In Naples and Venice the first revised Italian performance of a lost 18th century ballet

Thanks to a collaboration between Palazzo Grassi and the Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte, the reinterpreted version of the Ballet des Porcelaines, a lost ballet from the 1700s, arrives in Italy for the first time.

Thanks to a collaboration between Palazzo Grassi - Punta della Dogana, home of the Pinault Collection in Venice, and the Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte in Naples with the Associazione Amici di Capodimonte ets, Fondazione Campania dei Festival, Centro per la Storia dell’Arte delle Città Port and New York University’s Center for Ballet and the Arts, Ballet des Porcelaines (otherwise known as The Prince of the Teapot) arrives in Italy for the first time in its reinterpreted version for contemporary audiences curated by Meredith Martin, professor of art history at New York University, with choreographer and Final Bow for Yellowface activist Phil Chan.

Starting at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, via England, the show will be staged for Italian audiences on four double dates each. Saturday, June 25 and Sunday, June 26, at 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. at the Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte will be the first performance in Italy, while on Tuesday, June 28 and Wednesday, June 29, at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., the ballet will arrive in Venice in the 18th-century atrium of Palazzo Grassi.

The history of the Ballet des Porcelaines is almost legendary: no trace remains, in fact, of the choreography, costumes and sets that characterized its performance, except for a copy of the libretto (two still exist and are preserved at the Bibliothèque nationale de France) found in the early 2000s within a manuscript at the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal in Paris. The first staging of the original libretto, composed by Count de Caylus, a French antiquarian and proto-archaeologist, was in 1739 and was held at the Chateau de Morville near Paris by a group of aristocratic amateur performers in a pantomime ballet known as Ballet des Porcelaines or The Prince of the Teapot.

The ballet tells the story of a prince and princess on a remote island ruled by an evil sorcerer who turns the inhabitants into porcelain figures by twirling them into pots. Lost in the bush and disoriented by the tinkling of porcelain carried by the wind, the protagonist prince is joined by the wizard and transformed into a teapot, becoming unrecognizable in the eyes of his beloved. The princess, however, breaks the spell and shatters all the porcelain. The story ends with the sorcerer’s escape, the union of the two lovers, and the reassembling of all the fragments in the execution of a contredanse. An analysis of the historical and social context in which the conception of the ballet is set, rich in fascinations from theEast, led Meredith Martin, whose art-historical studies focus mainly on the interactions between Asia and Europe, to reread the story as an allegory of the Westerners’ covetous desire to possess the secrets of the creation of Chinese porcelain, referred to in the 18th century as white gold.

From the idea of restoring a form to this little-known ballet, yet close in theme and suggestion to so many contemporary fairy tales, a new reading takes shape. It is not the reconstruction of the rococo atmospheres that characterized the original, but rather its actualization in the contemporary social and cultural context. In dialogue with choreographer and activist Phil Chan, co-founder of Final Bow for Yellowface, an association committed to the support of Asian communities in the West, Martin imagines returning the Asian component to the role of the true protagonist, reversing the meaning of the script.

A major production involving an international team of distinguished artists, dancers and musicians, including Georgina Pazcoguin, the first Asian-American soloist of the New York City Ballet, and Daniel Applebaum of the New York City Ballet, in the main roles of the prince and princess, Tyler Hanes, an actor and dancer known for his performances in several Broadway musicals, who instead plays the role of the magician. Artist and fashion designer Harriet Jung signs the costumes, while musicians from the Ensemble Barocco of Naples.

Ballet des Porcelaines ’ performances in Naples and Venice will be the subject of a film by Alain Fleischer, director of Le Fresnoy Studio national des arts contemporains.

Image: Daniel Applebaum, Georgina Pazcoguin and Tyler Hanes in the Ballet des Porcelaines. Photograph by Joe Carotta. Courtesy of the New York University Center for Ballet and the Arts.

In Naples and Venice the first revised Italian performance of a lost 18th century ballet
In Naples and Venice the first revised Italian performance of a lost 18th century ballet

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