Anastasia Isaeva, an expert of the IngoDance portal, takes work by Alexei Ratmansky as an example to explain what a "restored ballet" is, where you can see it and why you should do it.
Alexei Ratmansky is widely known not only as a choreographer and creator of his own versions of performances, but also as a professional ballet restorer. Restoration of a ballet means a return to the original version of the performance, which requires a long and painstaking work. Over time, performances change, they get shorter, whole scenes disappear into oblivion, so they lose their original look. Thanks to restorations, we have an opportunity to feel the spirit and unique atmosphere of the ballet, see what it looked like at the time of Marius Petipa, for example.
How do they restore a performance?
There are several dance recording systems, but when restoring the ballet La Bayadere, that premiered at the Berlin Opera, Alexei Ratmansky relied on the notations by Nikolai Sergeev kept at the Harvard Museum Library. The dance recording system is very similar to sheet music, as it has everything written down: positions for the arms, head, body and legs. Separate sheets show schematically the corps de ballet, what the mass scenes should look like. If you have a closer look at the picture below, where part of the Shadows scene from the ballet La Bayadere is recorded, you will see dotted lines indicating the direction of movement.
A characteristic feature of the restored ballets is a large amount of pantomime. The characters use it to tell the story. The sets and costumes, the color schemes of the restored performances may also seem unusual if compared to the modern versions. Therefore, audiences often perceive the restoration of ballets with some skepticism.
Giselle and The Pharaoh's Daughter
The premiere of the ballet Giselle, restored by Alexei Ratmansky at the Bolshoi Theater, was a spectacular event in Moscow ballet life a couple of years ago. With the help of notations, Ratmansky managed to unravel many lost details: in his version, Bathilde is not an arrogant person but a compassionate girl who forgives her fiancé too. In the madness scene, it is Albert who takes his sword from Giselle, not Hans, as in other productions that we are used to. In the second act, there are symbols highlighted: a cross - the corps de ballet dancers form it; at the end of the performance, Giselle and Albert are standing near a cross and the Wilis are slowly retreating from them dancing.
What should you do before watching a restored ballet?
To enjoy a restored ballet, to feel the difference, you need to know the current versions well enough. And to ensure that perception of the ballet is complete, the viewer should understand gestures and pantomime.
When preparing to see a restored production, it is extremely important to carefully read interviews with the choreographer: usually, when working on the ballet for a long time, studying a lot of sources, they find out rare facts and details of the dance that even ballet historians might not know about.
Alexei Ratmansky is currently working on the restoration of The Pharaoh's Daughter ballet for the Mariinsky Theater. This ballet once brought fame to Marius Petipa and was received by the audience with great enthusiasm. Thanks to the choreographer’s meticulous restoration work, we will get a unique opportunity to see the masterpiece of the past in its authentic form.