So, What’s Going On?
The year is 1847. Marius Petipa (pronounced PET-ee-pah), a 29-year-old French dancer, moves to faraway St. Petersburg, Russia, after performing for several years in France and Spain—and making a few powerful enemies along the way. He takes a job as a leading dancer at the Imperial Ballet of Russia (known now as the Mariinsky Ballet), and his first assignment is to dance in—and help stage—
Paquita, a ballet that was popular in Paris after it was first performed there in 1846. After this initial success, Petipa went on to establish himself as the “Father of Russian Ballet.” (No doubt you’ve heard of some of the other famous ballets he choreographed including Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, and The Nutcracker?)
Thirty-four years after
Paquita’s first performance in Russia, Petipa staged it again and made a few additions, such as new music and the third act’s Grand Pas Classique, a dazzling showcase of classical dancing. Eventually, though, (and sadly, too!) the first and second acts of Paquita were forgotten.
Caption: Virginia Zucchi in the title role of
Paquita in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1886. Notice the full-length costume and shoes worn at that time.
Flash forward to 2017. Yuri Smekalov, a 36-year-old dancer, debuts an updated version of
Paquita for the Mariinsky Ballet. He adds his own touches—changing the story slightly, rearranging the music, adding and removing a few characters, and (here’s an important part), creating his own dances to replace what was forgotten.
The other important part? You get to see this brand-new production of
Paquita at the Kennedy Center. What Happens in the Story
Credit: Mariinsky Ballet in Paquita. Photo: Valentin Baranovsky.
At the home of the corregidor (koh-reh-hi-DOR, a local government official) in Madrid, Spain, a gypsy couple steals a jewelry chest and the corregidor’s baby daughter. Their plan: to train the child as a dancer who will earn them big money.
Many years later in a city square, townspeople gather to watch young gypsy girls dance. Being the best dancer, Paquita is the center of attention, while her “mother,” an old gypsy woman—ah, remember her from the Prologue?—collects money from the audience. Clemente, the corregidor’s secretary, hands Paquita a love poem that he has written for her, but she rejects him. Meanwhile, Andrés, a young gentleman, arrives and also falls in love with Paquita, and confesses his feelings to her. Paquita challenges Andrés to prove his devotion by agreeing to travel with the gypsies for two years. Andrés agrees right away and trades in his officer’s uniform for gypsy clothes.
Wait a minute. We know this sounds crazy…but they do say “love is crazy!”
Okay…back at their camp, the gypsies dance and teach Andrés about their way of life—and Andrés and Paquita’s feelings deepen for each other.
Caption: Paquita and Andrés dance together back at the gypsy camp. Photo: Valentin Baranovsky.
A widow invites the old gypsy woman and her dancers to her inn to raise her spirits and entertain her noble guests, including the corregidor. (Yes, the same one from the Prologue.) But when the widow’s daughter, Carducha, is attracted to Andrés, Andrés tells her that he’s already taken. Carducha becomes angry, and plans her revenge by planting the family silver in the gypsies’ cart and framing them for theft.
Caption: The gypsies perform at the widow’s inn. Photo: Valentin Baranovsky.
As the gypsies leave the inn, Carducha insists their cart be searched. The widow’s servants find the silver as well as a jewelry chest that seems…wait for it…eerily familiar to the corregidor.
You can see where this is going.
Officers detain Andrés, and one slaps him in the face. Insulted, Andrés snatches his sword and in the heat of the fight, kills the officer with it. The corregidor orders that Andrés be arrested, and Paquita is arrested, too, when she tries to defend her beloved Andrés.
Caption: Andrés and Paquita are arrested by officers. Photo: Valentin Baranovsky.
While in jail, Paquita and Andrés say farewell to each other. The jailers put Andrés in chains, while the corregidor demands that Paquita and the old gypsy woman be brought to his home.
Caption: Andrés and Paquita in jail. Photo: Valentin Baranovsky.
At his house, the corregidor shows his wife the jewelry chest that was found in the gypsies’ cart, and she notices that one of the pieces is identical to one in the portrait of her long-lost daughter. The old gypsy woman admits to kidnapping a baby from the house many years ago. The truth becomes clear to everyone: Paquita is their daughter.
And with that shocking news (not really, we knew what was coming), Paquita reveals that Andrés is in fact of noble birth and begs her father to pardon him.
Caption: Paquita reunited with her parents. Photo: Valentin Baranovsky.
The corregidor visits the jail and challenges Andrés to prove he is a gentleman. Andrés performs a noble dance and the corregidor is convinced.
Guests—including officers, gypsies, bridesmaids, and even Andrés’ father—celebrate the wedding of Paquita and Andrés at a lavish, dance-filled party.
Caption: The final moment of Paquita and Andrés’ wedding celebration. Photo: Valentin Baranovsky.
Paquita, a young dancer Andrés, a young noble gentleman Francisco de Cárcamo, Andrés’ father A Corregidor (government official) and his wife, Doña Guiomar A widow and her daughter, Carducha Clemente, the corregidor’s secretary
An old gypsy woman and old gypsy man who raise Paquita Russian Ballet Meets Spanish Dance
You’ll probably notice that in
Paquita, the gypsies often dance in one way, and the noble gentlemen and ladies dance in another. That’s because the gypsies are frequently performing a specific style of ballet called “character dance.” Commonly used in story ballets like Paquita, character dances depict people of certain professions, and personalities, or the folk dances of specific nations—especially those of Spain, Russia, Hungary, Poland, and Italy. Need specifics? Try these on: the Polish mazurka (muh-ZUR-kuh) in Coppélia, the Hungarian czardas (SHAR-duhz) in Swan Lake, the Italian tarantella (the-ruhn-THE-luh) in Napoli, and much of the Spanish dancing in Paquita and Don Quixote. The dancers of the Mariinsky Ballet are particularly well known for character dance: It’s part of their training at the company’s associate school, the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet.
So, what makes character dance different from other styles of ballet?
Let’s start with the shoes. Character dances are usually performed in special shoes or boots that have a suede sole and a small heel. Other dancers—such as the noblewomen in
Paquita—wear flexible ballet slippers or pointe shoes that allow them to dance on the tips of their toes.
Caption: Look for the gypsy girls in character shoes; Paquita in pointe shoes. Photos: Valentin Baranovsky.
For more on pointe shoes:
ARTSEDGE Gear Series: Pointe Shoe
Then there’s the movement itself, which is even more important. Character dances tend to be less formal than classical ballet, allowing the performers to show more passion, emotion, and individuality. You’ll see the influence of Spanish-style dancing in
Time out for a bit of history. The gypsies—or the Romani people, as many of them prefer to be called—played a large role in developing
flamenco (fluh-MENG-coh), a rhythmic style of Spanish dance and music that includes singing, guitar playing, clapping, and finger snapping. Some of flamenco’s qualities were absorbed into Paquita, and combined with traditional Russian ballet, as character dance (for example, the gypsies’ foot-stomping and clapping throughout the first act).
Watch this video of traditional Spanish flamenco dance performed by Ballet Flamenco Andalucia:
How would you compare these flamenco dancers’ movements and rhythms to the gypsies’ dances in
Also watch and listen for…
the differences in footwear and movement among
Paquita’s characters. What do they tell you about the characters? the difference in the costumes between the noble people and the gypsies. Some Spanish noble women, for example, wear traditional lace head and shoulder shawls called
mantillas (mahn-TEE-yahs), often worn over a high comb called a peineta (pay-NEH-tah), while many of the gypsies wear scarves to cover their heads. how Paquita herself dances throughout the ballet. What elements of character dance and “noble” dancing does she show? And when?
How pantomime—expressive use of arm and hand gestures—helps tell the story. The
Grand Pas Classique: A Ballet Feast
Caption: Mariinsky Ballet in the
Grand Pas Classique. Photo: Valentin Baranovsky.
Although most of Marius Petipa’s
Paquita was forgotten long ago, one part lived on: the Grand Pas Classique, a showcase of classical dancing that takes up most of Act III. The Grand Pas has actually been performed on its own by the Mariinsky Ballet, the Bolshoi Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, the National Ballet of Cuba, and many other companies across the globe.
Why is it so popular? For starters, just count how many different solos are within it. A company can really show off the wide variety of skilled dancers in their company by giving them featured solos. Plus, the dancers perform some of classical ballet’s most challenging steps—there’s no “faking it” here!—and the choreography keeps changing in exciting ways for more than 30 minutes.
Grand Pas is also a great example of “pure” dance. Many dances—including those in Acts I and II of Paquita—help tell a story, but pure dance exists only for itself. Sure, technically the Grand Pas is part of Paquita and Andrés’ wedding celebration, but you don’t need to know that to enjoy it—and that’s why so many ballet companies perform it separately.
Caption: Mariinsky Ballet in the
Grand Pas Classique. Photo: Valentin Baranovsky.
Just before the
Grand Pas, a group of children entertain the wedding guests with a mazurka—another example of character dance, this time inspired by Polish traditions. Then the adults take over. Fourteen women—Paquita’s bridesmaids—enter dancing and then stand aside for Paquita. Andrés arrives to dance with his bride, lifting her and holding her as she spins gracefully.
And they all lived happily ever after…right? Nope. We’re just getting started!
In groups of two or four, the bridesmaids elegantly leap and spin across the stage in unison. Next come a series of solos by the bridesmaids, each completely different in speed, steps, and mood. After Paquita and Andrés return for their own solos, the music speeds up and the whole wedding party shows off its skill one last time. Andrés performs
pirouettes à la seconde (pir-OO-et ah lah suh-GOND), a series of large turns in the second position with the working leg turned out to the side at 90 degrees.
Then Paquita dances one of the most famous sequences in all of ballet: 32
fouettés (fweh-TEYZ, French for “whipped”). She spins in place 32 times, standing on one leg and “whipping” the other leg around her—all while going on and off the tips of her toes. This sequence first appeared in 1893—in Petipa’s production of Cinderella—and is now part of several other famous ballets that he choreographed, including Swan Lake and Don Quixote.
Watch a dancer rehearse the 32 fouettés in
And now, with Paquita, Andrés, the bridesmaids, and the children back onstage, the
Grand Pas and the ballet come to an end.
After you’ve seen the ballet, think about why the
Grand Pas has always been so popular. And if you’d seen the Grand Pas on its own, would you have guessed that it took place at a wedding?
Also watch and listen for:
the differences among the many solos in the
Grand Pas Classique. (We know, it’s hard to keep track of them all!) How do the steps vary? How does the speed of the music affect the dancing? how Paquita’s steps mirror—and differ from—that of her bridesmaids.
the variety of patterns the dancers make in the
Grand Pas. What shapes do you notice? How the music and dancing in the Grand Pas compare with the rest of Paquita.
What aspects of the Grand Pas seem inspired by Spanish-styled dances to you? Take Action: Something Old, Something New
For this version of
Paquita, choreographer Yuri Smekalov combined new and old material. Although most of the dances in Act III have not changed since Marius Petipa choreographed them in the late 1800s, Smekalov created all of the dances in Acts I and II and rearranged the order of the music. He also made changes to the story itself: He adopted some of the plot of La Gitanilla ( The Little Gypsy Girl), a 1613 novella by the legendary Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes, and also included some of its characters, such as Andrés. (In earlier productions, Paquita falls in love with a French man named Lucien—who turns out to be her cousin.)
Smekalov’s new production also honors the ballet’s original Russian production—and its choreographer, Petipa—while making it totally new. Now it’s your turn. Imagine that you’ve been challenged to re-create one of your favorite stories by changing its characters. It could be a movie, a television show, a book, a short story, a play, or another ballet. Remove at least one major character and create at least one new one. How do your changes affect the story? Pair up with a friend, share your revised story, and talk through your thought process.
You’re ready for
Teachers, Guardians, and Caregivers: We’ve Got You Covered
Ballet is an art form that had its origins in Europe over 400 years ago.
Dancing was entertainment in the royal courts of Italy and France, and was largely about telling tales of gods and heroes from mythology. But when the French King Louis XIV came along in 1643, he took court dancing to a whole new level. He loved to dance so much that he took lessons every day, starred in many productions, and started a school of ballet. That’s why the steps ballet students learn have French names.
Then, as now, all things French were fashionable. Ballet schools based on the French model sprang up all across Europe in the 1700s. Choreographers began exploring ballets that told stories including tales of princes and princesses, foreign countries, and romantic entanglements. Moreover, as ballet dancing became more skilled and complex, costuming changed. Gone were the long, courtly gowns and heeled shoes. Dancers needed shorter skirts to allow them to move more freely. Soft slippers enabled dancers to jump and turn, ultimately leading to the pointe shoe, a slipper with a stiff box in the toe that we see ballerinas wear today. This specialized shoe allows women to stand up on their toes
en pointe, making them look taller and their legs look that much longer.
Peter the Great, who ruled Russia from 1672–1725, appreciated all the latest fads and fashions from Western Europe. He invited dance masters from France and Italy to teach Russian nobility how to “get down,” ballet style, on the dance floor. Marius Petipa, a French dance master, was appointed ballet master at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1871. Many of the famous ballets known today were created by Petipa during his tenure there, including
The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, and The Nutcracker. Petipa trained Russian-born dancers for his ballets instead of importing talent from foreign countries. His fame as a choreographer and his emphasis on Russian dancers helped establish a strong tradition of ballet in Russia thatcontinues to this day.
Yuri Smekalov is a part of that strong tradition. He has worked as a choreographer in Russia since 2008, and joined the Mariinsky Theatre as a dancer in 2009.
Here are some discussion points you may want to discuss with young people after the show: Think about how this ballet differed from what they may have expected.
Consider the different parts of the show. Can they comment on its choreography, costumes, a set/scenery piece, or aspect of the lighting that caught their attention?
Paquita contains excellent examples of both character dancing and classical dancing. Compare and contrast the two styles and describe what they like about each.
Here are some resources you may want to explore more:
History of Ballet
For a good history of ballet and the rise of the ballerina: “A Short History of Ballet” from The Australian Ballet
Petipa and Russian Ballet
For more information on Marius Petipa and Russian ballet history: www.russianballethistory.com/diaghilevchoreographers.htm
For more information on the Mariinsky Theatre, which traces its history as far back as 1783:
https://www.mariinsky.ru/en/about/history/mariinsky_theatre ADDITIONAL IMAGES
Caption: Gypsies perform in the town square. Photo: Valentin Baranovsky.
Caption: The gypsies dance at their camp. Photo: Valentin Baranovsky.
Caption: Paquita learns her true identity. Photo: Valentin Baranovsky.
Children of the Vaganova Ballet Academy, the Mariinsky Ballet’s associate school, dance during the wedding celebration. Photo: Valentin Baranovsky.