By Patricia Boccadoro
20 February 2003 - Although
French director and choreographer Pierre Lacotte has created several
short ballets of his own, he is best known in Europe for his
remarkable reconstructions of 'lost ' 19th century works, including
Paquita, Joseph Mazilier's 1846 work, currently being filmed
at the Palais Garnier.* Until he was invited to re-stage the
ballet by Brigitte Lefèvre in January 2001, all that had been
danced in Paris in recent times was the Grand pas de deux and
the pas de trois added by Marius Petipa and first performed in
"Nobody would dream of building a modern apartment
block on top of a Greek temple", commented Lacotte over coffee at
the Paris Opéra. "When you re-stage the ballets of the
great French choreographers such as Arthur Saint -Léon (Coppélia
Paris Opéra 1870), Jules Perrot (Giselle, Paris Opéra
1841), or of Italian-born Philippe Taglioni (La Sylphide,
Paris Opéra, 1832), not omitting Frenchman Marius Petipa, you
must respect their work and keep the original atmosphere. Above all,
the style of the period must not be lost. In music, opera and dance,
you cannot do away with everything and pretend it never happened. It's
up to today's dancers to use their artistry and intelligence to bring
them up to date."
recalled that even as a twelve-year old pupil at the Paris school he
had been fascinated by the history of the company and had spent all
his spare time exploring the archives. He'd persuade the museum
curator to give him all the old documents no one cared about, and the
more dust they had on them, the more precious they seemed.
Osta, Emmanuel Thibault, Laëtitia Pujol in Paquita
then everything began with La Sylphide when I came across
documents no one had seen before," he told me." Many papers
had been put into storage in the Louvre, and it became only a question
of time, patience and determination before I reconstructed the work
which was subsequently filmed, and attracted the interest of the Paris
Opera. Small details plus a dose of good luck can sometimes make a
whole. Furthermore, I was helped by one of my teachers, Madame Lubov
Egorova who had worked with one of Marie Taglioni's**
partners, and her souvenirs helped me create steps to fit in with the
It also happened that Egorova, who lived to the lively old age of
ninety-three, had been coached in the role of Paquita by Petipa
himself before emigrating to Paris in 1918", he continued, "
and she'd recall stories of her great rival, the legendary Mathilde
Kshessinska, mistress of Tzar Nikolai II, of their quarrels over the
colour of their tutus. However, at the same time she was able to tell
me what Petipa demanded of his interpreters, while another of my
teachers, Carlotta Zambelli, who'd danced Paquita in front of the
Tsar, recounted all the mime, so between the two of them I got a
pretty good picture of the style.".
the hope of finding descriptions of some of the steps, much
painstaking research followed in archives in Paris, Russia and the
U.S., but a lot was illegible, and not everything clearly marked.
Lacotte finally found lithographs and rare documents in Germany,
including Mazilier's original 1846 choreography which a ballet master
had thoughtfully written down.
that point", he added, "I had all the staging instructions
and mime, including two important variations, so when I was
commissioned to recreate the ballet I contacted Luisa Spinatelli who
designed new costumes and decor from the maquettes of the time, and I
collaborated with David Coleman to revise the music."
Letestu and José Martinez in Paquita
Pierre Lacotte (d'après Mazilier et Petipa)
story, set in Spain, centres round the gypsy girl Paquita, whose only
connection with her mysterious past is a small medallion. Inigo, the
chief of the gypsies, is in love with her and schemes with the Spanish
governor of the province of Saragossa, to do away with Lucien, a
dashing young French officer, who has also lost his heart to her.
Paquita discovers the plot, the villains are thwarted, and all ends
happily when it is discovered, thanks to the portrait on the
medallion, that Paquita too is of noble birth and can wed her handsome
The gay, melodious score by Edouard Marie-Ernest
Delvedez, lends itself to Lacotte's brilliantl re-stagings of the
varied big ensemble dances with the gypsies and the village folk
including a delightful mazurka, inserted by Petipa, for a group of
sixteen pupils from the Opéra school.
In an earlier
performance I saw the show-stopping pas de trois danced to
perfection by Laetitia Pujol, Clairemarie Osta and Emmanuel Thibault,
but this time round the two girls programmed were a little undercast,
while Thibault in the taxing male role which demands a perfection of
technique beyond the reach of most, was simply stupendous.
Nijinsky himself who danced the
role in 1907 could have wished for no better substitute. Thibault,
light, quick, neat, aerial, with giant leaps in immaculate style where
he hung in the air, is now one of the finest dancers of his generation
in the world. Buoyant and joyous, he revelled in every minute of it
bringing roars from an audience grown accustomed to more prosaic fare.
Thibault in Paquita
© Photos: Icare
Letestu and Martinez with their special blend of charm and elegance
could have followed that, and Martinez, romantic as ever was in
excellent form. He turned, he jumped, he spun with impeccable finish
and bravoura, while in the ravishing Agnès Letestu he had the
prettiest of partners. It must not have been very difficult to be
tender and ardent to such a lovely girl. But what extraordinary
stamina they needed, especially Letestu who is almost constantly on
Warm, loving, mischievously affectionate , she
sparkled at the centre of events, both in the first half of the ballet
where her dramatic gifts have free rein, and in Act two, in the
ballroom at the French General's residence which is totally given over
to pyrotechnics. Her engagement party was a feast of classical dance,
culminating in a spectacular virtuoso show where both étoile's
gave a magnificent display.
Particular praise should also be
given to Luisa Spinatelli for the extraordinarily beautiful costumes.
At times, it was hard to know where to look.
Legend has it
that the wonderful pas de trois, known as the "pas de
trois in gold", brings luck to its interpreters. It's certainly
time that Emmanuel Thibault, repeatedly chosen by the classical
choreographers, is brought more frequently to the forefront of the
scene. He is a most gifted dancer, a crowd-pleaser, the likes of which
are not too often seen.
ballet is being filmed by French television, and hopefully, a D.V.D.
should be brought out at the end of the year. The cast of Agnès
Letestu, José Martinez and Emmanuel Thibault was chosen by
**The role of the Sylphide was
created for her by her father.
Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She contributes to The Guardian,
The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC
Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Ms. Boccadoro is the dance editor