#Throwback Thursday: La Esmeralda

Today's #ThrowbackThursday focuses on the ballet La Esmeralda.

Kirov Ballet

La Esmeralda follows the story of the beautiful gypsy girl Esmeralda. She marries a poet named Pierre Gringoire, in order to save him from death at the hands of the gypsy king. Pierre loves Esmeralda, but she makes it clear their marriage is merely one of convenience. The archdeacon of the Notre Dame cathedral, Claude Frollo, is also smitten with Esmeralda and wants her for himself. He instructs his deformed servant, Quasimodo, to abduct her. During the attempted abduction, Esmeralda is rescued by the King's Archers, who are led by the handsome Captain Phoebus de Chateaupers. The men capture Quasimodo. Esmeralda asks that he be released, and the hunchback is touched by her kindness. Phoebus too becomes smitten with Esmeralda, and he gives her a scarf which he himself was given by his fiancee, Fleur de Lys.

Fleur holds a grand engagement party the next day to celebrate her engagement to Phoebus, but he is distracted by thoughts of Esmeralda. Esmeralda herself comes to dance for the guests, but is heartbroken when she discovers the intended groom is Phoebus. Fleur notices that Esmeralda is wearing her scarf, and, realising Phoebus has fallen for another, angrily calls off the engagement. Phoebus and Esmeralda declare their love for each other, unaware that Frollo is spying on them. Frill sneaks up to them and stabs Phoebus, who falls unconscious. Frollo then shows the guards the body and the dagger, which belongs to Esmeralda; she is taken away and sentenced to death.

Bolshoi Ballet

The next day is the Festival of Fools, and Esmeralda is to be hanged for Phoebus' murder. Frill watches in triumph as she is led to the gallows, but Phoebus - very much alive - arrives and denounces Frollo as the true culprit. Frill attempts to kill the lovers, but Quasimodo (now loyal to Esmeralda) wrestles the dagger off him and kills him. Phoebus and Esmeralda are reunited.

Bolshoi Ballet

The ballet is performed in three acts, and is based off Victor Hugo's novel Notre-Dame de Paris. It was originally choreographed by Jules Perrot to music by Cesare Pugni, and premiered at Her Majesty's Theatre in London on 9 March 1844. Carlotta Grisi starred as Esmeralda, with Perrot himself as Pierre, Arthur Saint-Leon as Phoebus , Adelaide Frassi as Fleur, and Antoine Louis Coulon as Quasimodo.

Fanny Cerrito as Esmeralda, London 1844

The ballet was then revived in Russia by Perrot for the Bolshoi Imperial Ballet, on 2 January 1849. This production was done especially for the ballerina Fanny Elssler. Marius Petipa then revived it in four acts for Virginia Zucchi, on 17 December 1886, and for Mathilde Kschessinskaya on 21 November 1899. Agrippina Vaganova then staged the ballet in 1935, for Tatiana Vecheslova. Today the complete ballet is performed only in Russia and by the New Jersey Ballet in America. Most Western companies perform the La Esmeralda pas de deux, and the La Esmeralda pas de six. Some mistakenly credit the Diane and Actaeon pas de deux to Petipa's 1886 revival of the ballet. The Bolshoi Ballet staged a revival of Petipa's 1899 production in 2009, presided over by Yuri Burlaka and Vasily Medvedev.

The famous 'Tambourine' variation

Here's the Kremlin Ballet Company with Alexandra Timofeeva as Esmeralda. It has a more tragic ending than the traditional version:

Thanks for reading!

- Selene

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