The original ballet was Petipa's first full-length ballet, and he and Saint-Georges pulled all the stops out. No relation to the Biblical story of the pharaoh's daughter who rescued the infant Moses, the story was drawn from Theophile Gautier's novel "Le Roman de la Momie" ("The Romance of the Mummy"), and would probably be considered a "paranormal romance" by today's standards.
Sheltering from a sandstorm in a pyramid with some Arab merchants, the English traveler, "Lord Wilson" (Ruslan Skvortsov), shares their hospitality by smoking hashish with them. Under the influence he dreams first that the occupant of the pyramid, Princess Aspicia (Svetlana Zakharova) has come alive again, and then that he and his servant (Denis Medvedev) have been transported back in time to Aspicia's day, and are Egyptians. As "Taor", Wilson follows the Princess and her servants on a lion hunt, and saves the Princess from a charging lion with a well-paced arrow.
He is taken back to the Pharaoh's palace and honored desultorily for his deed, but this is overshadowed by the ceremonies attendant on Aspicia's betrothal to the King of Nubia. Aspicia prefers Taor to the Nubian, and, once the palace has settled for the night, her serving woman, Ramze, aid the Princess in bribing a gatekeeper to allow them to escape.
Pursuit swiftly follows and they are overtaken on the banks of the Nile by the Nubian King and his men. Taor, his man, and Ramze are surprised and overpowered. The Nubian confronts Aspicia, threatening her with his dagger if she does not submit to him. Scorning his blade, she leaps into the Nile and vanishes.
The next scene is the court of the God of the Nile. Aspicia, upon arriving, is issued the dress of a river spirit and expected to take a place among them. However, she pleads her case so well that the River God agrees to send her back to the world above.
Back at the palace, the gatekeeper is condemned and put to death. Ramze, Taor, and his servant are soon to follow, but are saved by Aspicia's entry. Given her miraculous return, and her relation of the unchivalrous behavior of the Nubian King, the betrothal is called off, and Aspicia is free to marry Taor.
The celebratory dancing ends as Wilson awakes on the floor of the pyramid chamber, only to see a fading vision of Aspicia as she returns to her tomb.
This synopsis can't begin to include the spectacular sets, gorgeous but mostly non-historical costumes (tutus for the women!), and the extravagant dance numbers. At two hours, ten minutes long (pretty typical for a modern full-length ballet) one can only imagine what Petipa's version was like at more than four hours, but one can guess that there was even more pomp and circumstance.
Lacotte's choreography was very pretty, and, harking back to Petipa's day, did not depend as much on speed and power as more modern ballets, although the Bolshoi's trademark precision was on display.
While not the most wonderful of ballets, this was a very diverting evening, and an interesting glimpse at a historical artifact.
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