Libretto by Nikolay Volkov and Vladimir Dmitriev after the novel Les Rouges du Midi by Felix Gras revised by Mikhail Messerer
Choreography by Vasily Vaynonen revised by Mikhail Messerer
Stage and Costume Design: Vladimir Dmitriev
Staging: Mikhail Messerer
Musical Director of the production: Valery Ovsyanikov
Musical Director’s Assistant: Valentin Bogdanov
Revival of the Stage and Costume Design: Vyacheslav Okunev
Assistants in the revival: Vyacheslav Lebedev, Anna Kotlova
Lighting Designer: Alexander Kibitkin
Producer: Dmitry Astafyev, Dr. habil.
Ballet Master’s Assistants: Anna Razenko, Evgeny Popov
The Flames of Paris
ballet in three acts
music by Boris Asafiev
General partner of the production
- Best Ballet Production
- Best Choreographer (Mikhail Messerer )
- Best Female Ballet Role (Oksana Bondareva for the role of Jeanne)
Premiere at the Mikhailovsky Theatre: 22 July 2013
This legendary ballet, based on the events of the French Revolution, is considered one of the greatest successes of Soviet theatre. The very first audience, with no regard for theatrical protocol, stood up on a common impulse and sang the Marseillaise along with the cast at the top of their voices. This bright and dramatic production has been recreated for our stage with the greatest respect for the style of the ‘golden age’ of Soviet ballet. Not only does it preserve the choreographic text and mise-en-scène of the original, it also revives its revolutionary fervour. The sweeping romantic, historical fresco features more than a hundred performers, including ballet dancers, extras, and a choir. Through their unique interaction on the stage they achieve a synthesis of dance and theatrical skill. A lively and energetic ballet, in which the pace of the action develops rapidly and whose significance needs no further explanation, The Flames of Paris is a continual source of joy and of conviction in ideals.
Summer of 1792. A suburb of Marseilles. Edge of the woods near the castle of Marquis de Beauregard. Out of the woods there appears Gaspar and his children: 18-year-old Jeanne and 9-year-old Jacques, who pull a cart of firewood. Jeanne plays with Jacques. The boy jumps over the faggot bands. The sound of the horn heralds the return of the Marquis from hunting. Gaspar and the children are in a hurry: they try to gather the faggot bands and leave. The Marquis and the huntsmen appear from the wood. De Beauregard is furious with the peasants gathering the faggot in his wood. Gaspar is beaten up by the hunters from the Marquis’s suite; the huntsmen turn the cart over. Jeanne is trying to stand up for her father, the Marquis lets drive at her too, but on hearing the sound of the revolutionary song he hurries to his castle.
A squad of the Marseillais led by Philippe move through the woods on their way to Paris to help the revolutionary people. The Marseillais help Gaspar and Jeanne put the cart back on its wheels and put the faggot bands on it. Jacques is enthusiastically waving the revolutionary flag, given to him by one of the revolutionaries. At the time the Marquis manages to flee from his castle through the secret door.
The peasants greet the soldiers from Marseilles. Philippe calls them to joins the squad. Gaspar and his children join the Marseillais. All of them move off to Paris.
A ball at the Versailles palace. Ladies of the court and the officers of the royal guard dance the sarabande. When the dance is over, the master of ceremonies invites the guests to see the performance of the court theatre. Actors Diana Mireille and Antoine Mistral perform an intermezzo, performing the victims of Cupid.
King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette arrive accompanied by their retinue. The officers raise their glasses to the prosperity of the monarchy. Marquis de Beauregard, who has just arrived from Marseilles, enters. He shows the tricolour banner with the slogan „War to the palaces, peace to the huts!“ and throws it at the King’s feet. The Marquis kisses the royal standard by the throne and reads out the message to the Prussians, written by him, in which Louis XVI should call Prussia to send troops to France and put an end to the revolution. The King is asked to sign the document. The King hesitates, but Marie Antoinette persuades him to sign the document. Marquis and the officers, in a burst of enthusiasm for monarchy, vow to fulfill their duty to the King. They draw their weapons and enthusiastically salute the royal couple. The Queen expresses her confidence in the loyalty of the officers. Louis is moved, he brings a handkerchief to his eyes.
The royal couple and ladies-in-waiting leave the ballroom. The footmen brings the tables in, more glasses to the monarchy are raised. The admirers of Diana Mireille invite the actors to take part in the celebration. They ask Mireille to dance. She and Antoine perform an improvised short dance, enthusiastically received by the audience.
The tipsy Marquis invites Mireille to dance, and she has to accept. His rudeness disgusts her, she would love to leave — but she shouldn’t. Diana tries to stay close to Mistral. He strives to distract the Marquis, but De Beauregard rudely pushes the actor away and several officers take Antoine back to the table. Ladies quietly leave the room. Finally Mireille finds a pretext to leave too, but the Marquis follows her.
Wine affects the guests, some of the officers fall asleep right at the table. Mistral notices the „Appeal to Prussia“ left on the table. He starts reading it, first without thinking and then with more and more interest. The Marquis returns and notices the paper in the hands of Antoine. He runs amock, pulls out a gun and shoots the actor. Antoine is fatally injured. The sound of the gunshot wakes some officers up, they surround the Marquis and hurry him away.
Having heard the sound of the gunshot too, Mireille comes back. She sees Mistral’s lifeless body and tries to find out, if he’s still alive. But he is dead. She notices a piece of paper clutched in his hand and reads it. The sounds of La Marseillaise are heard. Now Mireille understands, why Mistral was killed, and she knows what she is to do. She takes the paper and leaves the palace.
At night. A square in Paris, where crowds of the citizens, the armed squads from provinces, including the Basques and men from Auvergne gather together. The Parisians are glad to see the squad from Marseille. A group of the Basques stands out by their readiness to fight. One of them is Teresa, an active participant of the street protests of the sans-culottes. Diana Mireille’s arrival stops the dances. She shows the crowd the appeal of the King to the Prussians, which confirms the betrayal of the aristocracy. People dance and sing La Carmagnole. Arms are distributed. Philippe calls to storm the Tuileries. Under the tricolour banners, singing the revolutionary Ça ira, the crowd moves to the King’s palace.
Crowds of the armed people dash to storm the palace. Marquis de Beauregard brings the Swiss Guard soldiers to the palace. At his command, the Swiss take the assigned positions. The officers walk the frightened ladies away. Suddenly the door flies open, the people burst into the chambers of the palace. Philippe bumps into Marquis de Beauregard. After a fierce fight with the Marquis Philippe knocks his sword aside, de Beauregard tries to shoot Philippe, but the crowd attacks him.
The Swiss, the last defenders of the King, are swept away. Teresa runs in holding the banner in her hands, and falls, shot dead by a bullet of an officer. The battle is over. The palace is captured. The Basques, Philippe, and Gaspar lift Teresa’s body over the heads, the people decline the flags.
People are celebrating the capture of the Tuileries on the square of the former King’s palace. The merry dances of the people alternate with the performances of the Paris actors.
Diana Mireille, surrounded by girls wearing ancient costumes, performs a dance with the tricolor flag that symbolizes the victory of the Revolution. Allegoric dances of Equality and Fraternity are performed. People shower Jeanne and Philippe with flowers: it’s also their wedding day. La Carmagnola is sung. People carry Diana Mireille as a symbol of freedom.
Gerald Dowler, Financial Times
...The drums of revolution beat out once more in St Petersburg with Mikhail Messerer’s pitch-perfect restoration of Vasily Vainonen’s 1932 The Flames of Paris for the Mikhailovsky Ballet. This has been a labour of love for Messerer, today’s foremost champion of the USSR’s rich choreographic legacy, who has rescued as much as is possible of the original movement. But this is no dry, academic exercise; what emerges is a potent work, admirable in its drive and in its execution.
Laura Bleiberg, Los Angeles Times
...a contemporary crowd-pleaser, no matter your political persuasion, and one that is nevertheless complex in the depth of its choreography, and even crystalline in its passages of classical dancing.
Graham Watts, Dancing Times
...Each act contains several memorable dance numbers and ends on a powerful statement. It also possesses that rare quality of a ballet that doesn’t need the narrative to be explained. It is oodles of fun and a remarkable triumph for the Mikhailovsky Theatre and for Mikhail Messerer. And we can add that this is a double triumph for Messerer, since the performances of his dancers enhanced the quality of the material and credit for this must go to the choreographer’s matchless capability as a teacher. We could appreciate this coaching in performances throughout the cast but a special accolade must go to the unity achieved in the harmonies of the corps de ballet and especially by the male soloists.
Louise Levene, Financial Times
...Flames of Paris is a rip-snorting, Soviet-eye view of the French Revolution created in 1932 by Vasily Vainonen and revised last year by Mikhail Messerer. The story is vividly told and sumptuously staged. Vladimir Dmitriev’s gorgeous sets and costumes create tableaux like the colour plates from a history primer. <...> The deft blend of old-school classicism and lusty character dancing shows off the company’s impressive stylistic range. Mime is bold but never hammy and the climaxes are directed with enormous panache — the sans culottes stomped downstage as if they were coming to eat the stalls. There are elegant turns for Veronika Ignatyeva (a fluttering Cupid) and ex-Mariinsky thoroughbred Leonid Sarafanov (easily the company’s purest technician) as well as a starring role for Ivan Vasiliev as the firebrand Philippe.
Jeffrey Taylor, Sunday Express
...artistic director Michael Messerer has, through his faithful and masterly recreation of Vainonen’s original steps, transformed a museum piece into a theatrical triumph. <...> Every production value: scenery, lighting, costumes, props, you name it, is of the highest, most vibrant and precise quality. But basically that’sjust good management of a first class stage crew. The life blood of the piece, a microscopic peep at the French Revolution, includes Boris Asafiev’s music, the steps but above all the dancers and the joy of dance conjured from them by Messerer. An utter delight. <...> Angelina Vorontsova and Victor Lebedev, bewigged and formally dressed, dance with extravagant stylisation while simultaneously amazing us with their modem technique. Dazzling.
Mike Dixon, Dance Europe
...Mikhail Messerer’s superb production of The Flames of Paris at the Mikhailovsky Theatre possesses the great virtues of narrative clarity and choreographic pace. The story sweeps along with commendable verve through its three acts, taking in the countryside outside Marseille, Versailles and the square in front of the Tuileries as its locations. The dancers of the Mikhailovsky Ballet invest their roles with passionate commitment. Although this is a famous Soviet ballet by Boris Asafiev from 1934, with a didactic political message, Messerer keeps a light hand on the tiller, judging the tone of each scene with great sensitivity. <...> Sarafanov’s celebrated virtuosity is on full display, although he maintains a classical purity even in the most bravura passages of choreography; vulgarity of presentation is alien to his nature.
Marina Harss, DanceTabs
...Most of all, it’s a celebration of the ballet company as collective. Everyone shines. <...> The facility with which Vainonen slips between idioms is what makes Flames such a joyous, generous entertainment, a ballet with a common touch. <...> And then there was Ivan Vasiliev, one of the company’s part-time stars. Once again, he delivered his parcel of death-defying feats. Legs thwacking together in the air, double air turns, the by-now-requisite so-called 540 jump in which one leg whips up and over the other while the dancer rolls in space. <...> It was smart of Messerer to revive this ballet for the Mikhailovsky; it’s a calling card and a curiosity, and the company makes a very good case for keeping it around.