with Christina Siemens (piano) and Batkhurel Bold, Karel Cruz, Kyle Davis, Rachel Foster, Carrie Imler, Kylee Kitchens, Carla Körbes, William Lin-Yee, Kaori Nakamura, Sarah Ricard Orza, Jonathan Porretta, Lucien Postlewaite, Lesley Raush, Brittany Reid, and Jerome Tisserand of Pacific Northwest Ballet
20 October 2011
by Helene Kaplan
Copyright © 2011 by Helene Kaplan
Last night in the stage-sized Pacific Northwest Ballet Studio C, Doug Fullington presented "After Petipa", the latest in a series of presentations that feature reconstructions from Stepanov notation of excepts of Petipa's works and compare 19th and early 20th century versions of the classics to current versions and the works of his choreographic descendants. "After Petipa" focused on three pas de deux from "Swan Lake" and "Sleeping Beauty", and while the program was more narrowly focused than previous programs, it was no less illuminating and revelatory. The comparisons illustrated several underlying themes: the simplicity of the reconstructed versions to faster tempos, the remarkably similar floor patterns in many old and new versions, changes and re-arrangements of the music between the premieres and the Petipa revivals, the incorporation of drama into the dance movements to replace original mime in pas d'action, and the distinct transition from the Cecchetti-influenced petite allegro with many connecting steps to grande allegro.
The evolution of the male variations in particular illustrate the last theme. Fullington explained that as Pavel Gerdt, the long-time danseur noble and partner of choice, aged, it was not uncommon for younger men of the Imperial Ballet to perform the male variations with choreography by the dancers, and, in fact, there was a specific character for this purpose named "Cavalier" in the 1906 version of "Swan Lake"; the notated Cavalier's variation in the "Black Swan Pas de deux" was choreographed and danced by Alexander Gorsky, who later became head of the Bolshoi Ballet. Here the notation is detailed, with instructions for hands, arms, head, and torso, and, as performed by Kyle Davis, the style resembled Bournonville, for as Fullington reminded us, Petipa and Bournonville shared a common teacher of the French style. By contrast, the notated version of Prince Désiré's variation provided a snapshot where the style was in the process of changing from petite to grande allegro: the variation contains a combination of both in what Fullington aptly described as "kitchen sink", with Legat taking the opportunity to show a little of everything he could do. Kudos to Karel Cruz for performing the extremely difficult reconstructed variation.
The opening of three segments compared the circa 1903 notation of the Princess Florine "Bluebird Pas de deux" to the version performed by PNB by Ronald Hynd, which was based on the 1939 Sadler's Wells Ballet version staged by Nicolai Sergeyev from the Stepanov notation, albeit with Hynd's own choreography in the "Wedding Pas de deux" that follows neither the original nor the traditional "After Petipa" versions. One of the most fascinating parts of the presentation was the side-by-side comparison of Princess Florine's variation, danced simultaneously by Sarah Ricard Orza (reconstructed version) and Rachel Foster (Hynd version). (The presentation is expected to be presented at the Guggenheim in May 2012; hopefully this will be possible on the smaller stage.) The simplicity of the reconstructed version was thrilling in its unexpected purity, while the Hynd version was full of details, especially of the epaulement and hands. The reconstructed versions are new to Ricard Orza, as they were to her partner, Jerome Tisserand and to the dancers in the other selections. Of course, there haven't been years of coaching, tradition, example, and performance to influence interpretation.
A stark contrast of character was in the adagio of the "Black Swan Pas de deux". In the Stowell version Carrie Imler's Odile wickedly and masterfully manipulated Lucien Postlewaite's Siegfried in an interpretation with which modern audiences are familiar. In the reconstructed version Baron von Rothbart, here portrayed by William Lin-Yee, has an active mime role, interacting with Odile during a gentle, moving pas de deux, danced by Kaori Nakamura and Seth Orza in andante tempo, in which it's quite clear that Siegfried does not have to be delusional to confuse her with Odette. Odile doesn't portray a temptress who must switch to iconic Odette poses to convince: she simply enchants with tragic results.
Another key comparison was between versions of the "Wedding Pas de deux" from "Sleeping Beauty". Kylee Kitchens and Brittany Reid danced the mirrored Gold and Sapphire Fairies' variation, which in the 1890 version appeared after the adagio and before Princess Aurora's and Prince Désiré's variations. It was not just inclusion of the Fairies and the omission of the fish lifts that distinguished the earlier version from the Hynd, but the simplicity and mime sections of the betrothed couple. If there's any doubt that the simpler, earlier versions have equal interpretative power, it was allayed by Carla Körbes, who, at the very end of the opening adagio, to pianist Christina Siemens' symphonic accompaniment, sold a series of single, single, and then double supported pirouettes in coup de pied like Carrie Imler did the 32 fouettes in the coda of "Black Swan Pas de deux". The dancers performing the current versions, Foster and Jonathan Porretta in "Bluebird Pas de deux", Imler and Postlewaite in "Black Swan Pas de deux", and Lesley Rausch and Bathkurel Bold in "Wedding Pas de deux", set the bar very high indeed; the dancers performing the reconstructed versions showed how commitment can make the old seem newly born.