As [Ratmansky] has become more conversant in Petipa’s style, his freedom within it has increased. In The Sleeping Beauty, he was adamant that the women should raise their legs up only 90 degrees and not point their feet when they stood at rest, but rather hold them in a semi-relaxed position. Many of the women’s turns were executed with the foot on half tiptoe rather than fully on the tips of the toes.
These period details were difficult to maintain – the dancers kept going back to their old habits, he said – so he hasn’t insisted on them in Harlequinade. ‘It requires too much time to make it work, and there are never enough rehearsals,’ he said.
The key is the simplicity of the phrases. Pepita’s choreography is so simple, and so wise. Everything feels inevitable.
[Harlequinade] isn’t Mr. Ratmansky’s invention, but rather a restaging of a comedy by Marius Petipa, originally called ‘Les Millions d’Arlequin,’ or ‘Harlequin’s Millions’. It was first performed in 1900 in St. Petersburg, where it remained in the repertory for almost three decades.
…There were later versions of Harlequinade in Russia by Fyodor Lopukhov (in the 1930’s) and Pyotr Gusev (in the 1970’s); and, at New York City Ballet, by George Balanchine (1965, with additions in 1973). As with most later stagings of Petipa, they were loosely based on the original – Balanchine made up his own steps, ‘in the style of’ Petipa – but none made any claim of authenticity.
What [Ratmansky] hasn’t dropped is his focus on the specificity of Petipa’s style. ‘Even the arabesques and the arms and the angles of the body tell us something about the character or the situation,’ Mr. Ratmansky said. Many of those details had been smoothed out over time. In a pose from the final pas de deux, for example, he asked the dancer to twist her shoulders slightly so that she could peer back at her partner: ‘There’s a lot of story here; you’re telling us about your fear.’ The pose wasn’t just pretty; it carried meaning.
The Royal Ballet and the Mariinsky are two of the world’s finest classical companies, yet different in so many ways. The Mariinsky was formed in the 1740s and The Royal Ballet came into being two centuries later. There is, however, an important thread that links the two companies. Shortly after The Royal Ballet was formed, Ninette de Valois invited Vladimir Stepanov to mount ballets for the fledgling company using the choreographic notation he had taken out of St Petersburg after the 1917 revolution. In this way, Petipa came to London.