Harlequinade is a charming two-act story ballet in the commedia dell’arte style, offering colorful characters, vivid sets and costumes, and a slew of supporting roles for the tiniest of dancers from the School of American Ballet.
Balanchine’s two-act Harlequinade was created for the 65th anniversary of the original production. (As a student, Balanchine danced in Marius Petipa’s Les Millions d’Harlequin.) Balanchine, by his own admission, “attempted to remain faithful to the spirit of Petipa’s dances” and the ballet follows the tradition of Commedia dell’arte. Popular in Italy and France from the 16th to 18th centuries, Commedia dell’arte were comedies filled with humor, slapstick, and mimicry. Actors wore masks of their characters, which became so familiar that they evolved into stock characters — perhaps most notably Pierrot.
Harlequinade’s first act recounts the efforts of Columbine’s father to deflect Harlequin’s attentions and marry off his daughter to a rich, old suitor. While the father receives aid in this plot from his servant, Pierrot, he is thwarted by Pierrette, Pierrot’s wife. With the help of the Good Fairy, who alters Harlequin’s financial prospects, true love triumphs. The second act is devoted to the divertissements that celebrate the wedding of Columbine and her Harlequin. Act II continues a Petipa tradition in which the choreographer liked to insert a popular song into the scores of his ballets. The ballet’s composer, Riccardo Drigo, obliged him with a French song about the Duke of Marlborough, which we know today as “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.”
View a slideshow of images from Harlequinade >