Flames of Paris (Russian: Пла́мя Пари́жа) is a full-length ballet in four acts, choreographed by Vasily Vainonen to music by Boris Asafyev based on songs of the French Revolution. The libretto by Nicolai Volkov and Vladimir Dmitriev was adapted from a book by Felix Gras. It was premiered at the Kirov Theatre in Leningrad on 7 November 1932, with Natalia Dudinskaya as Mireille de Poitiers, Vakhtang Chabukiani as Jérôme, Olga Jordan as Jeanne, Nina Anisimova as Thérèse, and Konstantin Sergeyev as Mistral. The conductor was Yuri Fayer.
The Bolshoi Ballet premiered the full work on 6 July 1933 at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, with Aleksey Yermolayev (Jérôme), Anastasia Abramova (Jeanne), Nadezhda Kapustina (Thérèse) and Marina Semenova (Mireille de Poitiers).
The original production and choreography was reconstructed in 2008 by Alexei Ratmansky for the Bolshoi Ballet and is available on DVD with Ivan Vasiliev and Natalia Osipova.
The Flames of Paris is a so-called "revolutionary" ballet which takes as its subject the French Revolution, including in its scenario the storming of the Tuileries Palace by the Marceliers and their victorious march on Paris. The plot is taken from the book of Felix Gras Les Marceliers.
Although its setting is eighteenth-century France, it is a perfect illustration of Soviet ballet in the 1920s and 1930s, during which time there was a determined effort to find subjects in world history which reflected the more immediate situation in the Soviet Union, and to show that the October Revolution was part of more universal movements and historical events.
This outline is different from the plot of the ballet version revived by Alexei Ratmansky for the Bolshoi Ballet.
The ballet opens in a forest near Marseilles, where the peasant Gaspard and his children, Jeanne and Pierre, are gathering firewood. When a Count and his hunting party arrive, the peasants disperse, but Jeanne attracts the attention of the Count, who attempts to embrace her. When her father intervenes, he is beaten up by the Count's servant and taken away. Next, in the city square in Marseilles Jeanne tells the people what has happened to her father and the people's indignation over the injustices of the aristocracy grows. They storm the prison and free the prisoners of the Marquis de Beauregard.
At the court of Versailles a performance of the court theatre is followed by a lush banquet. The officials of the court present a formal petition to the king, requesting permission to deal with the unruly revolutionaries. Antoine Mistral, an actor in the theatre, on discovering this secret document is killed by the Marquis de Beauregard, but before he dies he manages to pass the petition on to Mireille de Poitiers, who escapes the palace as the sound of the Marseillaise is heard through the windows.
The scene shifts to a square in Paris, where an uprising and the storming of the palace is prepared. Mireille rushes in with the document revealing the conspiracy against the revolution, and her bravery is applauded. At the height of this scene, the officers of the Marquis arrive in the square; Jeanne, recognizing the man who insulted her in the woods, runs up and slaps his face. Following this, the crowd attacks the aristocrats. To the sound of revolutionary songs, the people storm the palace and burst into the staircase of the front hall. Jeanne attacks the Marquis, who is then killed by her brother, and the Basque girl Thérèse is shot to death.
Finally, back in the Paris square, the people celebrate their victory over the defenders of the Old Regime.
In creating the choreography for this ballet, Vasily Vainonen drew upon many different sources, as did the composer Boris Asafyev. The Flames of Paris blends classical and character dancing, court and folk dances, pantomime, solo performances and group scenes.
The choreography is mostly classical but for the part of Thérèse, for example, Vainonen chose character dancer Nina Anisimova, who danced only character dances, displaying strong, expressive folk movements which symbolize the energy and the spirit of the crowd. On the other hand, the dances for Philippe, one of the Marseillais, and his bride are purely classical: the two characters dance a pas de deux which is done in the true Petipa manner. In the scene at the palace of Louis XVI there is a great deal of traditional mime and Marie Antoinette dances a minuet, which is a beautiful piece of choreography in itself.
As a further technique for putting classical dancing on the stage, Vainonen invented the roles of the pair of actors, Mireille de Poitiers and Antoine Mistral, who have been invited by the king to perform at the banquet. These were originally performed by Natalia Dudinskaya and Konstantin Sergeyev and are designed for outstanding ballet dancers who can display their virtuosity in classical pas de deux. These characters are, of course, on the side of the revolutionary mob, so that after the storming of the palace they are joined by the group in dances which include variations, codas, and the participation of an enormous corps de ballet consisting of 24, and later 32, dancers.