping Beauty" "La Bayadere" and "Swan Lake".

Lacotte has cut a lot of mime scenes and processions and rid the stage of some of the bric-a-brac and clutter that you see in those St. Petersburg postcards of the ballet Robert Greskovic has shared with us so generously. The show moves well and the sets are drops and scrims that are colorful but don't encroach on the dancer's space. The lion was distinctly immobile and ineffective and the monkey was dispatched before Aspicia could waken and shoot at him with her arrow but the giant cobra in the urn has a stellar future with the Bolshoi. He (or she?) showed distinct charisma and dramatic flair. The politically incorrect portrayal of blackface savage "nubians" was another authentic touch. However the King of the Nubians looked more arabic than african.

The dancing was wonderful throughout despite some congestion in the corps (due to lack of experience on the Met stage). Natalia Osipova danced the first variation in the Pas D'Action in the second act.

This is a very fun show and a must-see. I loved an old-fashioned overstuffed "La Bayadere" dead parrots on a stick and all. So naturally I was in hog heaven for the entire evening.

The only sad feeling I had was that if this project had been done 30 or 40 years ago many dancers who danced the original Petipa choreography could have reconstructed it authentically. Karsavina, Preobrazhenskaya, Egorova and Kschessinskaya all lived well into their 80's and 90's and were alive and active into the 1960's. They certainly could have given us back Petipa's breakthrough early masterwork.

John Rockwell in the NY Times (who I read after I wrote this) is pretty much on the same page with me (for whatever that is worth - Anna Kisselgoff was there last night too by report - I wonder what she thought).

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How much of the production is verifiably Petipa?

Three of the five River Variations are reconstructed by Doug Fullington from the Sergeyev collection at the Harvard Theatre Archive. Ramseya's toe-tapping solo in the second act was taught to Lacotte by Lubov Egorova in the 1950's. That's it for authentic Petipa.

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The "white" act is the "under the sea" section of Act III. It, together with the fishing village that precedes it immediately, are absolute gems. :)

I am most eager to see it with someone other than Zakharova, whose "into the future" style seems bizarrely incompatible with this particular work.

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Originally, Lacotte did not use any of the river variations I reconstructed. Maybe he has since inserted them? He had made use of two female variations (making one a duet) and a male variation (adding a double tour at the end) in the large palace scene.

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I am 100 % with cargill & FauxPas on The Pharaoh’s daughter. In a similar vein as The Bright Stream, it’s not profound and there are no iconic images that will live on in my mind, but boy was it fun. Also sumptuous, and a wonderful vehicle to display the talents of the Bolshoi’s entire company - principals,soloists and corps all got a chance to shine, and once again to show us just how good they are at character work. I’m not taking about character dancing here (which they were also great at), but about how everyone got into the skins of their characters, down to each dancer in the line of purple haired ladies of the egyptian court.

There were small things to quibble about, but there was much more good than bad. I admire Lacotte’s work here, especially the way he used the corps, but he’s no Petipa. How well the novelties worked depended on where you sat - the bits with the lion & the snake were lost from the sides. Also, while I loved the Bolshoi’s ballerinas, I am still much less impressed with the men. Individually, there were some good performances but the only one I saw who IMO could stand with the great men of ABT was Tsiskaridze - and he didn’t really have that much to do. Neither of his roles in Bright Stream & Pharaoh’s Daughter really gave him a chance to do much virtuoso dancing. I mean, I guess BS did, but it was all in the guise of La Sylphide, and in PD it was mostly batterie & petit allegro, very little in the way of traditional male solo variations. What he did, he did well. He is a very charismatic dancer, with powerful, explosive legs and a very expressive line. I’d love to see him in Spectre de la Rose. He’s also a fairly big man compared to most of the Bolshoi men these days, even the tall ones seem pretty spindly.

Another thing I found puzzling about the Bolshoi is how many partnering problems I saw over the course of the engagement. I’m hardly ever aware of things like that, but this time they were the norm rather than the exception. I didn’t see any problems with Tsiskaridse & Zakharova, but on Friday night Alexandrova literally slid down from Gudanov’s shoulder when they were going for that big standing lift in the last act of PD (come to think of it, Klevtsov couldn’t hold her in the 1 arm lift in DQ, either. Instead of lifting her in place, he took many steps back, trying to keep her up there. And Shipolina didn’t actually fall, but didn’t quite make it up into a lift with Uvarov in DQ - might have been the same lift). I was thinking, ok, there are a lot of difficult, complicated lifts in these productions, and Alexandrova & Shipulina are pretty big for ballerinas. Plus the absence of Filin and Belogolovtsev probably resulted in some unfamiliar pairings... but Lunkina doesn't look like a particularly tall dancer, and although there weren’t any problems in her lifts with Neporozny, she had trouble with 2 lifts with some of the supporting men. At the end of the second act pas d’ action the 2 men are kind of down on all fours, and she is supposed to sit between them & they lift her up for the finale. It just didn’t happen. She backed in, they started to lift and she just walked out of it and posed standing on the floor. There was a similar sort of moment during her underwater scene. I think it was when her cavaliers were turning her on point - I’m not sure, but she clearly just came off point & walked out of it. Don’t know what was going on there, but that sort of thing has happened a lot during the engagement, and it’s seemed strange.

On the other hand, Lunkina was a wonderful contrast to Zakharova & Alexandrova in Pharaohs Daughter. I have nothing bad to say about either of those dancers, I loved them both, but they both portrayed Aspicia as a powerful, proud, royal woman, kind of in the Gamzetti mode (only nice!). Lunkina’s Aspicia was sweet and very girlish, and her third act underwater scene was ravishing. I don’t think I took a breath from the moment she arrived under water until the Nile god sent her back up again. What a gorgeous romantic ballerina! I had only seen her once before this engagement, at the 21st Century Gala earlier this year, and I wasn’t that impressed with her. I liked her a lot in the Bright Stream, but her performance on Saturday completely won me over. For me, she is exactly what a ballerina should be - gifted with a well proportioned body (no impossibly long arms & legs), a harmonious line, strong technique, beautiful epaulment, and that indescribable something extra. Flow? Phrasing? Magic? I don't know how to decribe her qualities, I just know that I immediately became unbelievably envious of everyone who saw her in Giselle the last time the Bolshoi was here. I hope she comes back and dances some of the classics in NY soon, in addition to Giselle I'd love to see her Aurora and Les Sylphides.

Whether Petipa or Lacotte, the 3 river dances were wonderful, and beautifully done. I first noticed Ekatarina Krysanova and Olga Stebletsova when the Bolshoi was in Boston last year. Krysanova was delightful again here in the first river variation, the one with the spanish flavor. Shipulina’s dancing was sweeping, and so large in scope in the second variation, and Stebletsova looked like a Lunkina in the making in the romantic third variation. QUESTION TO BOLSHOI WATCHERS - each time I have seen their Don Q Stebletsova & Anna Rebetskaya have been Kitri’s 2 friends (the girls in the yellow & orangish tutus), but I’ve never been able to tell them apart - can anyone help me with that?

To sum up the season - I really enjoyed it. I heard a lot of rumbling in the lobby that "the Bolshoi is not what they used to be” - and clearly they’re not, but they are still something very special. I certainly wouldn’t complain if Lunkina, Zakharova, Alexandrova, Shipulina, Antonicheva or Tsiskaridze were to turn up guesting with ABT next year. On second thought, ABT has enough tall ballerinas on their roster already, maybe just Lunkina & Tsiskaridze...Mr. McKenzie, are you listening?

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I'm not sure if it would be possible to stage the entire ballet. I haven't looked at the notation for all of it for about 7 years. When I worked for Lacotte, I only had notation for what he wanted me to reconstruct. What I had was mostly legs and feet with ground plan. Certainly you can work with that, but upper body and port de bras will be editorial.

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Previous posters have given a good idea of what the ballet was like. Unfortunately, I myself didn't enjoy it very much. Earlier in the season I saw the Bocca/Corella/Carreno/Kent/Reyes Corsaire, an evening of possibly historic bravura dancing that was often gasp-inducing. I couldn't help but enjoy myself on that occasion—you'd have to be near-dead not to—but throughout I had the uncomfortable feeling the whole thing was a bit cheap, a bit of pandering to the lowest common denominator, a cynical cash-grab, ballet as circus. After all, it is a Very Silly Ballet, but we enjoy it for what it is. The "fun if you don't take it seriously" argument again.

Pharoah's Daughter is even more of a VSB. All the worst ballet chestnuts and some I've never seen before: deadly snakes and lions, all of the stuffed variety, children prancing around in blackface, a dancer in a monkey-suit swinging onstage on a vine (if we're taking this the least bit seriously, I have to say the bears fielded by ABT in Petrouchka were far more endearing and convincing), continuous if not gratuitous set and costume changes, from mummy wrapping to tutu to nightgown ad infinitum, a foppish Englishman transformed into a curiously-neutered Egyptian youth in the course of a drug-induced hallucination... yes, I'm spoiling the fun and raining on the parade, but this was starting to feel like a politically incorrect Disney musical with better dancing.

I might be able to suspend disbelief and accept all this if it were a genuine artifact instead of a recreation. I don't have a problem with how Pierre Lacotte resurrected this, I have a problem with why he did it. Maybe this ballet didn't last because it didn't deserve to. Choreography aside, it was a cardboard drama. Aspicia and Ta-Hor "fell in love at first sight," but there was never really a moment where I saw this happen, and their relationship remained unconvincing. I started to empathize with Fokine and Balanchine, who decided they could better what had come before. I'm just afraid ballet has entered a decadent, postmodern phase of sophisticated self-parody. Doesn't it deserve to be taken seriously?

Phew, sorry. Off the soapbox. I'll need another post to discuss the dancing!

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There's a new review that dirac just posted in links. One of the things the reviewer says is that Lacotte's version is "better than the original," a remark I find absurd considering that he hasn't seen the original (and based on what I've seen of Lacotte's other work, I have a tough time swallowing the idea that his best is better than Petipa's worst). The reviewer also claims that Petipa reached his choreographic "acme" with Raymonda. Of course if he happens to like Raymonda, that's fine, but to flat-out state that it's Petipa's best ballet (perhaps it was his most popular in its day?)...well, I don't think I'll be paying much attention to his reviews in the future.

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I heard a lot of rumbling in the lobby that "the Bolshoi is not what they used to be” -

When were they ever --'what they used to be'? I saw them on their first visit to NY in '56 and was fed all the propaganda of how great the Company was ---"Our ballerinas would have been lucky to be in the Bolshoi corps, etc., etc." At the time we had the same comments I am hearing on this thread---the principals are great, But.....I did not see them this season (my one-person strike about the high prices), but in that first NY season there looked like there was a lot of dead-wood in the Company,--is that true today? But I suppose the stars still have it---on one of their visits I saw Vasiliev and Besmertnova (the only role I liked her in) in Spartacus--and I must admit they were fabulous, but the ballet was not to my taste.

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I would correct that "better than the original" to probably say "no better than the original" because the Pugni music and the over-the-top Jon Hall/Maria Montez story are common to both. I think that the complaints about campy exoticism, lack of dramatic depth and musical quality would be common to any version using that libretto and score.

As for the choreography, I think that Aspicia's role changed with every ballerina who danced it and many famous ones did. Cyril Beaumont in his "Book of the Ballets" has a chapter on "Fille du Pharaon" with description from various balletomanes of the different ballerinas who danced the role. Carolina Rosati was 36 years old, had a bad foot and was closing out her career when she danced it at her farewell benefit in 1862. She evidently was very grand and impressive in her mime but the dancing wasn't what it was during her 1840's heyday in Paris. Henriette D'Or (Viennese of French extraction) played a princess who loved totally with abandon and she had a brilliant allegro technique. Virginia Zucchi could terrify the viewer with her fear at a stage lion that should have made her laugh. Zucchi wasn't young when she danced in St. Petersburg and her technique wasn't on D'Or's or Kschessinskaya's level. Other ballerinas who danced it were Ekaterina Vazem, Marie S. Petipa (wife of M.P.) and Marie M. Petipa (daughter of M.P. who cut all the classical variations). Kschessinskaya had sole ownership of the role after 1900 and her version would have been the one to survive had it been better notated and kept in the repertory. All of these ballerinas had very different looks and body types and techniques. All of them probably danced their own version of the choreography. Petipa probably wasn't afraid to change or replace some things that were too naive or old-fashioned or didn't reflect his development as a choreographer.

That is why I wasn't bothered by fouettes in one of Aspicia's variations and Romantic steps in another because the choreography probably was pretty hybrid by the end of the 19th century. However, the piece was meant to entertain and amaze with exoticism, pageantry and melodramatics. It is there. Either you can enjoy that in ballet or you feel it cheapens and degrades what should be a purer aesthetic experience. That is why I think we have this division of opinion about the merits of the work.

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There's a new review that dirac just posted in links.  One of the things the reviewer says is that Lacotte's version is "better than the original," a remark I find absurd considering that he hasn't seen the original (and based on what I've seen of Lacotte's other work, I have a tough time swallowing the idea that his best is better than Petipa's worst).

I just returned to this thread after reading Clive Barnes's column (Dance, November 2005) on resurrected classical ballets. Whether or not you agree with Barnes, I love the sting in this comment:


"Both [the ROB/ABT revival of Ashton's] Sylvia and [suzanne Farrell's reconstruction of] Don Quixote aimed at authentic facsimiles of their first versions, rather than any subsequent revisions. Authenticity is a word that seems to stick inthe craw of any Russian company. It comes as no suprise that Pierre Lacotte (a choreographere of many steps but no phrases who specializes in pallid 19th-centuryh pastiches) decided with his Bolshoi version of the Petipa/Pugni The Pharaoh's Daugher to ignore the Stepanov notation of Petipa's choreography in the Harvard Collection, and to choreograph and design a completely 'new' version of his own. Presumably he thought he knew better than Petipa. The resultant tasteless farrago demonstrates that he did not."

On the other hand, Barnes loved the Ratmansky "Bright Stream": QUOTE: "the Bolshoi's new artistic director has choreographed a beautifully satirical comedy, funny in itself, and also helped by Boris Messerer's spot-on period designs... Way to go! If you can't be authentaic, at least be imaginative."

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OH GOD, here we go

why in the **** does ballet always have to be this big ole thing that is filled with all this meaning? If a ballet has foutees and big jumps in one section and then petite allegro in another, why is it all of the sudden 2 different styles? Why cant it all just be BALLET....end of story?

DAUGHTER is a GREAT ballet.....the Act I opening dances of the Huntresses are Grrrrrrr8 to the schmoltzy music of Pugni.......the adagio when Taor 1st meets Aspicia as well as the 3 variations that follow, again to that rum-ti-tum music of Pugni. I LOVE the Act II Grand Pas - I think its the best part of the whole ballet - a true Danse d'ecole, and of course the underwater scene. And lets not leave out the scene of the slave getting condemed by the snake....100% politically incorrect!

Cant we just have fun? What would you rather have....Giselle? Some viliage girl who goes postal when she finds out her boyfriend is really a prince betrothed to some snotty royal lady? Hey if he didnt really like her he wouldnt have been there in the 1st place, Im pretty sure that he wasnt using her for.................Compared to that the plot of DAUGHTER is equally ridiculous.......BUT, who cares?

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OH GOD, here we go

why in the **** does ballet always have to be this big ole thing that is filled with all this meaning? If a ballet has foutees and big jumps in one section and then petite allegro in another, why is it all of the sudden 2 different styles? Why cant it all just be BALLET....end of story?

It's usually so that the ballerina has proven that she has mastery over everything: jumps, turns, petit allegro, grand allegro, adagio, etc. Otherwise she'd be a soubrette or a Romantic heroine.

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Does Nikolai Tsiskaridze seem to have recovered entirely from his horrific injury and operation? Of course, it may be hard to judge from seeing him in Pharao's Daughter, as he doesn't really do anything in the way of grand leaps. And by the way, I also consider the underwater scene to be a gem of a piece of choreography. But that huge snake... :unsure:

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Does Nikolai Tsiskaridze seem to have recovered entirely from his horrific injury and operation? Of course, it may be hard to judge from seeing him in Pharao's Daughter, as he doesn't really do anything in the way of grand leaps. And by the way, I also consider the underwater scene to be a gem of a piece of choreography. But that huge snake...  :unsure:

Hi Ostrich,

I'd never seen Tsiskaridze before the Met engagement, and neither Pharaoh's Daughter nor Bright Stream really provided a good basis to judge his technical abilities, esp with regard to grand leaps. He was impressive in his stage presence & the expansive nature of his dancing, but I would love to have seen him in DonQ or in Spartacus. Perhaps the fact that he wasn't cast in either of those productions indicates that he's not 100% recovered, or perhaps they're just not in his repertoire. I don't know. In any case he was my favorite among the men the Bolshoi brought to NY and I look forward to seeing him in the Ardani "Kings of Dance" program in February.

And I agree, I loved the underwater scene in Pharaohs daughter - all 3 "lake" variations were wonderful & Lunkina was luminous in it. I really enjoyed the whole ballet on it's own terms. Not a classic for the ages but a wonderful spectacle & an enjoyable evening's entertainment.


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As far as I know, neither Spartacus nor Don Quixote are in Tsiskaridze's repertoire, but it does seem strange that they didn't give him a chance to show his full ability. Wasn't "Queen of Spades" originally scheduled to be performed? That would have been "his ballet" and one in which I am sure it would be fascinating to see him. I am delighted to hear about Lunkina again. I saw her only once, in Giselle, but she stole my heart completely! She has an exquisitely loving quality in her dancing.

I WISH I could see Kings of the Dance - at least on video! However, I wonder whether it really is such a good idea. However, this is off-topic and I'd better post my concerns about it in a separate topic.

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You are right, Ostrich, Tsiskaridze never danced leads in "Don Q." or "Spartacus" - not because “they didn't give him a chance” but because he never felt any affinity with the role of Basil as he explained in his interviews. When he was still a young soloist, he danced the comic giga (or gigue) in Don Q. and was so hilarious there.

The role of a rebellious slave Spartacus would hardly suit him. He said more than once that he would have loved to dance Crassus but did not want to compete with the role created by the late Maris Liepa. He even asked Grigorovich to change the role slightly to suite his own personality. May be we will be lucky to see it one day.

You are so right in saying that “The Queen of Spades” is ‘his ballet’. I can not regret more that this outstanding, in my opinion, production created in October 2001, exactly four years ago, has not been seen in the West until now. It was scheduled for the Bolshoi’s season at Opera de Paris in January 2004 and was cancelled due to Tsiskaridze’s severe injury 3 months earlier. The same reason did not allow to include this ballet in the Bolshoi’s repertoire at Covent Garden in summer 2004. Then we saw that impresarios in the USA did not invite it; the same will happen this summer when the Bolshoi tours four English cities for almost four weeks. When talking to some impresarios I learned that they are not prepared to show new ballets and feel safer with such titles as “Swan Lake” or “Nutcracker”.

I came back home from Moscow yesterday after a most amazing ballet week at the Bolshoi (“Le Dieu blue” with Tsiskaridze and Liepa and the Kremlin Ballet was another bonus) and saw “The Q. of Spades” on the 26 of October. Nikolai and Ilse in this production remain as powerful as ever. Moreover, Nikolai’s portrayal of Hermann matured and deepened. The audience watched this ballet with bated breath and the applause was absolutely unanimous and overwhelming (which is not very typical of Russian audiences where certain types of spectators don’t bother to clap at all).

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