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Bolshoi Ballet

'The Pharaoh's Daughter'

Fashion dynasty

by Odile GB

August 6, 2004 -- Royal Opera House, London

Premiered in 1862 in St. Petersburg the colourful Egyptian spectacle "The Pharaoh's Daughter" was Marius Petipa's first big success in Russia. Although popular and frequently revived it was withdrawn from the repertoire during the Soviet area after a brief reappearance in 1928, and gradually became forgotten. In 2000 Pierre Lacotte restored the work to its old glory with the help of the detailed libretto and some remaining fragments of pre-Revolutionary choreographic notation. In the end he redesigned and recreated the entire work in order to "resurrect not the letter but the spirit of the age".

The ballet tells the story of Lord Wilson who on his travels through Egypt takes refuge from a sandstorm in a nearby pyramid. After smoking an opium pipe he falls asleep and dreams himself back to ancient times where he, now changed into the Egyptian Taor, falls in love with Aspicia, the Pharaoh's daughter. Her father wants her to marry the King of Nubia so the lovers flea and after some trials and tribulations the Pharaoh gives the young couple his blessing. In the midst of the rejoicing Lord Wilson wakes from his dream. The story is not really that important but merely the excuse for great ensemble, solo and pas de deux dances. At one point Aspicia even throws herself into the river Nile in despair which leads to an underwater divertissement featuring the Ruler of the river Nile who bears a strong resemblance to Neptune and a corps de ballet dressed in pale blue romantic tutus.

Apart from the underwater scene which was a bit too kitschy for my taste the lavish sets and costumes are charmingly beautiful. Pierre Lacotte certainly did not restrain himself in any way. Aspicia has seven different outfits, her slave Ramze has three, and this is only the count for two main characters. The choreography is very French with lots of delicate footwork, so unlike the big, bold style one normally associates with the Bolshoi. Interestingly, the pas de deux are focusing a bit less on the ballerina than one would normally expect in a Petipa ballet. Quite often Taor appears right next to Aspicia performing the same steps.

On Friday night Svetlana Zakharova and Sergei Filin danced the lead roles and easily won the audience over. The entire company looked in very good shape and the fine performances in the many solo variations were too many too count. A couple of the big ensemble scenes looked slightly overcrowded but that is understandable since the piece had been created on a bigger stage.

I would say "The Pharaoh's Daughter" is a very enjoyable piece of light entertainment but it does not have the same impact as a good performance of "Swan Lake" or "La Bayadere".  In that respect it is probably hampered by Pugni's nice and pleasant but completely unmemorable score. Nevertheless given the chance I would certainly go and see it again.

Edited by Jeff.

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