Long-lost laughs revived

Danya Risam-Chandi, Staff Writer

Harlequin dances across the stage, the triangles of his clown suit rotating until he meets his beloved Columbine in her graceful pink tutu.

This year’s dance production has roots in early 1900s Russia. The comedic ballet was first performed for Tsar Nicholas II and the royal court. However, all records of the ballet were destroyed during the Russian Revolution of 1918.

George Balanchine, famed choreographer and co-founder of the New York City Ballet, recreated the ballet in 1954, based on his memories of performing it in the Imperial Ballet School.

The only original notation from the play was by choreographer Maurice Petipa. It was only in 2018 when a man named Alexei Ratmansky found the notes and became fluent in Petipa’s choreography “language,” that the true historically accurate ballet was put together.

“The ballet is fairly new to the world as it was just recently unearthed and reconstructed,” dance teacher Alex Farrior said. Not only that, but the dancers performed the same choreography as the original 1900 ballet.

The ballet also differs from others as it is a comedy.

“It’s not like Romeo and Juliet, which has drama and tragedy along with it,” Farrior said. “It’s just a light-hearted comedy.”

She said that was one of the most challenging aspects of the ballet.

“You can rehearse the steps over and over again to have beautiful pointed feet and straight legs, lines and designs on stage,” Farrior said, “but the moment that you turn your face or energy off on stage, you lose the audience and you lose the storytelling.”

The dancers also learned about the commedia dell’arte, an Italian form of improv on which “Harlequinade” is based.

“You have to really act big with your face in order for the audience to see what you’re expressing through the mask,” said Ava Stern, who played Harlequin. The playful nature of the ballet shined, and a large part of that was the easygoing nature of the cast.

“The characterization of our dancers and their talents are part of the reason we chose to do “Harlequinade” this year,” dance teacher Christie Sullivan said.

The clown motif is evident throughout the ballet, from costumes to setting to acting. When putting together costumes and building sets, historical accuracy was also a priority.

“We do our own research on the ballet and actually, there are a lot of historical photos of characters from this ballet being played by very famous dancers,” Sullivan said, “so that’s really fun to look at.”

Dancing was not all the cast had to manage; they also had to learn to act.

“What excites me the most is the theatrics of the whole thing,” Farrior said. “The dancers have to be completely focused on their character whether they are doing an amazing step or just standing and clapping.”