Reviewed April 9, 2011
By Margaret Willis
Rainer Krenstetter as Gringoire and Iana Salenko as Esmeralda. Photo by Enrico Nawrath. Courtesy Staatsballett Berlin.
Yuri Burlaka’s re-staging of La Esmeralda was an unmitigated success for Staatsballett Berlin. It is a spectacular production, a timeless glimpse into the great Russian ballets of yesteryear. It’s filled with toe-tapping music by Pugni, stunning sets, vibrant gypsy dances, and a contrasting crystalline classical divertissement.
The original ballet was created by Jules Perrot in 1844 and expanded into a grand masterpiece by Petipa in 1886. Over the years, however, much of the original choreography was lost or changed. So Burlaka (whose two-year tenure as artistic director of the Bolshoi ended in March) took on the task of meticulously researching and reconstructing Petipa’s version for his company (as he had done with Le Corsaire and Paquita). Working with renowned choreographer Vasily Medvedev, Burlaka premiered the re-staged ballet in Moscow in December 2009. At the request of Staatsballett director Vladimir Malakhov, the Russian team brought the production to Berlin, albeit in a slightly shortened version (it is now two long acts rather than the original three). It suits the German company splendidly.
Set in 15th-century Paris, La Esmeralda is loosely based on Victor Hugo’s classic novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. It offers a quick-moving plot involving many colorful characters—a cut-throat band of gypsies, a penniless poet, the hideously deformed Quasimodo, whose master, a skulking priest, lusts after the beautiful dancer, Esmeralda. And then there is Phoebus, the handsome knight who falls in love with the young heroine, and she with him.
The first act is packed with action. The robust character dances were performed impressively by the company, thanks to the training by Yuliana Malkhasyants from the Bolshoi. There was also plenty of clearly enacted mime—something overlooked in most of today’s productions.
Act two, set in the brilliantly lit chateau of the knight’s fiancée, opens with an eye-catching array of classical diverts (recreated by Medvedev), prettily and precisely performed by ballerinas in pale pink tutus that shimmer with a silk topping—quite stunning. (The costumes were by Elena Zaitsev). Medvedev also choreographed a flowing and lyrical pas de deux for the reunion of Esmeralda and Phoebus, which the couple accomplished gracefully.
In the title role, Iana Salenko showed excellent technique in her neat footwork, high jumps, expansive port de bras, and supple back, though she could have offered more fire to her characterization—hopefully it will come. As Phoebus, Mikhail Kaniskin imparted elegance and nobility, with lightness and ease in his dancing. Rainer Krenstetter, as the poet Gringoire, was notable in both acting and dancing. Plaudits too for Michael Banzhaf, the creepy priest, and to Marian Lazar for his lopsided, wart-faced Quasimodo. La Esmeralda proved a success visually, technically, and musically.
Esmeralda continues May 6, 13, and 22 at Deutche Opera Berlin.