Review: ‘Harlequinade’ by American Ballet Theatre at The Kennedy Center

Marius Petipa must have been smiling from his grave last night when the American Ballet Theatre presented another brilliant Russian choreographer’s staging of Petipa’s Harlequinade. This sweet, lively, colorful rendition continues at the Kennedy Center Opera House through Sunday afternoon and will chase away those winter blahs quicker than you can pronounce “Les Millions d’Arlequin,” the original title of Petipa’s 1900 comedic ballet.

Skylar Brandt and Daniil Simkin in Alexei Ratmansky’s Harlequinade. Photo: Doug Gifford.
Skylar Brandt and Daniil Simkin in Alexei Ratmansky’s Harlequinade. Photo: Doug Gifford.

A tip of the shapka (Russian for hat) to ABT Artist-in-Residence Alexei Ratmansky and his ballerina wife, Tatiana Ratmansky, for digging up old records of the ballet created in St. Petersburg during the golden age of dance. Considered one of the most sought-after choreographers in the world today, Ratmansky has shaped a fresh take on an old classic with respect for the original choreography, though he added his own humorous touches and good timing.

Created by Riccardo Drigo, the ballet score is wonderfully familiar and hummable, at times upstaging the dancing but always drawing the musicality from the performers. Conductor David LaMarche sensitively led the Kennedy Center Orchestra throughout the two-act ballet. Especially memorable was the introduction with a French horn solo, followed by other brass instruments.

Okay, the plot of the ballet is silly and old-fashioned, but that lends itself to some show-off dancing from the lead characters and their friends. Harlequin, magically danced by Daniil Simkin at the second showing, delights both young and old with his over-the-top gestures and his brilliant beats and turns and leaps and jumps galore. When he expressed his love for Columbine, sweet Skylar Brandt, he somehow managed to suspend his body in the air before falling to his knees in admiration.

Enter Alexei Agoudine as the disgruntled papa who wants his daughter Columbine to marry the rich suitor, danced with flair by Duncan Lyle. So Papa commands his servant Pierrot to lock up Columbine and hands him a key. Alexandre Hammoudi was hilarious in his wildly imaginative white clown suit with oversized sleeves, costumed by Robert Perdziola (who also created the whimsical sets).

It was nice to see Hee Seo in the role of Pierrette, a feisty friend who manages to sneak away with Columbine. Some of the scenes were reminiscent of that other comic ballet, Coppelia, where the boys are constantly fooled and the girls rule. At last night’s show, Seo danced with abandon, then melted into the arms of her husband Pierrot during the wedding scene and in the grand finale.

Did we mention that 64 dancers took the stage in the second act, including at least two dozen talented students from the Washington School of Ballet? Kudos to ABT director Kevin McKenzie for returning to his roots to encourage talent. It’s always a treat to watch young dancers take their bows, some for the first time.

A scene from Alexei Ratmansky’s Harlequinade. Photo: Doug Gifford.
A scene from Alexei Ratmansky’s Harlequinade. Photo: Doug Gifford.

Readers can catch two of Howard County’s own shooting stars in the ballet world when ABT’s newly-promoted soloist, Katherine Williams, and ballerina extraordinaire April Giangeruso perform in Harlequinade. Note that their roles and all the leads change in the remaining performances.

Come out and support the ballet. You won’t be disappointed. And it’s warm and snuggly throughout the Kennedy Center.

Running Time: One hour and 40 minutes, with one 20-minute intermission.

American Ballet TheatreHarlequinade performs through Sunday, February 3, 2019, at the Kennedy Center’s Opera House – 2700 F Street NW, Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at 202-467-4600 or toll-free 800-444-1324, or purchase them online.