5 Reasons You Need to See Harlequinade

Posted on 26 September 2019 By Rose Mulready

Harlequinade is a loving revival of a lost comedy by the creator of Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty. Alexei Ratmansky, widely regarded as this century's master of the story ballet, has recently devoted himself to the meticulous study of Marius Petipa's works, poring over the original 19th-century notation to recreate them exactly as they were intended. The full-length Harlequinade hadn't been performed in over a century. It's akin to finding a long-buried Picasso in a back room and restoring it to its original vibrant state. Best of all, Harlequinade is one of Petipa's rare comedies.


As a ballet is handed down through the centuries, usually from dancer to dancer, it inevitably gets further and further from the original. Memories are elastic, bodies express things differently, dancers adapt choreography to suit themselves, stagers introduce innovations or streamline the work to fit modern expectations. (Now that we no longer wander in and out of performances, chatting and picknicking, four-hour ballets don't suit us so well.) What we think of as the 'original' version of a classic has often undergone significant changes. However, by studying the notation held by Harvard University, Ratmansky has been able to stage painstaking recreations of Petipa's works, including The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake and La Bayadère, restoring Petipa's language of quick footwork, expansive arms and gentle leaps. We'll see Harlequinade as the Tsar and Tsarina saw it in 1900 (oh and by the way, they loved it.)

American Ballet Theatre's Stella Abrera. Photography Erin Baiano


The costumes for Harlequinade are another form of time travel. Robert Perdziola, the designer, studied the original costumes, which are held in a St Petersburg museum. Harlequin's vivid diamond-patterned tights, Columbine's dove-grey and pink 'lark' tutu, Pierrot's woefully floppy sleeves, the pert little hats - all are directly inspired by the 1900 production. 

Brett Chynoweth. Photography Kate Longley


A choreographer so famous he has his own hashtag ... These 19th-century revivals could have been just dusty museum pieces if it weren't for the ineffable quality of #ratmanskyness - clarity of storytelling, mime that seems like a living language, the spark of humour and life in everything he touches.

American Ballet Theatre's Sarah Lane. Photography Erin Baiano


Like the Italian commedia dell'arte tradition it draws on, Harlequinade mocks the pompous, the greedy and the vain. There are chases and kisses and pom-pom slippers and slapstick (in fact, there is an actual slap stick). It's nothing but frothy fun; you can leave the tissues at home.

Keith Roberts. Photography Erin Baiano


Petipa dearly loved a crowd scene, and Harlequinade packs the stage with action and ensemble dancing, often by children (there are 30 in each performance). When Harlequin and Columbine (spoiler!) hold their wedding, they act out a little scene where she is a fluttering lark and he is the hunter who tries to win her. Columbine is backed by a whole corps de ballet, also dressed in the charming pink-and-grey lark costume.

Little guest artists of American Ballet Theatre, Photography Rosalie O’Connor