The Pharaoh’s Daughter

Date: April 30, 2010
Location: The National Centre for the Performing Arts (The Egg), Beijing.

Bolshoi Theatre

Orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre (orchestra)

Zakharova in The Pharaoh's Daughter. Photo by Damir Yusupov, from NCPA's website. All rights belong to its respective owner.

Zakharova in The Pharaoh’s Daughter. Photo by Damir Yusupov, from NCPA’s website.

When Marius Petipa was staying in Paris for the staging of one ballet, he came across another ballet scene written by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges. That scene, of course, was from “The Pharaoh’s Daughter”, which was based on French poet Théophile Gautier’s Le Roman de la Momie. Fascinated by the work’s reference to ancient Egypt and eager to please a Parisian crowd infatuated with cultural exoticism, Petipa immediately started working on the choreography while his friend Cesare Pugni composed the corresponding music. Its premiere in St. Petersburg in 1862 was an unalloyed success and, despite its lavish setting and pomposity, became one of the most frequently performed ballet in the twilight of Tsarist Russia. Because of its enormous production costs, it has been removed from the standard ballet repertoire for nearly 100 years, until Bolshoi and historian Pierre Lacotte revived it in 2000.

The production Bolshoi brought to Beijing was the 2000 revival. Headlining the 200-strong ballet troupe was Ukrainian Svetlana Zakharova, the superstar ballerina who was rooted at Mariinsky but moved to Bolshoi after an irreconcilable dispute with St. Petersburg’s administration. At merely thirty, she is famous for various roles, including: Giselle, The Sleeping Beauty, and Manon. The Beijing tour would mark her eighth season as Aspicia, the principal role in “Daughter”.

Scene 1 began with Taor traveling in Egypt. This setup scene was a little tentative, as though the cast was just beginning to warm up. Scene 2 marked Zakharova’s entrance, which was enthusiastically applauded by her rabid fans. With Zakharova’s porcelain face and finely chiseled facial features, it was easy to understand why Taor, danced by Ruslan Skvortsov, briskly fell in love with Aspicia at first sight. Zakharova’s body was stunning, and her bodily movement let out the sort of natural beauty not unlike migrating birds, basked in the warmth of a lazy autumn sunset, pleasantly gliding with the continental drift. While Zakharova moved across the dance floor with extreme agility and ease, her exquisite fingers provided the fine details to that motion. Her turn stop with one foot was perfectly aligned, and the fact that she did it seemingly effortlessly was going to make a lot of dancers in the audience soaked in awe, if not also in brutal jealousy. By comparison, Skvortsov was stiffer, though the comparison would be unfair under any circumstance.

The evening marked the 10th anniversary of “Meet in Beijing”, a multi-faceted music and arts festival held annually in Beijing. In the audience was Liu Yandong, a Politburo member and the highest ranking female government official in China after the retirement of Wu Yi, who apparently was also a big fan of the arts.

Svetlana Zaharova. From Bolshoi's website.

Svetlana Zakharova. From Bolshoi’s website.

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