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La Esmeralda and her goat

Posted on March 25, 2011

esme 090111 127 enriconawrath 1mb

esme_090111_127_enriconawrath_1mbLa Esmeralda, Jules Perrot’s 1844 ballet based on Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Nôtre Dame, was an international ballet hit. Hugo’s gypsy heroine has a pet goat, who plays an important part in the novel’s plot. At first, the people of Paris are charmed by the trained goat’s tricks. Later, they see them as proof that Esmeralda is a witch.


The goat appeared in Perrot’s ballet, too. Many old prints show ballerinas such as Carlotta Grisi and Fanny Elssler as Esmeralda, complete with pet. In 1886, Marius Petipa created his own version of the ballet, starring ballerina Mathilde Kchessinska, who had a sensational success in the role. Kchessinska even had her own pet goat: in the signed portrait photograph she sent to the Dancing Times, the ballerina sits on a sofa with a dog on one side, the goat on the other.


In 2009, the Bolshoi Ballet company unveiled a new reconstruction of Petipa’s La Esmeralda, in a production by Yuri Burlaka and Vasily Medvedev. This spring, the Staatsballett Berlin will dance its own version, drawing on the new Bolshoi production. This publicity photograph from the Staatsballett Berlin suggests that, once again, a goat will be among those present.


La Esmeralda opens at Deutsche Oper Berlin on April 9, and runs until May 22. See for details.


Picture: Elisa Carrillo Cabrera as Esmeralda in the Staatsballett Berlin’s production. Photograph: Enrico Nawrath.

Zoë was born in Edinburgh, and saw her first dance performances at the Festival there. She is the dance critic of The Independent, and has also written for The Independent on Sunday, The Scotsman and Dancing Times. In 2002, she received her doctorate from the University of York for a thesis on “Nationhood and epic romance: Ariosto, Sidney, Spenser”. She is the author of The Royal Ballet: 75 Years and The Ballet Lover’s Companion.

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