Like language, dance, especially classical ballet, is a codified system often dependent on the physical transmission of step from one generation to the next. Language evolves, and so does dance; but where language requires translation dance does not. For its notators, teachers and practitioners, yes, but not for the audience that, unlike the reader, doesn’t need to be concerned with ‘thous’ or ‘yous’, but rather, only the way steps imprints themselves in our imagination. And so it is riveting to watch Alexei Ratmansky's contemporary restaging of Marius Petipa’s 1847 Paquita.

Daria Sukhorukova in the title role of Paquita © Wilfried Hösl
Daria Sukhorukova in the title role of Paquita
© Wilfried Hösl

The basic alphabet of ballet remains unchanged but the utterance of its phrase, the construction of its sentence though recognizable, has been clearly modified. Three elements stand out immediately: use of space, elaboration of mime and the general romanticisation of style. Projection here is more intimately contained in the swift move of a head, the curve of a leg, the subtle caress of the feet, the work of the wrist. And all the extended and detailed mime scenes feel like an enchanted piece of storytelling rather than an archaic heirloom. When Paquita studies the writing on the gravestone she follows through each line, directing our eyes with her fingers. But, above all, the interpretation, especially by the two leads, was extremely musical and so expressively rendered you felt as if you could hear them speak; and sense the emotion, and the intention behind the speech rather than only see its visual manifestation. The sets, especially in the first act are natural, spacious, large, but instead of swallowing up the stage they give it a wider dimension; and the landscape too becomes part of the story.

Yet, I was even more fascinated by how the new 'old style' transformed the Act 2 Grand Pas. We often think of the Grand Pas as a grand statement of classicism, a display of virtuoso technique and imperious aplomb: formal, unyielding presence. When Paquita makes her first entrance in the Grand Pas with alternating leg kicks to the front into double turns the Ratmansky revision doesn’t end in a bravura pose, but immediately changes direction into the next one, covering all four corners of the space. The stage pattern and the sense of perpetual motion suggest a whirlwind of emotions rather than a feat of skill. And the Grand Pas continues in the same vein. Here all of the deeper bends and rotund angles feel like swoons. The way the man positions himself in the relation to his ballerina – inquisitive, admiring – and not squarely behind her also makes the adagio’s subplot of romance, of unison, of marriage, come alive. As with the first act, there are plenty of attitudes. Here, lower legs and softer angles free the upper body to – in line with the romantic style – drift upwards as if drinking in the night sky. And so when the more overtly technical steps do come – rapid piqué turns down the diagonal, a serried series of ballons down the flank – they become less about spectacle and more about a gypsy-girl growing into a aristocrat.

Bayerische Staatsballett in Ratmansky's <i>Paquita</i> © Wilfried Hösl
Bayerische Staatsballett in Ratmansky's Paquita
© Wilfried Hösl
These of course, are major stylistic changes and while the Bavarian dancers make a valiant effort the style often feels dutifully learned rather than intimately alive: arms and bodices do not always breathe with the spherical spaces of the bodies. Still, there is fine dancing from Adam Zvonar in the pas de trois, Severine Ferrolier and Alisa Scetina in the Grand Pas variations and most expressly from Daria Sukhorukova as Paquita. Sukhorukova, who is Vaganova-trained and a former Mariinsky dancer is aesthetically on a different level - all those attitudes sit beautifully on her. I particularly enjoyed her Act 1 solo directed at Lucien. Most of that solo was earthbound but its complex barometers of speed and delicacy created the illusion of flight, as if the ballerina was hovering over scales of music on the tip of her toes. The relational dynamics (and everything in between) of the dance – fast vs slow, lightness vs weight made possible by the intricate moderations of the metronome of the choreography –also came across clearly in both Sukhorukova's dancing and Tigran Mikayelyan's Lucien. He has less to do but he supports her with cavalieri grace, mimes articulately with ease and polishes off numerous beaten jumps with clean accuracy.