The elegant Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, hosted American Ballet Theatre in its full-length sumptuous production of “Harlequinade.” It was Staged, with additional choreography, by Alexei Ratmansky from the original choreography by the prolific Marius Petipa.  The lighthearted and time-honored score was by Riccardo Drigo.  And, bringing the true sense of color and tradition was the brilliant work of Scenic and Costume designer Robert Perdziola who took history and put it in such delightful and exquisite form as to be dessert for the eyes.

Anna Pavlova and Mikhail Fokine as attendants of Harlequin and Columbine’s wedding (ca.1900).

Anna Pavlova and Mikhail Fokine as attendants of Harlequin and Columbine’s wedding (ca.1900).

As background for this ballet, Petipa was originally commissioned to do a trilogy for the 1900-1901 season at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia.  One of the full-length ballets to come from this Trilogy was “Harlequinade.”  In the tradition of Comedia Del Arte, this classic in two acts, begins with the slapstick First Act, a playful tryst of misbegotten encounters. The Second Act is a showpiece. It’s reminiscent of the time-honored variations that such greats as Kschessinskaya, Preobashenskaya, Cecchetti, Pavlova, and Fokine distinguished in their time.  It’s made up of lively solos, pas de deux, and the corps work of 12 “Larks,” 16 Polonaise Couples, and the grand amount of 35 children, dressed in wonderful Pulichinelles, Harlequins and Columbines, Pierrots and Pierrettes and Scaramouch costumes to complete this generous undertaking.

In this production Harlequin was danced by Carlos Gonzalez, and Columbine by Sarah Lane. Both quite adequate when working separately, however, in the second act their Pas de Deux, was nail-biting in its execution.  Several miscalculations and near failed lifts and turns may have indicated a lack of rehearsal, strength, or mismatch.

Misty Copeland, on the other hand, this evening, shone with exquisite bravura and lightness.  With her lovely open smile, and lively and entertaining beats and turns she seemed to sparkle, and be made for the role of Pierrette, wife of Pierrot.  However, the over-the-top performance of Calvin Royal III took away from the traditional empathy the audience has for this sad clown and his love for Columbine.  What should have been Pierrot’s naiveté and his “everyman” attraction, simply shown as buffoonery which became an annoying series of un-funny, un-charming efforted mis-steps.  Perhaps having been mis-directed, mis-cast, or simply disconnected with the wonderful history of this beloved character.

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ABT - Christine Shevchenko and Thomas Forster in Harlequinade. Photo: Rosalie O’Connor.

What truly shone as the highlight was the incredible, well-rehearsed, and exceptional work of the corps, both as the Larks, the Polonaise and the outstanding children in their various “Comedia” costumed roles.  So impeccable and well-rehearsed were they as to evoke true admiration for those who supervised and rehearsed them.  It evoked the Russian tradition of the graduation performances at semesters end.

This production of Harlequinade is worth seeing for its lightness of spirit, beautiful costumes and sets, wonderful corps work, reminiscence of the classic choreography, and being aware of the marvelous Petipa and Russian Ballet tradition we often do not get an opportunity to see.

For more information on American Ballet Theatre, click here.

Featured image: Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside in Harlequinade. Photo: Rosalie O’Connor.