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Ole, Monsieur Lacotte! Paris PAQUITA, 1/27 & 28

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Olé, Monsieur Lacotte!

Review and Commentary of the Paris Opera Ballet's PAQUITA

January 26 & 27, 2001

Balletomanes from near and far gathered in the gold-encrusted auditorium of the Paris Opera House-Garnier to witness the first performances of the full-length ballet PAQUITA in almost one hundred years. Through the wizardry of master-choreographer Pierre Lacotte, the Paris Opera Ballet's dancers were about to breathe life into the characters of Paquita, Lucien, and their confreres, just as the Bolshoi Ballet did with the Ancient Egyptians, eight months earlier. And the results? C'est vraiment magnifique! Yet another historic, full-evening ballet is no longer relegated to the tattered pages of Cyril Beaumont's "Complete Book of Ballets" but, rather, has taken on a three-dimensional form within luxuriously realistic designs, set to tuneful waltzes and jotas. PAQUITA lives and dances!


Pierre Lacotte is not, nor does he claim to be, a dance notation decipherer. Rather, he is a choreographer in his own right, who fully understands and-more importantly-adores the 19th-century manner of dancing. He lives and breathes the enchainements of the Franco-Romantic and Russo-Classical styles. Could he be the spiritual cousin of the choreographer of the original 1846 Paris production, Joseph Mazilier? Or is he the great-grandson of Marius Petipa, who restaged the work for St. Petersburg in 1881, adding the 'Golden Pas de Trois' to Act I and the 'Children's Mazurka' and 'Grand Pas Classique' to Act II? One thing is for sure: Pierre Lacotte was the pupil of Lubov Egorova, one of the great ballerinas of the "Silver Age of the Imperial Russian Ballet" at the turn-of-the-century. Egorova instilled in Lacotte a great passion for and understanding of the 19th-century manner in ballet.

This production is jam-packed with rich dancing, as well as extended mime passages. Gypsies twirl. Nobles swirl. Twenty-four Spanish senoritas emerge from a tiny tent, much like those Polichinelles hop out of Mother Ginger's skirt in NUTCRACKER. So the steps don't match the historic notations? Who cares! It's the Romantic Elssler-esque & Cerrito-esque spirit that counts. And, besides, who on earth has tried to bring these wonderful ballets to life during the past 100 years? Only Lacotte. [in all fairness, the three aforementioned Petipa additions are 100% intact here, and quite recognizable to the public.]


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 to be displayed on a mannequin in the middle of the ballroom, fits her! Hoorah - we can have a Pas de Deux and Grand Pas Classique!!!


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!


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!


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. [On both evenings, the audience went crazy cheering that diagonal of jetes, even before it was completed!] 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. [As mentioned earlier, Paquita dances the famous "jete variation" which is normally danced by "another girl" in Russia; Lucien's variation is the same as danced in Russia and ABT.] 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 reflect '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!


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!"

Jeannie Szoradi

Washington, DC, USA

[This message has been edited by Jeannie (edited February 09, 2001).]

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Cygne - Please don't stop dancing! You'd be surprised that it doesn't take quite so much money. Some of us make choices in life....long, long ago, in my case....to make ballet travel the absolute-number-one priority. No car - no kids - no credit card debt. Furthermore, I plan everything well in advance to get the best airfares & guesthouse deals. I've even been known to stay in a hostel or two! Moscow hostel near the Bolshoi: $12/night. Sparkling-clean, wonderful staff & a nice breakfast included! of course, if I'm in Moscow on my company's business, then it's the Metropole all the way! wink.gif - Jeannie

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Originally posted by Jeannie:

Some of us make choices in life....long, long ago, in my case....to make ballet travel the absolute-number-one priority.

Jeannie, I am like you too, and I value ballet travel as much, due to necessity because in my case there is simply not enough great ballet to see in Hong Kong.

Thanks for your wonderful review. This Paquita certainly sounds like a 'balletic event made in heaven' from your description.

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The Metropole's price is $300/night for a standard room. The US Govt maximum per diem for Moscow is $306/day (to cover hotel + meals). Thank goodness that the *schi* (cabbage soup) is not too expensive. smile.gif

So...have no other "Ballet Alerters" seen this production of PAQUITA? Estelle - you are notably silent. A little birdie tells me that you may have seen it, too. wink.gif

[This message has been edited by Jeannie (edited February 14, 2001).]

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Jeannie, I attended the performance of Jan 27, and my impressions were very very close to yours! I really hope that they'll program that work again in the next seasons.

I've written a review for it for alt.arts.ballet, and plan to post it on this site when I have time (now I'm in a hurry and have to rush to take the last bus!)

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So here's what I had posted to alt.arts.ballet:


On January 27, I attended a performance of a new production

of "Paquita" at the Paris Opera.

The first version of "Paquita" had been premiered at the Paris Opera of

the rue Le Peletier in 1846: it was a two-act ballet, set to music by

Edouard-Marie-Ernest Delvedez and with a choreography by Joseph

Mazilier (who also was to choreograph "Le corsaire" in 1856).

The main roles were danced by the same cast as that of "La sylphide",

which had been premiered five years earlier: Carlotta Grisi and

Lucien Petipa. The ballet wasn't danced in France after 1851.

But Marius Petipa (brother of Lucien) danced and staged "Paquita"

in Saint-Petersburg in 1847, and later, in 1881, he staged a new

version of it, adding especially a pas de trois in the first act, a

Grand Pas at the end, with some new music by Ludwig Minkus.

The main role was danced by Ekaterina Vazem, who had premiered

the role of Nikyia in "La Bayadere".

The plot is a somewhat melodramatic story taking place in Spain (Spanish

stories were quite fashionable then, for example Taglioni's "La Gitana"

had been premiered eight years earlier), under the occupation by

Napoleon's army. The heroin of the ballet is a young gypsy girl, Paquita.

In fact, she is a girl of noble birth who had been carried off by gypsies

when she was a baby. She manages to save the life of a young French

officer, Lucien d'Hervilly (an evil Spanish governor wanted to have him

killed by Inigo, a gypsy chief), and discovers at the end, thanks to a

medallion, that in fact she is the cousin of Lucien, and can marry him.

A "divertissement" combining the Pas de trois and the Grand Pas,

choreographed by Oleg Vinogradov, had entered the POB's repertory

in 1980. Pierre Lacotte, who had already made reconstructions

of several works of the Romantic period, decided to stage a new

version of "Paquita" for the Paris Opera Ballet. Himself had studied

with Lubov Egorova and Carlotta Zambelli, who both had danced

Paquita in Saint-Petersburg at the very beginning of the century.

He found in Germany some notes by a French ballet master depicting

the staging and the pantomime of "Paquita", and some variations

by Mazilier. In the program notes, he admits that much of the choreography had to be re-invented (or sometimes modified, for

example some parts used to be danced by female dancers en travesti).

The music by Develdez and Minkus was revised and orchestrated

by David Coleman, who also conducted the Orchestre Colonne for

all the performances.

The series of performances by the Paris Opera was plagued

with several problems of injuries: the principal dancer

Aurelie Dupont was supposed to premiere the role of Paquita,

but she had to cancel all her performances because of an

injury. Several other dancers who were supposed to dance

the main roles were injured too and had to cancel

some of their performances, so that some couples had

to perform after having had very little time to rehearse

together. Much credit is due to the premiere danseuse

Clairemarie Osta, who danced the premiere with Manuel

Legris and also danced with Jeremie Belingard, and to

the premiere danseuse Marie-Agnes Gillot, who substituted

for Agnes Letestu for some performances with Jose Martinez,

and also danced with Jean-Guillaume Bart as planned.

The performance I saw was danced by Gillot and Martinez. They were

well-suited physically, both tall, brown-haired and thin, and in spite of

the short rehearsal time together, their partnership was very good. The

ballet looked very difficult technically to me, with a lot of variations

for both soloists, ending with the long Grand pas, but the steps never

looked artificial. It was interesting to notice the difference of styles

between the parts choreographed by Petipa (pas de trois and Grand Pas),

and those re-choreographed by Lacotte after Mazilier, with more petite

batterie. Gillot displayed both a bright technique and some talents for

mime (the second part of the first act is almost entirely mime- it made me

regret not to be able to see the ballet a second time, because there were

so many little details that I probably didn't notice many things). Since

the beginning of the season, she has proven her versatility in several

programs, dancing contemporary works by Preljocaj and Forsythe as well as

classical ones by Balanchine, and it wouldn't be surprising at all if she

became the next POB principal. Martinez was excellent in all what he did,

very clean and elegant.

In the supporting roles, Karl Paquette was expressive as the evil Inigo,

and I also admired Richard Wilk as Lucien's uncle, and Jean-Marie-Didiere

as Don Lopez de Mendoza. In the pas de trois, Emmanuel Thibault received

some "bravos" for his virtuosity, and Clairemarie Osta and Fanny Fiat both

were excellent. The whole corps de ballet was very good (and Lacotte had

given them many scenes, with Spanish dances, lovely waltzes...);

I especially noticed Geraldine Wiart and the very joyful Sandrine Marache

in the Grand Pas. The children of the POB school had a polonaise

in the last act; there were a few problems, but the steps perhaps

were a little bit too difficult for children aged about 10, and

on the whole they deserved some applauses too.

One of the definite good points of that production was the nice

sets and wonderful costumes by Luisa Spinatelli. The lovely tutus

and the gorgeous pastel-colored dresses were a delight for the eye.

I don't remember much of the music, but it was pleasant and

suitable for the dance.

The Opera Garnier was full, and the audience was very, very enthusiastic,

and the dancers received several curtain calls. It was far more successful

than most of the new works which entered the repertory recently, and I hope that the direction of the Opera will keep that ballet in the

repertory, and that it will be danced again in next seasons.

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Estelle - We definitely agree on most points. I am happy that you mentioned the roar of applause for Thibault because, from where I sat in the 'Balcon,' everyone around me was screaming wildly with 'bravos!' I had forgotten just how enthuthiastic this Parisian audience can be for these sorts of ballets. I was also surprised that Gillot's diagonal of jetes was cheered as it was, on both evenings that I attended. The audience roared its 'bravas!' well before Gillot completed the fourth grand-jete. Now I can see why the POB audience and dancers are so fond of IBC-style competitions. I feel right at home in Paris. wink.gif Vive La France!

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Marc, of course I meant "Giselle", thanks for correcting my mistake!

Did you see some of the performances? What did you think of it?

Jeannie, I found the audience especially enthusiastic on that day- it seems that some of the POB audience really is hungry for new full-length ballets! Usually I find people applausing in the middle of the variations a bit annoying (for example when it happened for Le Riche's variations in "Diamonds" in december), but in "Paquita"'s pas de deux it's not so shocking, since it's meant to be a display of virtuosity anyway.

[This message has been edited by Estelle (edited February 21, 2001).]

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I enjoyed "Paquita" a lot. Thanks to Lacotte's theatrical flair, the sweep of his dances, and the spirit and talent of the Paris company, this ballet is irresistibly entertaining.

I saw the casts Gillot/Bart, and Gillot/ Martinez. Excellent performances all, the only disappointment coming from Martinez who was all too obviously in trouble when he had to lift Gillot.

Anyway, I have written a review of it for the next issue of Dance View.

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Marc, I'm looking forward to reading your review (and by the way, thanks for the very interesting interview of Isabelle Guerin).

I hadn't noticed Martinez's problems. But partnering Gillot must be a bit difficult (all the more as they didn't have much time to train): as Letestu, she's very tall (both are among the tallest dancers of the company), but I think that she has broader shoulders.

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