Is this ballet for you?
Go If: You love bold and spicy ballets Ã la Don Quixote. You’re all for feisty leading ladies and bravura dancing.
Skip If: You can’t stand an endless parade of divertissements and folk dancing. You think serious historical plays should not be turned into light entertainment.
Laurencia: Natalia Osipova / Maria Alexandrova;Â Frondoso: Denis Matvienko
Prima ballerina Maya Plisetskaya famously said that the concept of Soviet ballet started with Vakhtang Chabukiani and Laurencia proves her case. It is a typical Soviet-era work, characterised by social themes with dramatic and realistic interpretations and bold dancing. Laurencia is also an historically important ballet that sits somewhere between Petipa’s Imperial heritage – ie. ballets with emphasis on dance – and “choreodrama” – where movement had to be endowed with meaning. This trend would lead to a new generation of choreographers such as Grigorovich, famous for his reworking of Spartacus in the late Sixties.
Chabukiani was a Georgian dancer renowned for his virtuosity. In the Thirties he was one of the Kirov’s starriest dancers and often compared to Nijinsky. He was frequently paired with Natalia Dudinskaya and their partnership isÂ remembered for its frequent display of fireworks. Chabukiani established a style of dancing that was temperamental and heroic. He had a big role in the historical development of male dancing and was also a gifted choreographer, having developed several ballets for the Kirov. He is famous for rechoreographing many of the daring male variations from the classical repertoire to suit his own abilities, including Solor’s variation in La BayadÃ¨re and the slave variation in Le Corsaire.
Laurencia was the second ballet Chabukiani choreographed. He based the libretto on Fuente Ovejuna, a famous play by Spanish writer Lope de Vega. With Russia under the threat of Nazi invasion in 1939, Laurencia’s anti-tyranny theme seemed an appropriate choice, one that was Soviet in feel and in nature withÂ its peasant girl who leads villagers into an uprising. Chabukiani attempted to unite the elements of virtuosic classical dance – think plenty of divertissements – with drama and meaning, thus creating a choreodrama. He was deeply influenced by his Georgian roots, so he brought folklore elements in the form of various character dances.
Laurencia premiered at the Kirov Theatre, 22 March 1939. The lead roles were danced by Natalia Dudinskaya (Laurencia) and by Chabiukani himself (Frondoso). The ballet was a tremendous success and highly praised forÂ its perfect mixture of classical and character dance, its realism and the beauty of sets and costumes.
Laurencia continued to be a great success wherever it was staged:
- In 1948 the production wasÂ acquiredÂ by the Tbilisi State Theatre where Vera Tsignadze danced the title role.
- In 1956 it was staged for the Bolshoi Theatre where Chabukiani partnered legend Maya Plisetskaya. The ballet stayed in the Bolshoi repertoire for a long time, giving their greatest stars opportunities to show themselves off in the leading roles.
- In the West Laurencia is often associated with Nureyev who staged its pas de six for The Royal Ballet and The Joffrey. The bravura variations for Laurencia and FrondosoÂ are often performed as gala pieces.
- Recent revivals of the full piece include: for the Tbilisi State Theatre – Chabukiani’s staging in 1979 and Nukri Maghalashvili’s 2005 production and for the Mikhailovsky Ballet – the recent revival by Mikhail Messerer (2010).
In the Spanish village of Fuenteovejuna residents are celebrating the triumphant return of their Commander. Among the dances and festivities we encounter feisty Laurencia and her sweetheart Frondoso, each of whom dances a challenging variation toÂ introduce themselves to the audience. We immediately see they are popular with the villagers who play and tease them. Mengo, the violinist, appears. Laurencia’s friend, Pascuala, asks him to play and the ensemble of villagers dance.
Dances are suddenly interrupted by the arrival of the Commander. The villagers welcome him politely but cautiously while he only has eyes for Laurencia. He orders everyone away so he can be alone with her, though Pascuala refuses.Â As Laurencia rejects the Commander’s attentions he orders his soldiers to grab the girls and take them to the castle. Laurencia and Pascuala manage to escape into the woods.
In the woods Frondoso arrives and declares his feelings to Laurencia. As she teases and evades him they are interrupted by the sound of a horn from the Commander’s hunting party. Soon he reappears and tries to kiss Laurencia. Frondoso throws himself at the Commander and frees Laurencia from his grasp. The Commander leaves angrily and vowing to seek revenge.
Soon a group of girls comes to the stream to wash clothes. Mengo joins in and they all dance and make merry. Jacinta, a peasant girl, appears. She is approached by the Commander’s soldiers who chase and flirt with her. Mengo tries to defend Jacinta from them but is knocked down.Â Jacinta appeals to the Commander for protection but he just ignores her and hands her to the soldiers who take her away.
Elsewhere in the woodsÂ Laurencia, impressed by Frondoso’s bravery before the Commander and now convinced of his love, agrees to marry him.
The village is busy celebrating the wedding of Laurencia and Frondoso. There are plenty of character dances with Spanish flair, as well as the famous pas de six and challenging variations forÂ Laurencia and Frondoso. The celebrations are interruptedÂ by the Commander who has now arrived to take his revenge. He orders his soldiers to imprison Frondoso and to take Laurencia to his castle. Everyone is shocked and the dancing comes to a halt.
The men of Fuenteovejuna gather in the forest. They want to fight the tyrant but are afraid to take the first step. Laurencia appears, her dress in rags, looking battered but full of inner strength and fury. Using mime she shames the men for their inertia and incites them to react and fight. The village women support Laurencia and it is decided that all villagers will go to the Commander’s castle together.
Equipped with knives, sticks and clubs the villagers arrive at the castle. They set Frondoso free and turn to the Commander who tries to flee but is captured. Desperate, he tries to bribe the villagers with gold but is ultimately killed. The dead tyrant’s helmet is set up on a pole, symbolising the victory of Fuenteovejuna. The ballet ends at the castle with the villagers and leads raising their arms in triumph.
- Vakhtang Chabukiani as Frondoso (from “Masters of the Georgian Ballet”), 1955 [link]
- Maya Plisetskaya as Laurencia and Vakhtang Chabukiani as Frondoso in the Bolshoi’s 1956 stagingÂ [link]
- Lasha Khozashvili as Frondoso in the State Ballet of Georgia’s production [link]
- Yuri Soloviev and Kaleria Fedicheva in the pas de six (with Teresheva, Ivanova, Afanasiev and Ivanov),Â 1964 [Part 1] and [Part 2]
- Ninel Kurgapkina and Rudolf Nureyev in an extract from the pas de six [link]
- State Ballet of Georgia’s Lali Kandelaki as Laurencia [link]
- Maria Alexandrova dances Laurencia’s Variation [link]
Music: Alexander Krein
Original Choreography: Vakhtang Chabukiani
Original Designs: Soliko Virsaladze
Original Cast: Natalia Dudinskaya as Laurencia, Vakhtang Chabukiani as Frondoso.
Premiere: 22 March 1939 at the Kirov Theatre, St. Petersburg
Mikhailovsky Ballet Revival
Music: Alexander Krein, edited by Dmitry Zubov
Choreography: Vakhtang Chabukiani, revised by Mikhail Messerer
Designs: Oleg Molchanov (sets), Vyacheslav Okunev (costumes) based on the 1956 designs by Vadim Ryndin
Lighting Designer: Mikhail Mekler
Cast: Irina Perren as Laurencia and Marat Shemiunov as Frondoso
Premiere: 5 June 2010 at the Mikhailovsky Theatre, St. Petersburg
Sources and Further Information
- Program Notes for Laurencia – The Mikhailovsky Ballet at the London Coliseum, July 2010.
- Wikipedia Entry for Laurencia [link]
- Tbilisi State Theatre page for Laurencia [link]
- Wikipedia Entry for Vakhtang Chabukiani [link]
- Reconstructing Ballet’s Past: Swan Lake, Mikhailovsky Ballet. Interview with Mikhail Messerer by Ismene Brown. The Arts Desk, 14 July 2010. Â [link]