In the world of ballet, in the subgenre of choreography, no one is more celebrated than Marius Petipa. Given the title “father of classical ballet”, a great deal of ballets produced today still use original choreography from Petipa.
Born in 1818 in Marseilles, France, Petipa’s father was also a dancer and teacher, so it isn’t surprising that the younger Petipa would start his training at the youthful age of seven. After training under his father’s tutelage Petipa went on to study at the Grand College in Brussels.
His education in the dance did not end there and he would continue working with his father and touring even though he wasn’t really fond of dancing, at least not in the earlier years. Little did Marius Petipa realize that he would go on to be the greatest ballet choreographer at one time.
We would like to introduce you to some of Marius Petipa’s most notable works.
With Music by Austrian composer Ludwig Minkus this ballet was initially performed in four acts and seven tableaux, which is when a group of moving performers freeze for dramatic effect and go one with their motion. First performed by the Imperial Ballet at in St. Petersburg, Russia at the Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre, this ballet was staged for Prima ballerina Ekaterina Vazem.
It took Petipa six months to completely choreograph La Bayadère due to conflicts with Vazem. The choreographer also feared that they wouldn’t sell any tickets since the Director of the Theater, Baron Karl Kister pumped up the price of the tickets to some of the most expensive for the time.
La Bayadère refers to the main character Nikiya because she is a bayadère, a dancing girl of the Hindu religion, specifically a female who dances in a southern Indian temple. Nikiya and Solor, a warrior, vow to love each other eternally. The High Brahmin, or nobleman, also loves Nikiya. Solor, on the other hand, has been selected by the Rajah (king) Dugmanta of Golconda to marry his daughter Gamzatti.
The High Brahmin decides to tell the Rajah about the fidelity vow Nikiya and Solor have taken in hopes that he would take out his wrath on Solor. Unfortunately, his plan rebounds back toward him when the Rajah decides it is Nikiya who must be executed.
Gamzatti becomes privy to Nikiya and Solor’s relationship and offers the bayadère money to leave and never see Solor again. Jealous Nikiya tries to kill Gamzatti but fails. She runs and Gamzatti swears vengeance. Little does Gamzatti, Solor, or Nikiya know that the bayadère has been hired to perform at Gamzatti and Solor’s wedding.
While dancing at the wedding Nikiya is given a basket of flowers not knowing that there is a serpent inside. It jumps out and bites her and Nikiya dies. Gamzatti is the one who put the snake in the basket for the bayadère. The High Brahmin tells her he can save her with an antidote but Nikiya chooses to die rather than live a life without Solor.
After a transcending experience with opium, Solor is haunted by Nikiya’s memory as he is about to marry Gamzatti. When the High Brahmin unites them the Gods come down on the wedding party in a fury. Happily, Nikiya and Solor’s souls are joined together after death until eternity.
Based on the famous novel by Miguel de Cervantes, this Marius Petipa work was originally staged in 1869 at the Ballet of the Imperial Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. The music for this ballet was also written by Ludwig Minkus. Yet they revised and reprised Don Quixote a few years later and released it in St. Petersburg at the Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre in 1871.
The show starts will Sanson Carrasco, a bachelor. He is hiding a bookcase while Antonina opens the cabinet to put a shield and helmet away. Enter Don Quixote engrossed in a novel. He is thoroughly entertaining the book. While reading Don Quixote fantasizes of Dulcinea, a woman who seems to be in his fantasies. She is the most beautiful and adored woman, to Don Quixote.
We meet Kitri, she is the daughter of Lorenzo, a local innkeeper. Kitri is in love with Basilio, a local barber, and he with her. She runs off to meet him but is caught by her father. Lorenzo isn’t only against her love of Basilio, he has already promised her to Gamache, a rich aristocrat. Enter Don Quixote and his servant Sancho. Lorenzo recognizes him as a great man who lives at a legendary castle, and invites Don Quixote to sit on his terrace.
When Don Quixote sees Kitri he believes her to be his beloved Dulcinea and he tries to seduce Lorenzo’s daughter, who has been promised to Gamache. This is when Kitri and Basilio have had enough. They run away and all four men, her father Lorenzo, her betrothed Gamache, and the would be pair of mad men Don Quixote and Sancho.
The reason we call Don Quixote mad, and his servant, is because this is the point in the ballet where everything gets bizarre. First Kitri hides amongst some gypsies when they call her out for being a girl when she is dressed like a boy. Then we meet Graziosa, the daughter of the gypsy chief.
Graziosa and her father play a trick on Don Quixote posing as royalty until he mistakes her for his Dulcinea as well. Don Quixote attacks them and they run away frightened. From here Don Quixote mistakes the moon for his beloved Dulcinea. He combats with a windmill in a sword battle, in which he loses his dignity and his consciousness.
Never fear though, Don Quixote is eventually reunited with his Dulcinea, but only after he regains his strength and faces formidable beasts and a gargantuan arachnoid. When he finally sees the real Dulcinea, Don Quixote kneels before her.
Meanwhile, Basilio stabs himself when learning of Kitri being promised to Gamache. While dying he begs to see Kitri, Gamache, who is soon to be her husband refuses. Don Quixote challenges him to duel for denying a man’s wish while on his death bed. Gamache cowardly refuses and he is driven away in shame. Then Basilio reveals his stab wounds was a fake and everyone lives happily ever after, except Don Quixote.
This ballet of the romantic era consists of two acts. The first performance was held at the Ballet Théâtre de l’Académie Royale de Musique in Paris in June of 1841. Still, it is the revivals created by Marius Petipa during the turn of the twentieth century that is still performed today. This version was premiered by Petipa at the Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg.
Tragically, our title character Giselle, has been born with a weak heart. Her mother is over protective and she is a timid and modest girl. Duke Albrecht of Silesia has fallen in love with Giselle but he has been promised to another, which seems to be a theme in many ballets in the romantic era. Bathilde, whose father is the Duke of Courtland, is to be Albrecht’s wife.
Albrecht concocts an idea where he will meet Giselle, and tell her his name is Loys. He does so and they fall in love. But Hilarion, who is also in love with Giselle, does not like Loys and cautions Giselle of his insincerity, and so does her mother, Berthe. Giselle, like most young girls experiencing first love, ignores their warnings.
A large group of noblemen enter and Bathilde is with them. Albrecht runs knowing that she will identify him. Bathilde and Giselle meet and become friends. Bathilde even bestows a necklace on Giselle because she is so fond of her. IN turn, Giselle is thrilled.
The group leaves and Albrecht returns to dance with Giselle, but Hilarion confronts them with Albrecht’s sword to prove that he isn’t Loys, but a nobleman promised to another. This is when the group returns too quickly for Albrecht to hide again and he has no choice but to acknowledge his relationship with Bathilde.
Giselle is hurt at the revelation. She goes mad and dances in frenzy before her heart gives out and she dies in Albrecht’s arms. Hilarion is furious but Albrecht runs quickly distraught. Berthe holds her dead daughter and cries.
Night is here and Hilarion goes to Giselle’s grave to mourn. Suddenly the Wilis, a group of spirits who were once women deceived by their lovers, and their leader queen Myrtha appear. They spend their days exacting their revenge on men that have wronged them by making them dance until exhaustion sets in.
The ghosts summon the spirit of Giselle and they chase Hilarion into the forest. This is when Albrecht enters to lay flowers on Giselle’s grave. He has wronged her and he is feeling a great deal of remorse.
The Wilis have Hilarion cornered and make him dance. When he can’t dance anymore the drown him in a lake. Then the group goes after Albrecht, but Giselle stands up to them. She loves him and forgives him. The Wilis don’t care how Giselle feels. They begin to force Albrecht to dance. Yet, Giselle’s love is too powerful for them and Loys is spared.
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