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Petipa's Les Millions D'Arlequin (Harlequinade)

Guest LizzyA

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I found a New York Times review on the Balanchine version of Harlequinade from 1984 that said:


"its deceptive prettiness contains considerable depth on several levels."ANNA KISSELGOFF

Published: January 14, 1984


I am trying to research (in a hurry!) what social/political significance and and symbolism Petipa's version contains. Most of what I have come across refers to the Balanchine version.


A couple of conversations I have had recently with people who know much more about this than I do have suggested that there are clear political, or at least social, references within the work. I just wondered if anyone here might be able to elaborate on what those might be or where to go to research this further? Would most of you agree that the story simply reflects general class pressures that existed throughout Europe during the 19th Century?


Thanks for any thoughts you may be able to share on this.

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Lizzy, Petipa's Les Millions d'Arlequin is not so much remembered as a great ballet, or even that good a ballet. It is most frequently honored by nuggets that others have culled from its score. The "Serenade", for example, was a big hit with the salon music crowd. It was even in the band playlist on board RMS Titanic. Nicolai Legat swiped some music and interpolated it into a version of "The Doll Fairy" while the rest of the score was by Joseph Bayer. Not an easy fit.


After 1895, and Swan Lake in its benchmark version, Petipa seemed to retrogress. He could still produce wonderful variations, but the subject matter and style of his ballets seemed to go backwards!


Three Glazunov ballets show what was going on with Petipa after 1895. "Ruses d'Amour" presents an 18th century comedy of manners, but without words, the material was all fluff. It has not survived. The great Raymonda was old-fashioned melodrama, and even though it contains many wonderful variations, it's a very conservatively-structured work.


"The Seasons" had Petipa in a neo-Anacreontic mode, with an allegory that his teachers would have found old-hat. None of its choreography survives.


I don't believe that any of Harlequin's Millions survives today, except what was rescued by Balanchine for his version. Balanchine unfortunately had a tendency to spoil something that was perfect before by adding to it in revivals. The "Harlequinade" that opened in 1965 was commedia dell'arte, and very much in the Italian mode. As time went on, he went back to the score and added more and more divertissement, until what we have today is choked with kitsch. The commedia also changed from Italian to French. I'm no big fan of the child Scaramouches, who may be dancing the most correct Petipa dance in the whole work, but how many times can you watch ballonné-pas de basque? I'm not much for the masquers, either "Malbrouck s'en va t'en Guerre" (The Bear went over the Mountain) notwithstanding.


So, it's not important to Petipa's choreographic output, but does serve as a good illustration of an old man creating art which was a throwback, and thus bringing about his own forced retirement.

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Interesting! Thank you for the in depth response. I'll let you know how my dd's school production of it goes (and if we manage to get our opera company to collaborate, since they have expressed interest in the possibility!).



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I did a little more digging, and found that the original show was very long, and the score contained oodles of music (also including the famous "Valse Bluette", another salon favorite). The pas de deux from the Petipa version does survive as a school showpiece in St. Petersburg, and there is a one-act version based on a 1933 revision by Feodor Lopukhov, which also remains in the Vaganova Choreographic Academy's passive repertoire. Other choreographers' versions of this work seem to stem from this later revision, although how much Petipa remains is debatable, Lopukhov having been especially skillful at mimicking Petipa. Balanchine's version would appear to be rather in the Petipa tradition, but the compositional complexities of the use of music and the structure of groupings both mobile and static is what I think Kisselgoff was getting at in ascribing profundity to the ballet.


Since you've got your opera company involved, too, see if they've got an old set for Rossini's La Cenerentola (Cinderella) about. That's what NYCB borrowed for its 1965 premiere.

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