The 2019-2020 Kennedy Center ballet season opens with one of classical ballet’s most iconic companies performing a work rarely seen in its entirety. Mariinsky Ballet‘s Paquita at The Kennedy Center is the United States premiere of this updated production of a love story that takes place in Napoleon-occupied Spain. Yes, there is a tale behind Paquita, although many ballet goers may not be aware. Most are familiar with the virtuosic variations under the title of Paquita grand pas classique which is the abridged version of the full-length ballet that companies – and variations classes – all around the world often perform. Yet there are another two acts that preface this showcase, those that tell of the title character gypsy girl with noble blood and the French soldier that loves her.
The curtain rises on this opening night provoking oohs and aahs from the audience. And justifiably so. The sets of the corregidor’s house is crimson elegant with portraits decorating the walls (Do I spot an honorable nod to Cervantes? Yuri Smekalov‘s libretto is based on the Spanish master’s La gitanilla.) which provide an impressive perception of depth. The initial excitement seems to collectively wane though as the prologue takes just a bit too long.
Despite reading the program synopsis, it is challenging to follow the story line in the first act. There are many characters on the stage who are quickly introduced and then just as quickly blended into the background. Plus, there are two groups of soldiers (which – as mentioned in this review of Le Corsaire – are composed of the talented men in the company): Officers and Guardian Officers; to whom does each contingent pledge their allegiance? And although there is a lot of festive street dancing, the music at times feels so labored that the movement has no choice but to follow suit.
The first standout moment of the evening is David Zaleyev‘s solo. As Clemente, his clean and buoyant variation is an energetic burst of fresh air in an otherwise crowded scene.
Neither Viktoria Tereshkina nor Timur Askerov‘s entrances as Paquita and Andrés, respectively, are particularly notable. And to be blunt, neither is their dancing save Askerov’s beautifully tight batterie. There is no doubt that they are talented, but being two of only three principal dancers of one the most prestigious classical ballet companies of both present and past, the expectations are high. Perfection is an unreasonable request, but refined technique and astute artistry are not. Perhaps this is an off night, but there is an unfinished quality in the execution of the choreography and a lack of passion in their partnership.
Unfortunately, this sense of incoherence also extends to the production itself. In one scene where the gypsies are traveling, human-operated tree/bush props are carried (one has to assume) to give the impression of movement forward in space and time. This is a method used successfully in many theater stagings, but not so much in this case. There is so little space downstage of the proscenium that the travelers and their wagon bump into the trees. At one point, it is noted that a dancer actually manipulates one so that he can move to his next mark.
And then in what should have been a poignant silent scene when Paquita and Andrés are struggling having just been arrested and incarcerated, we hear the stagehands shouting instructions to one another as they change the scenery. One could possibly forgive this as a small (amateur) oversight but backstage conversations heard in the opera house is simply unprofessional and unacceptable.