When old masterpieces get revived, expectations are high. Stravinsky’s two-piano version of the ballet Petrushka, with puppets, has been widely viewed across America and in parts of Europe. Now it is being presented at Boston’s newly revived Emerson Paramount Center from November 11 until November 21.
Renowned puppeteer Basil Twist took the risk of “twisting” original choreographer Fokine’s intentions in the ballet with puppets impersonating dancers instead of dancers impersonating puppets. Twist has created puppets with eerily human qualities. Controlling the life-sized and life-like creations are nine puppeteers covered completely in black velvet, making the real humans invisible behind the puppets as they dance beneath the stage lights.
Russian duo-pianists Julia and Irina Elkina provide the ballet’s music. These identical twins were born in St. Petersburg, and after winning numerous competitions, their dual talents took them to the U.S. in 1993, where they studied with Alexander Braginsky at the University of Minnesota. Subsequently they have made quite a splash in the international music scene.
Equally intriguing is the venue. The 180,000 square-foot Paramount Center at 555 Washington St., which just opened this September, was assembled from several historical spaces: the Bijou Theater, which opened in 1882 with a pirated version of Iolanthe, was the springboard for B.F. Keith’s theatrical empire and the first theater in the US to be lighted with electricity; the 1860’s Adams House hotel annex which today is better remembered as a pinball arcade; and the 1932 Paramount Theater designed by Arthur Bowditch.
Because most of the interior of the Paramount Theater was lost to thirty-four years of neglect and brutal asbestos removal in the 1980s, the restructuring of this historic landmark has regained much of its soul with completely new construction in the style of the original by Elkus Manfredi Architects and the execution of EverGreene Architectural Arts.
The theatre’s exterior was also restored with its original Art-Deco marquee. The last movie palace built in Boston, it was also the first to be built for talkies, though certainly not the first to show talking pictures — that distinction belonging to the Modern and the Beacon Hill theaters. The Paramount opened as a long, relatively narrow space with 1,700 seats. In its second life it is an intimate jewel box of 600 seats. The restored and re-imagined lobbies display graphics showing vaudeville scenes and actors from Boston’s old Theatre District.
The Paramount Main Stage, where Petrushka will take place, is only one part of the larger facility in the Emerson Paramount Center. The total package includes the “Black Box” theatre, the Bijou, numerous rehearsal and workshop spaces and residence halls. Emerson, which also owns two other significant historical theaters, The Majestic and the Colonial, is a major player in the revival of Boston’s Theater District.