HD Edouard Deldevez: Paquita, Opera Nacional de Paris

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Edouard Deldevez: Paquita
Edouard Deldevez (1817-1897), French composer,...
Edouard Deldevez (1817-1897), French composer, conductor, & violinist (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Opera Nacional de Paris
Music by Edouard-Marie-Ernest Deldevez and
Ludwig Minkus
Pierre Lacotte, Marius Petipa
David Coleman

Paquita is an improbable story in the best cheer-the-hero, hiss-the-villain tradition about a Spanish commoner girl (Paquita) in love with a nobleman (Lucien) whom she cannot marry because of the difference in their social classes.

The dastardly Iñigo, the head of the gipsy group wanting the lovely Paquita (who was brought up by Gypsies after having been kidnapped by them as little girl) for himself, and his nasty friend Don Lopez de Mendoza governor of Saragozza, tries to crush her affair with the dashing French officer Lucien d'Hervilly by means of poison.

Not only Paquita foils the plot, but she also finds out through a medallion that she is actually Lucien's relative — not his sister, fortunately, which renders the marriage between the two, possible. Now that all gets sorted out, then the divertissement begins, and all the dances there have absolutely nothing to do with the plot.

The full-length "Paquita" __ originally staged for the Opera in 1846 by the composer Édouard-Marie-Ernest Delvedez and the choreographer Joseph Mazilier — is one of those old works whose story ballet aficionados would never expect to see it danced.
But in the early 1970s the French choreographer Pierre Lacotte, after staging his version of the original 1832 "Sylphide," has subsequently made quite a career out of reinventing the 19th century. Among other works, Mr. Lacotte brought back to life Paquita to the stage in 2001, and the Parisians loved it.

But much of the merits belong to the Russians who needed to keep this frolic going in St. Petersburg into the 20th century. As with "Giselle," its salvage involved an extensive overhaul. Just as the choreography for the "Giselle" needed changes, even bigger changes were made to "Paquita" by the Petipa-Minkus team, some of them set to music added to its original score by Petipa's long-term musical colleague and breakfast-buddy Ludwig Minkus. The two actually succeeded in turning this old "ham" into a real ballet.

And when even the Kirov-Maryinsky Ballet dropped the complete ballet from repertory after the Bolshevik Revolution, the company kept some pure-dance Petipa-Minkus chunks glowingly alive, some of which have entered international ballet repertory since the 1970s. Mr. Lacotte, definitely no authenticist, included those Russian chunks. Many ballet goers will know the "Spanish" final grand pas classique for Paquita, Lucien and female corps de ballet; some will know the classical pas de trois for one man and two women; but few will know the handsome ensemble polonaise.

Though there is no much of inspiration in Mr. Lacotte's choreography consisting primarily in nicely putting together existing bits and pieces, one crucial element of his staging is nothing less than glorious: the designs, by Luisa Spinatelli. Immensely beautiful costumes of an unique taste from any viewpoint, style, colors, workmanship etc.

But there may be a problem with the Paris Opera dancing. No company is more elegant in presentation, and the level of technique is exceptionally efficient in academic terms. At the same time, no company illustrates more completely the difference between academicism and classicism. The Paris dancers respond to the music without apparently finding any pleasure from, or point in, doing so. At no point dancers give the impression of getting emotionally involved with their acting; instead, they stay dry like ritz crackers. They exhibit line, placement and synchronism as if these points of ballet style were matters for point-scoring correctness rather than individual inflection. A rather soulless perfection. Compare this with the "Giselle" rendition at La Scala (also viewable in this channel) and you will understand what the real essence of inspired ballet as opposed to uninspired technical perfection is all about.