Wednesday, December 26, 2012
“Harlequinade”, George Balanchine’s only commedia dell’arte ballet, which the master created in 1965.
“Harlequinade” has always divided Balanchine devotees. Some view the work as an affectionate remembrance of the Mariinsky—and belated tribute to Marius Petipa—from Balanchine’s student days; others see “Harlequinade” as a failed reworking of a ballet that probably was not very good when first unveiled in 1900 by Petipa.
The ballet is not often staged, and performances offered subsequent to Balanchine’s death have been criticized across the board for failing to capture the spirit of the work. Perhaps only Balanchine himself knew how to realize the ballet’s magic.
I have never seen “Harlequinade”.
My parents saw “Harlequinade” once, many years ago, in a revival supervised by Balanchine himself. They do not recall the ballet with any special fondness.
What my parents remember most about that “Harlequinade” performance was a complicated Act II ensemble dance that included thirty or so child dancers, all appearing to be five years old—or younger. The child dancers had to perform very basic steps from the ballet vocabulary while circling the stage, and the second dancer in line completely stole the show, overdoing her steps to such an extreme, having the time of her life, that the New York City Ballet audience started applauding her every move.
At the conclusion of the number, the New York State Theater audience erupted as only a New York audience can, and would not allow the performance to continue until the tiny dancer was granted a solo bow.
My parents heard that the child dancer in question was replaced after that performance. Hers had been very un-Balanchine-like behavior.