Assembling this reconstruction of Harlequinade had to have been a little like trying to make a meal out of the family grandmother’s famous recipe for cornbread stuffing. True, her stuffing is still the best the world has ever known. True, it’s important to keep her memory alive and to continue to impress upon the grandchildren and their grandchildren how important grandmother was and how her strength of character and other traits have been passed down through the generations. A mouthful of her cornbread stuffing is a pretty good way to make the point. But it takes more than stuffing to make a meal. Pulling out the fine linens and formal tablewares from the cupboard to use will improve the atmosphere but they will not improve the meal.
And so it went for ABT’s new Harlequinade as reconstructed by Alexei Ratmansky from notes created during Petipa’s time: delicious cornbread stuffing without much of a meal to go with it.
At 1 hour and 47 minutes including a 20+ minute intermission, Harlequinade may be one of the most expensive ballets for which patrons have purchased tickets. $160 for 87 minutes of actual performance. Haglund was doing some mental calculations during Act II when the children took over the stage for 15 minutes of mostly charmless single file lines of 1-2-3 stepping. ($160/87) X 15 = $27.59 spent to watch these kids.
The premiere evening was so dreadful that we can hardly write about it. Ratmansky mistakenly relied on ABT’s two perennial 12-year-old kitscharina/os to bring back the funniness of a time gone by. Since they have a proclivity for acting like adolescents, it would be great typecasting, right? Wrong. The audience was served up a hammy Harlequin with unseasoned mashed potatoes as Columbine. Did they get the steps? Yes. Was it watchable? Hardly. So let’s forget the first night – if only we could…
The second evening seemed like a different ballet thanks to the sparkling Columbine who knew how to do the steps without making them look labored or risky. Sarah Lane (Columbine), Jeffrey Cirio (Harlequin), Stella Abrera (Pierrette), and David Hallberg (Pierrot) made this Harlequinade sing aloud. We knew immediately why the Harlequin wanted to marry Columbine, because we fell in love with her, too. There weren’t many pirouettes or much jumping for her to do – these were left to the Harlequin – rather, this Columbine had to rely on a perfect plumb line and steely strength to rotate limbs while balancing on pointe. Her combinations of hops on pointe while performing a grande ronde de jambe of the working leg to arabesque were so flawless that they looked ridiculously simple to do.
Our Harlequin, Jeffrey Cirio, had just the right amount of buffoon in his character to elicit our empathy. His dancing, while precise and musical, was not all-powering or particularly exciting. His variations were easy to enjoy whereas some of his lifts of the tiny Columbine required a second heave-ho upward.
David Hallberg as Pierrot gave his character such a sad, pathetic loser quality with such commitment of performance that it seemed plausible that Hallberg might one day have the option of taking his career in the direction of Anthony Dowell’s – to perhaps become one of the great character artists on the ballet stage. His large frame with frail spine erupted with rage at the Harlequin who he then heaved off the balcony and subsequently cried over with great passion. It was one of the highlights of the evening. Tom Forster’s Pierrot was also engaging during the first night. His character was more broadly drawn - a little along the lines of Ashton’s step sisters in Cinderella.
Stella Abrera’s Pierrette, while not having particularly challenging choreography, often provided the sparks that set off the other players in the cast. The manner in which she engaged Hallberg seemed to uncork his dramatic fizzy. Of all the principals, she seemed to be most embedded in her character.
This production has a lot of large ensemble dance packed into its 87 minutes with a lot of promenading about. It did require some patience to watch, but we were rewarded by eventually getting to the Larks in Act II who were simply lovely and lived up to our idea of a Petipa ensemble.
Overall, the most imposing artistry of the production was the costuming by Robert Perdziola. It was spectacular with not a dull thread to be seen. Ricardo Drigo’s music as conducted by David LaMarche kept the matters on stage moving along at a good clip - thank goodness.
Petipa was 82 years old when he created Les Millions d’Arlequin in 1900 upon which this restoration is based. Maybe we should cut him some slack if this ballet didn’t contain the depth of story, passion, and dramatic arc that so many of his earlier ones did. If anyone is taking a survey, we don’t care to see a restoration of his 1903 The Magic Mirror or the 1904 La Romance d'un bouton de rose et d'un Papillon that apparently never got premiered, although we’re sure that there must be details about it in some Harvard collection for those who are interested. Let our remembrance and enjoyment of Petipa be based on his best works, not necessarily all of his works.
The H.H. Pump Bump Award is bestowed upon Sarah Lane for her charming Columbine that carried the evening.