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Review: A Nearly Forgotten ‘Harlequinade’ Leaps Again at American Ballet Theatre

Harlequinade at ABT

By Sheila Kogan, Contributing Writer, June 12, 2018

The choreography of Marius Petipa is practically synonymous with classical ballet. His ballets Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty and Don Quixote are part of the repertoire of major and minor ballet companies all over the world and are frequently performed. But his ballet of Harlequinade has been largely neglected — with the exception of Balanchine’s version at New York City Ballet and an extracted pas de deux at gala performances.

This season, American Ballet Theatre presented a fully staged version of Petipa’s Harlequinade, with Alexei Ratmansky, ABT’s official Artist in Residence, and his wife, Tatiana, having spent a good deal of time researching the original choreography and staging in an effort to recreate the production as faithfully as possible. The result of their efforts is sumptuous and lavish. Ratmansky added his own touches when he couldn’t find the original material. Obviously, he has an understanding and feel for the material because it is virtually impossible to differentiate between Petipa’s original and Ratmansky’s additions.

The first act sets up the simple story: Cassandre (Roman Zhurbin), a rich man with a beautiful daughter, Columbine (Skylar Brandt), doesn’t want her to marry the poor guy, Harlequin (Daniil Simkin), whom she loves. Instead he promises her to the bumbling, rich suitor, Léandre. The characters have a long commedia dell’ arte tradition and much of the first act was told in broad mime and simple gestures; but there was enough dance to entertain. After each variation, the dancers took a bow (which I assume was traditional during Petipa’s time). There was an amount of silliness and good-humored nonsense involving the hapless Pierrot (Alexandre Hammoudi), Cassandre’s servant, and other characters. And, of course, some magic moved the plot along. The Good Fairy was elegantly performed by Tatiana Ratmansky.

The second act opened in an architecturally gorgeous room where a huge number of dancers gathered to celebrate the wedding of Harlequin and Columbine. The variety of stunningly beautiful costumes was  simply amazing. (The sets and costumes by Robert Perdziola were inspired by the original 1900 designs of Orest Allegri and Ivan Vsevolozhsky.)

Harlequinade at ABT

A scene from Harlequinade; photo: Rosalie O’Connor.

Along with the professional dancers of American Ballet Theatre, there were groups of children, students from the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre. The children did more than stand around, they danced in choreographic designs that showcased their training. The divertissements were marvelous examples of sheer classical, abstract movement danced to the lilting music of Riccardo Drigo, conducted by Charles Barker. I was particularly impressed by Daniil Simkin’s performance: his high jumps seemed effortless and his landings were silent. But most of all, I enjoyed  the choreographic patterns for the ensemble groupings, which I associate with the best of Petipa.

Throughout the evening the performers projected an air of ease. No matter how difficult the choreography, there was no sense of strain, just gracious presentation. Since the material didn’t contain dark drama or deep meaning, it was lovely to just enjoy the sweet and innocent story combined with the glamour of this visually opulent Harlequinade.

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Harlequinade (world premiere) presented by the American Ballet Theatre at the Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center,  on June 4-9, 2018 (performance reviewed: Saturday, June 9 at 8:00 p.m.). Music by Riccardo Drigo; choreography by Alexei Ratmansky (after Marius Petipa); assisted by Tatiana Ratmansky; scenery and costumes by Robert Perdziola; lighting by Brad Fields.

Cast: Daniil Simkin (Harlequin), Skylar Brandt (Columbine), Roman Zhurbin (Cassandre), Alexandre Hammoudi (Pierrot), Hee Seo (Pierret), Keith Roberts (Léandre), Tatiana Ratmansky (Good Fairy); with members of the American Ballet Theatre and students from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at ABT.

 

Cover: Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside in ‘Harlequinade;’ photo: Rosalie O’Connor.


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