Premiere at the Mikhailovsky Theatre: 5 June 2010
Laurencia is part of a distinct vein of Soviet choreography often referred to as ‘Stalinist classicism’. This is a luxuriant, spectacular, and ‘theatrical’ production, in the most sublime sense of the word. The heated emotions and pace of the action, which give the impression of a coiled spring suddenly being released, are vividly conveyed through the medium of dance, where classical steps are fused with fiery Spanish rhythms. Virtuoso solos and duets, harmonious ensembles, thrilling crowd scenes: against the background of these tempestuous dances, a dramatic tale unfolds, in which the joy of requited love is brutally destroyed by violence, which in turn is met with an explosion of popular rage. The story is based on a play, Fuente Ovejuna, by the Spanish dramatist Lope de Vega.
The harsh sound of military music is heard and the Commander appears. The people give him a cautious welcome, but he does not pay much notice: his attention is drawn to the beautiful Laurencia. Ordering everyone to disperse, the Commander detains only her. Her friend Pascuala remains with her. Laurencia rejects the Commander’s advances. Annoyed, the Commander orders his soldiers to bring Laurencia and Pascuala to his castle, but the girls manage to escape.
In a secluded location by a forest stream, Frondoso reveals his feelings to Laurencia. But the capricious girl responds evasively. The sound of a hunting horn is heard. It is the Commander out hunting in the forest. Soon he appears before Laurencia and tries to kiss her. Frondoso fearlessly throws himself at the Commander, saving Laurencia from her hated admirer. The Commander vows revenge on both of them.
A group of girls come to the stream to wash clothes. They are more occupied with chatting than laundry, especially as Mengo also arrives: it is always fun when he is there.
Jacinta runs in, chased by soldiers. Mengo defends Jacinta, but the soldiers knock him down. The Commander returns. Jacinta begs for his protection, but he hands her over to the soldiers.
Laurencia, now convinced of Frondoso’s faithfulness, bravery and devotion, agrees to marry him.
The whole village merrily celebrates Laurencia and Frondoso’s wedding. One dance follows another, but the merrymaking is interrupted when the Commander appears, looking sombre. He has come to take his revenge. He gives orders for Frondoso to be imprisoned and Laurencia to be taken to his castle.The people are horrified.
At night the men gather together in the forest. They know they must fight the tyrant, but from fear and indecision they merely clench their fists and utter curses, they do not act. Laurencia enters unsteadily, battered and with her dress torn, but her will is strong and she is filled with fury. She shames the men for their inaction and calls on them to rise up and fight. Her impassioned call fills their hearts with courage. All the village women support Laurencia. The people of Fuente Ovejuna decide to enter the Commander’s castle.
Armed with knives, scythes, clubs, and sticks, the people storm in the inner rooms of the castle like a fearsome tidal wave. They free Frondoso from incarceration and set off to get even with the Commander. He tries to flee, but the peasants capture him. He offers them gold to let him go, but is met by an indignant refusal. The dead tyrant’s helmet set up on the pole symbolizes the victory of the people of Fuente Ovejuna.
Debra Craine, The Times
...the finale is fantastic, with peasants armed with clubs, sticks, burning torches and righteous indignation taking on the might of the military. We may not relate to its revolutionary message as much as Soviet audiences did, but its colourful melodrama and resounding vanquish of evil get the blood boiling.
Clement Crisp, Financial Times
Messerer has refreshed the traditional Bolshoi version in a reading that captures the political urgencies of the original and offers a convincing portrait of the choreography. The production is lively, the design decently Hispanic, the score by Alexander Krein be-castanetted and wallpaper-ish, and the Mikhailovsky dancers’ performances eager.
David Dougill, Sunday Times
...a feast of dancing... bravura athleticism with exemplary classical style... theatrically unforgettable — wonderfully uplifting.
Judith Mackrell, The Guardian
…for the Mikhailovsky company, Mikhail Messerer has revisited Chabukiani's Laurencia, first created for the Kirov in 1939. ...in an inspired move he’s added a transitional scene, the storming of the castle, using projected film. Most fascinating, though, is the scene in which the ballet gears into revolutionary mode, as Laurencia incites the village to revolt. The images are jerky and blurred, as if we were watching an old Soviet newsreel; this adds a brilliant period dimension to the work.
Jeffery Taylor, Sunday Express
Messerer takes the huge, heroic spread of movement embodied in every bone of Chabukiani’s body creating the Soviet style, and filters the exuberance through an exquisitely classical language of dance. I’m sure the Soviet Red Army would have welcomed Messerer’s logistical skills.
Laura Thompson, The Telegraph
Above all, Laurencia reveals the strength of the Mikhailovsky as a company. The staging is shapely and intelligent... Laurencia is a total winner...
Judith Flanders, The Arts Desk
Within this story, two separate historical narratives unfold, one dance, one political, both fascinating. The political one is more obvious — the ballet was created as the Nazis threatened in 1939, and the people rising up, only 20 years after they did so in actuality in Russia, makes for fine stirring drama. (This production also uses historical bits of film during the overture and scene drop to good effect.)