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#Throwback Thursday: Gaite Parisienne

It's #ThrowbackThursday, and today I'm focusing on the 20th century ballet Gaite Parisienne ('Parisian Gaiety'). The ballet was choreographed by the great Leonide Massine for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1938. Massine used music by Jacques Offenbach and a libretto by Comte Etienne de Beaumont.

Le Lionne makes her entrance, Bolshoi Ballet

Gaite Parisienne is a one-act ballet, and follows the interactions of a group of people who patronise a fashionable Paris cafe over the course of one night. The ballet is set during the Second Empire, when France was ruled by Emperor Napoleon III (1851 - 1870).

The curtain opens on four waiters and four cleaning women who are preparing the cafe for the evening ahead. They dance happily before the doors are opened to the public. The cleaning women depart as the first customer arrives, a pretty young Flower Girl selling nosegays. She dances with the waiters, flouncing her skirts. Six ladies are rather questionable virtue follow her, escorted by three young men. The group performs an energetic mazurka.

The Can-Can, Bolshoi Ballet

A glamorous Glove Seller is the next customer, charming the room. She is followed by a wealthy Peruvian tourist, carrying two carpetbags and in a state of high excitement. The six young ladies attempt to distract him, but he is more interested in the Glove Seller. As a waltz begins to play, the Flower Girl welcomes a new guest, the Baron, who ignores her and dances with the Glove Seller.

Drums announce the arrival of an Officer and platoon of soldiers, who dance with the six young ladies and the Flower Girl. In the middle of this commotion, a fashionable society beauty and courtesan known as La Lionne enters as the escort of a Duke. The Lady in Green accompanies them.

Craig Salstein as the Peruvian with the six cocodettes, American Ballet Theatre, 2014

Things now become extremely complicated. La Lionne, wearing a bright red ballgown, becomes the centre of attention. She attempts to attract the attentions of the Officer, who is more interested in the Glove Seller, but she is pretending to be interested in the Peruvian tourist to make the Baron jealous. Meanwhile, the Duke is confused by La Lionne's behaviour and instead joins the Officer, the Baron, and the Peruvian tourist to lead the Glove Seller in a pas de cinq. The dance devolves into a quarrel between the men, but the Baron and the Glove Seller manage to escape the fight as the rest of the room dissolves into chaos.

Anais Chalendard and Paul Craig, Boston Ballet

When the room has calmed down and everyone has left, the Baron and the Glove Seller return and dance a romantic waltz. To conclude the ballet, a can-can troupe runs in with its Dancing Master. They dance the traditional can-can routine, complete with high-kicks and ruffled skirts. Everyone then joins in to dance a merry ballabile.

Things begin to wind down, and the guests slowly leave. Some pair off as they go; La Lionne leaves with the Officer, while the Flower Girl departs with the Duke. The Peruvian tourist returns, expecting to find the Glove Seller waiting for him. Instead, he finds her in the embrace of the Baron. They wave goodbye to him and depart, leaving the Peruvian alone in the spotlight as the curtain closes.

Veronica Part as the Glove Seller and Jared Matthews as the Baron, American Ballet Theatre revival, 2014

The ballet was first performed on 5 April 1938 by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, at the Theatre de Monte Carlo in Monaco. At the premiere, Nina Tarakanova danced the role of the Glove Seller, Eugenia Delarova danced the Flower Girl, Jeannette Lauret danced La Lionne, Frederic Franklin danced the Baron, Igor Youskevitch danced the Officer, and Leonide Massine himself danced the comedy role of the Peruvian. Lubov Roudenko danced a specially choreographed can-can routine.

Leonide Massine as the Peruvian with Alexandra Danilova as the Glove Seller

Several other names were initially proposed for the ballet prior to opening night, including Gay Mabille and Tortoni, the name of a Paris cafe. Comte Etienne de Beaumont came up with the final title. Manuel Rosenthal, who did the orchestration for the ballet, did not get on very well with Leonide Massine, which caused a few problems: Massine was initially inclined to reject the finished orchestration, until Igor Stravinsky weighed in on the issue and recommended he accept it, which he did. However, this obvious hesitation damaged the relationship between Massine and Rosenthal even further, and Rosenthal refused to conduct the music for the premiere; Efrem Kurtz performed this service instead.

Gaite Parisienne was performed in America for the first time by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York on 12 October 1938. Alexandra Danilova starred as the Glove Seller and became beloved for the role by American audiences. In contrast to Tarakanova, who had played the role as naive and sweet, Danilova portrayed her as vivacious and sophisticated. To give Danilova a standing ovation at her first appearance in Gaite became an American tradition throughout the Ballet Russe tour.

Leonide Massine as the Peruvian with the six cocodettes

The role of the Flower Girl had been choreographed specifically for Eugenia Delanova, Massine's wife at the time. She was ideal in the role. Much of the cast would go on to be famous for their respective roles. The Baron was one of Frederic Franklin's most famous roles, especially once he had formed his famous partnership with Alexandra Danilova. When Massine left the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1943, Leon Danielian took over the role of the Peruvian, eventually tweaking the original choreography to suit his personality.

Other companies have staged performances of the ballet, including the Royal Swedish Ballet (1956), the American Ballet Theatre (1970), the London Festival Ballet (1973) and Les Ballets de Monte Carlo (1989). Lorca Massine staged a revival of his father's work for the American Ballet Theatre in 1988, but it was not a success and was soon dropped from the company's repertoire. It briefly returned in 2014 for a few performances, but met with little enthusiasm from audiences.

The American Ballet Theatre's 1988 production, staged by Lorca Massine: the Peruvian with the six cocodettes

Warner Brothers produced a Technicolour version of the ballet that was released in 1942 under the name The Gay Parisian. It is substantially different from the stage ballet. The setting is completely different, no longer reflecting the Second French Empire. Massine was also forced to cut the choreography to make the ballet fit within the desired twenty minutes, resulting in the loss of some of the dance sequences and drastically altering some of the characters. Massine reprised his role of the Peruvian, now the main character; Frederic Franklin danced the Baron, Nathalie Krassovska danced the Flower Girl, Igor Youskevitch danced the Officer, and Andre Eglevsky joined the cast as the Dancing Master.

The cover picture for Victor Jessen's film of 'Gaite Parisienne', featuring Frederic Franklin as the Baron

and Alexandra Danilova as the Glover Seller

In 1954, Victor Jessen recreated the ballet on film from the many bits and pieces of illicit video he had captured during the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo's tours between 1944 and 1954. The film is jumpy and not quite synchronised with the sound, but it is still a rare treasure. It was released in 2006 by Video Artists International and stars Danilova as the Glove Seller, Franklin as the Baron, and Danielian as the Peruvian, among others.

The ballet is now extremely rare in the repertoires of modern companies, and seems likely to stay among the forgotten ballets of the past. Here's Leonide Massine, Frederic Franklin and Nathalie Krassovska in the Warner Brothers' adaptation of 1942:

And here's Victor Jessen's video of the stage ballet:

Thanks for reading!

- Selene


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