The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
October 8, 2019
The last time the Mariinsky Ballet took the stage at the Kennedy Center was in April with Le Corsaire. Only a handful of months later the esteemed Russian company returned with Paquita, another ballet in which kidnapping features prominently. There are other familiar elements, too. If you know the structure of classical ballets well, without knowing this particular story in advance, you might have correctly guessed that Paquita involves three acts: a blossoming young romance, an obstacle that threatens to derail the central couple, and a joyous wedding celebration at the end. Given the Spanish name, you might also have correctly guessed that there would be naughty, sexy gypsies; rattling tambourines; swooshing capes; fans trimmed in lace; huge red flowers decorating the hair of the women; snaps; claps; clinking necklaces, etc. You might further have correctly predicted that there would be some sort of conflict having to do with class. In other words, the tale of Paquita is perfectly predictable.
Predictable certainly doesn’t have to mean boring, but this production of Paquita doesn’t rise very far above its commonplace classical ballet storyline. The libretto and choreography by Yuri Smekalov, and the reconstruction and staging of Marius Petipa’s Act III Grand Pas by Yuri Burlaka, plod along without much surprise or excitement. Easily Paquita’s brightest spot on opening night was Viktoria Tereshkina in the title role. She mastered the required flirtiness of the ballet’s heroine without being too over-the-top, and her turns and balances showed off great steadiness. And yet as solid and as lovely as her dancing was, she couldn’t save Paquita from being ultimately rather wearisome. The rest of the cast performed admirably, the set and costumes are richly colored and attractive, and the music by Èdouard Deldevez, Ludwig Minkus, and Riccardo Drigo is peppy and pleasantly lingers; however, the ballet overall is simply uninspiring. I didn’t feel invested in the characters, and the lackluster choreography didn’t wow me.
That said, the Mariisnky’s dancers are top notch and are always beautiful to watch. As well, the young students of the Vaganova Academy were impressive. In addition to Tereshkina’s brightness, they contributed some significant sparks to an otherwise run-of-the-mill ballet. The future of Russian ballet looks promising based on this talented crop of little dancers. The audience applauded for them exceedingly appreciatively. I also enjoyed the bushy trees that comically waddled, feet sometimes showing beneath the fluffy greenery (on second thought, was the bumbling foliage supposed to be funny?), although another attempt at humor, a sequence with a horse and lasso (you may have correctly guessed that one man plays the head and front two feet, another the rear end) proved too silly for my taste. A final highlight was May Nagahisa in the first of the Grand Pas Variations in Act III (by Anna Pavlova in the ballet King Candaules). Nagahisa has a slight frame and she moves delicately, but with fabulous dramatic force. Her dancing was delightfully musical. She stretched and extended her limbs, reaching and reaching, until the very last second of every pose she held.
There were some peculiarities on opening night related to the set. There’s a series of large painted portraits of Paquita’s noble family that descend from the ceiling and are pulled back up, but this happened extremely slowly, with audible clunky mechanical noises. In Act II, in the stone-walled prison where Paquita and her lover Andrés (the handsome and innocent Timur Askerov) briefly find themselves, loud foreign voices along with banging and knocking could be heard from somewhere behind the stage. My companion for the evening and I initially both thought that the clamor was meant to conjure other prisoners, but we decided after a short while that it sounded more like distressed stagehands barking orders. Hopefully, these glitches were sorted out before the following night’s performance.
I would always run to see the Mariinsky Ballet, but if given a choice of what to see, Paquita would fall pretty low on my wish list. There are more thrilling ways to spend three hours than waiting for the relatively few rewards that this production of Paquita offers.