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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 18 DECEMBER 2010 — In contrast to John Neumeier's Parzival, which was heavy going, Paquita, the forgotten ballet of Joseph Mazilier which was created in 1845 and which owes its rebirth to the French choreographer, Pierre Lacotte, was a sparkling success. Premiered at the Paris Opéra in 1846 before slowly disappearing into the mists of time, Lacotte, the French specialist of "lost" 19th century works, has made it into a timeless ballet packed with charm, freshness and humour. It is also blessed with fabulous scenery and costumes, directly inspired by the original models, by Luisa Spinatelli, and set to a gay, melodious score by Deldevez and Minkus, more suited to dance than the delicate music of Arvo Pärt.

Unlike Parzival, which could have had a strong, fascinating storyline, Paquita relies on next to nothing. It is simply the tale of a young girl who is carried off by gypsies as a child, and who, after saving the life of a brave young officer, discovers that she, too, is of noble lineage and so can marry her handsome suitor. But here is a work which hangs together, carefully and intelligently revived.

Emilie Cozette and Stéphane Bullion
Photo: Agathe Poupeney

The strength of the ballet lies in the brilliant choreography, not only in the rescue of the bravura highlights of the Grand Pas and the Pas de Trois which are the only original fragments, but in the patient reconstruction of steps and sequences. Lacotte, as he has explained, was the pupil of Lubov Egorova who danced Paquita under the direction of Petipa himself in the years between 1900 and 1910, and he was able to piece the work together in the style of the time. Where necessary, he added steps of his own, the result being a ballet very much in the tastes of today.

 The action takes place in Spain, an exotic setting which was very popular at the time, and demands a perfection of execution from both corps de ballet and principals. Emilie Cozette was a ravishing Paquita. Each time she dances, this young étoile, who has always been lovely to look at, seems to gain in confidence and assurance adding artistic maturity to her exceptional technical ability. At the top of her form, laughing and full of charm, she stole all hearts, particularly that of her prince-for-the-evening, Stéphane Bullion.

Nominated étoile last June, Bullion, also in wonderful form, is now fulfilling all his early promise. The role of Lucien d’Hervilly, the youthful nobleman, is fad indeed, but he infused it with his own attractive personality showing both tenderness and nobility, and sparks flew in the second act with some sensational leaps and turns. He has the strength to make his lifts seem effortless, and it was hardly surprising that Emilie Cozette, revelling in the tricky technique, danced her way through the work with a joy and zest that were contagious. Her series of perfect pirouettes which had the audience cheering were accomplished with ease.

Corps de ballet of the Paris Opera Ballet in Paquita
Photo: Agathe Poupeney

However, much of the ballet is taken up with big ensemble dances which amply demonstrated the precision, speed and lightness of the Paris corps de ballet. There are the village dances, the gypsies swirling their cloaks and stamping their feet in their encampment before events culminate with exciting festivities in the French Governor’s ballroom. There were numberless different variations for several soloists, including the aerial Marc Moreau in the pas de trois, in addition to a mazurka danced with enthusiasm and grace by 16 pupils from the Paris Opera School. This was an evening when the audience left uplifted after a series of fireworks in the grand manner from the handsome officer and his bride.

Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She contributed 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 for Culturekiosque.

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