"Romantic ballet. It seems like we all know what it is and what it looks like. We all have seen the picture of Maria Taglioni as a sylph in her father’s production of “La Sylphide” in Paris. Or the picture of Carlotta Grisi as Giselle, while in our minds we associate it with the sounds of the music composed by Adolphe Adam, with its tragic and yet melancholic tones. And “Pas de quatre“ which is probably one of the first “super-production” of its era, bringing together the biggest stars of that time.
Today we feel as though we are witnessing the performances in the same shape as they were at the time they were created. Yet, nothing is farther than the truth.
The original version of “La Sylphide” created by Filippo Taglioni in 1832 has been lost and nobody knows what it looked like. Four years later, in 1836, August Bournonville created his own version in Copenhagen with the Royal Danish Ballet. His choreography has been passed down between the generations making it one of the oldest surviving ballets.
The original version of Giselle created by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot was a huge success at its premiere, later on being staged at many theatres across Europe. However, the version we are mainly seeing today, almost everywhere in the world, is derived from the revised version created by Marius Petipa for the Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg.
“Pas de quatre” is a ballet-divertissement created by Jules Perrot on music by Cesare Pugni and premiered in London at His Majesty’s Theatre in 1845. It brought together four of the most famous ballerinas of those times, Maria Taglioni, Fanny Cerrito, Carlotta Grisi and Lucille Grahn. (As a side note, it is interesting to notice that Taglioni danced the first version of “La Sylphide” in 1832, Lucille Grahn danced the Bournonville’s version premiere in Copenhagen in 1836 while Carlotta Grisi danced the premiere of "Giselle" in Paris in 1841). Despite its success, the original choreography of “Pas de quatre” has been lost, all that’s left is the famous lithograph by A. E. Chalon portraying the four stars posing together. A later version restaged by Anton Dolin in 1941, is the source of inspiration for what we see today around the world as “Pas de quatre”.
In staging a 19th Century Romantic Ballet performance one must undertake the role of explorer and historian very serious. It is not easy to find valid information and close-to-original sources. Another challenge one faces is passing the information to the dancers and helping them re-shape the habits coming from mixed schools of ballet. How to achieve speed of foot-work without loosing the expressivity of the upper-body in Bournonville’s style? How to present the elegant and fluid arm movements of “Pas de Quatre” trying to keep in mind the original-historical cast of its premiere and the dancers of today? How to shape and express the characters of Giselle and Albrecht next to those of the peasants in the Pas de deux and the group? All these are challenges that offer the opportunity of research and development, a job I am very happy to have undertaken together with the dancers of Kaohsiung City Ballet and with he support of Miss Chang Hsiu Ru. I hope you will enjoy with us a romantic evening."
Rehearsal director, Constantin Georgescu