The Bolshoi Theatre of Russia: The Pharaoh's Daughter at the Met
-Onstage with the Dancers
The Bolshoi Theatre of Russia
The Pharaoh's Daughter
Ballet in Three Acts
Alexei Ratmansky, Ballet Artistic Director
Anatoly Iksanov, General Director
Alexander Vedernikov, Music Director and Chief Conductor
Scott Klein, Keith Sherman & Associates Inc. - Public Relations
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
July 28, 2005
Originally Published on ExploreDance.com
The Pharaoh's Daughter (2000): Music by Cesare Pugni, Libretto by Jules Henri De Saint-Georges and Marius Petipa, edited by Pierre Lacotte after Théophile Gautier's "Le Roman de la Momie", Production and Choreography by Pierre Lacotte based on motifs from the ballet of the same name by Marius Petipa, Assistant to the Producer: Anne Salmont, Sets and Costumes Designed by Pierre Lacotte, Conductor: Pavel Klinichev, Orchestral soloists: Alexander Kalashkov, violin, Dmitry Miller, cello, Alexander Poplavsky, flute, Sergey Vlasov, clarinet, Evgeny Gurev, cornet, Irina Pashinskaya, harp.
Performed by Svetlana Zakharova as Aspicia, daughter of the Pharaoh, Nikolai Tsiskaridze as Lord Wilson, and English explorer who turns into an Egyptian named Ta-Hor, Denis Medvedev as John Bull, his servant, who turns into an Egyptian named Passiphonte, Maria Alexandrova as Ramzé, Aspicia's Nubian slave, Dmitry Gudanov as A Fisherman, Anastasia Yatsenko as The Fisherman's Wife, Ekaterina Krysanova as First River-Guadalquivir, Ekaterina Shipulina as Second River-Congo, Olga Stebletsova as Third River-Neva, Alexey Loparevich as The Pharaoh, Andrey Melanin as The King of Nubia, Alexander Pshenitsyn as A Monkey, Rinat Arifulin as The God of the River Nile, Alexander Fadeechev as The High Priest, Alexander Petukhov as A Slave, and the Company and Children as Pas d'action variations, Servants, Caryatids, Cavaliers, Children, Egyptians, and underwater sprites.
Lord Wilson, an English explorer, on a trip to Egypt with John Bull, his servant, enters a tent at the invitation of merchants. A storm drives them into a pyramid, where Aspicia, a Pharaoh's daughter, was buried. When Lord Wilson falls asleep from opium, he dreams that Aspicia comes alive and turns him and John Bull into Egyptians, Ta-Hor and Passiphonte. Aspicia goes to a forest, where Ta-Hor finds her and her attendants, and he wakes her from sleeping on a rock. Aspicia asks Ta-Hor to hide from a hunting party, and she goes on a lion hunt. Ta-Hor shoots an arrow into the lion to save Aspicia from being attacked. The Pharaoh arrives on the scene and arrests Ta-Hor for embracing Aspicia, whose life he has just saved from a lion's lunge.
The Pharaoh agrees in a contract to marry Aspicia off to the king of Nubia, and, at the wedding, Ta-Hor runs off with Aspicia. The Pharaoh and the king of Nubia try to capture the runaway bride and her lover, but Ta-Hor and Aspicia hide in a fisherman's hut on the Nile. When Ta-Hor goes fishing, the king of Nubia arrives, so Aspicia leaps into the river, rather than marry him. When Ta-Hor and Passiphonte return to the hut, the king captures them. The God of the Nile, at the bottom of the river, allows Aspicia to be raised to land to find Ta-Hor. Just as Ta-Hor is about to be sentenced to a bite from a poisonous snake, the fishermen find Aspicia back on land.
Aspicia blames the king of Nubia for causing her river leap and begs her father to release Ta-Hor. When she is refused, she tries to touch the poison snake. Finally the Pharaoh relents, and the couple celebrates just long enough for the pyramid to re-appear and Lord Wilson to awake, no longer Ta-Hor and faced with the sarcophagus of Aspicia. (Program Notes).
This lavish and artistically complicated ballet is an original Petipa, dating from 1862 for St. Petersburg's Imperial Ballet. Pierre Lacotte re-staged and re-interpreted "based on motifs" Petipa's production in 2000. With no less than a pyramid, a live, white horse, seemingly hundreds of Egyptians in a variety of signature loin cloths, shoulder wraps, head scarves, swords, arrows, and off-shoulder long wraps, a God (with a pitchfork) of the underworld at the bottom of the Nile, a dancer as an ape, a dead stuffed lion, dancers as rivers, dancing children with "faux" dark skin, a slave (it seemed), also with "faux" dark skin, a poison snake in a barrel of flowers, and mummies that rise and fall, The Pharaoh's Daughter has a plot line that needs to be carefully read prior to the overture. It's somewhat of a cross between La Bayadere and Romeo and Juliet.
As tonight's final Bolshoi Theatre at the Met's opening night was sold out and packed in the lobby and aisles, there was little logistical time to absorb this program plot in time for the curtain. Thus, mime in extravagance would have been requisite to keeping track of the Pharaoh and the king, Lord Wilson and John Bull, Ta-Hor and Passiphonte, Aspicia on land and Aspicia underwater, Aspicia and Ramzé, animals that appear alive (ape) and those that appear dead, after being shot with an arrow (lion), a kind God of the Underworld who holds a pitchfork, sarcophagi that move, but only one is "re-born", and a sacrificed slave plus tiny, dark children running around, for no seeming purpose.
However, Pierre Lacotte's ever-changing sets and the colorful, flowing silks and tutus, plus some of the best new, large corps choreography I've seen, give The Pharaoh's Daughter a memorable, monumental after-image. Cesare Pugni's score was passionately led by Pavel Klinichev, and, in keeping with Bolshoi program notes, the soloists were graciously listed. Alexander Kalashkov, on violin, Alexander Poplavsky, on flute, and Sergey Vlasov, on clarinet, seemed to have especially extended solos that meshed fully and flawlessly with the onstage solos and pas de deux. Lacotte's rendering of Act III's underwater scenery, with a series of pas de deux for Aspicia, was the most effective segment of this historical ballet revival. The lowering and raising of Aspicia, from land to river depth and back, plus the motion of the mummies, combined for technical prowess on a stage not known to the company.
As for the dancing, Svetlana Zakharova, as the lead Aspicia, was much more stylized and less showy than in Don Quixote, with challenging spins and en pointe partnered figures. She seemed better suited to the more solid Nikolai Tsiskaridze than to the tall, taut Andrey Uvarov (Don Q). The romantic scenes at the tent, the base of the pyramids, the apartments, the forest, the hut at the Nile, and in the plaza near the snake exuded rapture and chemistry between this seasoned duo. Ms. Zakharova's underworld dances were elegant and ecstatic, as she partnered each dancer (with flowing, fluttering blue/green costumes).
Mr. Tsiskaridze was one of the best male Bolshoi dancers in the programs I attended; his tour de force performance in each fantasy event showed balance, elevation, poise, theatricality, and power. Maria Alexandrova, as Ramzé, has unusual stage presence and physique, and her solos brought accolades from the packed audience time and again. Dmitry Gudanov, a principal with the company, should have had a larger dance role, as he seemed so poised for more in the minor role of Fisherman, and Anastasia Yatsenko, as his wife danced with some drama.
Of special note were three Rivers, listed above, all with classic simplicity and colorful sensuality. Four variations (Pas d'action) were equally elegant, but it was the company (corps and soloists) that showcased the essence of the spectacular staging of Egyptian angularity of arms, heads, and posture, plus unique, creative costumes and wigs (such as bald males and blue-haired females). Pierre Lacotte has come up with full-staged choreographed imagery, especially at the close of each Act, that gives the sense of spectacle and theatre. Perhaps this is why the Bolshoi has established its name and reputation on such a high level for such a long time.
Kudos to Pierre Lacotte, Alexei Ratmansky, and The Bolshoi dancers.
The Bolshoi Ballet performs THE PHARAOH'S DAUGHTER
Photo courtesy of The Bolshoi Ballet