by Diane Claytor
Maria Tallchief and André Eglevsky. Oleg Ivenko and Kristina Andreeva. Patricia McBride and Edward Vilella. Mikhail Baryshnikov. Anton Korsikov. George Balanchine. Diablo Ballet’s co-founder and Artistic Director, Lauren Jonas. These incredible dancers have all, over the years, performed in Harlequinade, a ballet in the commedia dell’arte style. And on February 6 and 7, Diablo Ballet’s Derek Sakakura and Rosselyn Ramirez will join this illustrious list when they perform George Balanchine’s Harlequinade Pas de Deux at Walnut Creek’s Del Valle Theatre.
Continuing Diablo Ballet’s 21st season, the playful Harlequinade Pas de Deux is one of several show-stopping performances included in “Enticing Beauty.” Other repertoires are a Diablo Ballet premier of the dreamy duet, Sea Pictures Pas de Deux, by Christopher Wheeldon and originally commissioned for the SF Ballet; Robert Dekker’s visually stunning cares you know not, set to an original score by Samuel Carl Adams; and Serenade pour Corde et Corps, a world premier by the dynamic award-winning Canadian choreographer Sonya Delwaide.
When Lauren co-founded Diablo Ballet in 1994, one of her goals was to keep classical ballet alive; she believes that showcasing Balanchine pieces is an excellent way to do this.
The original Harlequinade, which was actually called Les Millions d’Arlequin, was not a Balanchine production; it was choreographed by Marius Petipa (said to be his last successful ballet) with music by Italian composer Riccardo Drigo and first presented by Russia’s Imperial Ballet in 1900. According to mtv.com, the audience for this first performance included the Russian Emperor and Empress as well as the whole Imperial court. “Within moments of the final curtain, the typically subdued courtly audience erupted into thunderous applause. The composer received a tumultuous reception…and was mobbed by several Grand Dukes who tripped over one another in their enthusiasm to congratulate him.” (Note: Drigo’s score spawned the popular repertory piece known as Serenade, which has since been arranged for just about every instrument – particularly the violin and piano. Also, according to nycballet.com, Les Millions d’Arlequin continued a Petipa tradition “in which the choreographer liked to insert a popular song into the scores of his ballets. Drigo obliged with a French song about the Duke of Marlborough, which we know today as ‘For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.’”)
In 1933, Ballet Master Fyodor Lopukhov restaged the ballet as Harlequinade for the Ballet of the Maly Theatre of Leningrad. However, audiences are likely most familiar with Balanchine’s revival, which he staged for the NewYork City Ballet in February 1965 in honor of the original ballet’s 65th anniversary. (An interesting note: as a student, Balanchine danced in Les Millions d’Arlequin.) When reworking the classical ballet,Balanchine, who referred to Petipa as his primary influence, reportedly said he “attempted to remain faithful to the spirit of Petipa’s dances” and followed the tradition of the commedia dell’arte, which was popular in Italy and France from the 16th to 18th centuries and was filled with humor, slapstick and mimicry. Balanchine’s piece has been described as “offering something for every dancegoer: a charming story with the moral of prevailing love….fanciful and funny characters, vivid sets and costumes.”
When describing dance, abt.com states that Balanchine wrote, “…dancing is one of the great arts. The important think in ballet is the movement itself…a ballet may contain a story, but the visual spectacle, not the story, is the essential element….the choreographer and the dancer must remember that they reach the audience through the eye…”
Lauren said she chose to include the Harlequinade Pas de Deux because it demonstrates Balanchine’s musicality; contains great classical music, which will be performed live by concert pianist Roy Bogas; and because it showcases the originality and technical caliber of Diablo Ballet’s outstanding dancers.
Tickets are still available for “Enticing Beauty”, which will be performed at 8 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 6 and at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 7. Tickets may be purchased at www.lesherartscenter.org or by callilng 925-943-SHOW. You don’t want to miss it!