writers on dancing


A Haphazard "Raymonda"

Bolshoi Ballet
Zellerbach Hall
November 5, 2004

By Rita Felciano
copyright © 2004 by Rita Felciano

Looking at the Bolshoi Ballet this week felt like entering a time warp. Rarely has the gulf between East and West been so intensely felt. What the company apparently considers daring and a step into the avant garde, Radu Poklitaru and Declan Donnelan's punkish "Romeo and Juliet," despite its intriguing idea of using the corps like a Greek chorus, looked incredibly simple minded and dated. "Raymonda", on the other hand, judging from the bored rendering the work received, must be considered old hat by the dancers. Yet "Raymonda", its limping plot line not withstanding, has so much to be admired, and deserves a better performance than it got.

Act one tells the story of a romance between Raymonda, a niece of the Countess Sybille de Doris, and Jean de Brienne, a French nobleman about to depart for the crusades with the King of Hungary. Raymonda has a dream in which her fiancé returns only to be replaced by an ardently courting Saracen knight, Abderakhman. In act two, Abderakhman, apparently invited to the Countess' festivities, pursues Raymonda ever more ardently. De Brienne arrives just in time to save Raymonda from a fate worse than death. The King of Hungary arrives just in time to avoid general blood shed. The two rivals for Raymonda affection fight a duel. Guess who wins? Act three celebrates the marriage-in Hungarian style-of the two young lovers.

On opening night, Raymonda was danced by Anna Antonicheva; de Brienne by Sergey Filin and Abderakhman by Dmitry Belogolovtsev.

"Raymonda" is an artifact, not perfectly preserved as if in a museum or kept under glass, but more like one of those country churches that dot small European cities. Maybe built in a Romanesque style, it acquired some Gothic naves to let in the light, and most certainly a black and guilt Baroque altar. And who knows maybe even a few 19th century plaster statues and a new sound system. Purists will hate the haphazard assemblage yet the building speaks with a voice that has traveled through and been altered by time. In other words, it's alive.

"Raymonda" has that kind of attraction. According to a company spokesperson, the current production dates back to 1993 and was "spruced up" a few years ago. It looks much older. Simon Virsaladze's back drops with their monumental drapes, painted columns and even a receding staircase is somewhat heavy handed as is Michail Soklov's lighting design. Apparently, at the Bolshoi green is considered the color of dreams. It reminded me more of an aquarium, particularly since the tableaux of dancers looked like they were spilling out of a cave's recess.

No credit was given for the costumes though the court women's drooping sleeves and the men's very short doublets excellently reinforced those extraordinary long lines that the Bolshoi dancers are known for. In general, this is a picture book middle ages except that the costumes look like synthetics. The fact that Jean de Brienne (a rather stolid Sergey Filin) goes to war in white satin with extravagant feathers on his helmet does not only puzzle contemporary sensibilities. Fokine bitterly complained about this kind of incongruity when he had to wear silk instead of stretch tights..

Apparently the company isn't entirely certain who choreographed what, in particular in terms Gorsky's contribution. I was told that the third act's Mazurka and Hungarian dance was either by Petipa or Gorsky, but that the gallop at the end of the Hungarian is definitely Gorsky's.

Throughout this layering, cutting and re-arranging some of the choreography shone so brilliantly that, even without confirmation, it couldn't have been done by anybody but Petipa. The variations for Clemence (Maria Alexandrova) and Henriette (Ekaterina Shipulina), Raymonda's friends, were so lovingly detailed, with the first being more in adagio, the other more in allegro, that they jumped out like diamonds from rhinestones. No wonder these two dancers gave the most spirited and convincing performances all night.

To credit the Dream scene to Petipa also makes sense; its overlapping circles, half-circles and lines were so smoothly designed to make satisfying pictures at every moment that one easily recognized the master. It was unfortunate that the corps-which seemed most alive in promenades and character dances—performed these kaleidoscopic pattern dances so indifferently. Maybe that was the evening's biggest disappointment. How little commitment there seemed be in these dancers.

Petipa's Grand Pas Classique, gorgeously costumed in black and gold, was also rather perfunctorily presented. Ekaterina Krysanova's tiny variation with its fast, precisely punched out point work and floating arms, however, looked good.

Mr. Grigorivich's second act contribution was just as unmistakable as Petipa. Only it looks a lot more of its time. As an example of that sleek, stripped down and melodramatic Soviet style, it was quite astounding though somewhat uncomprehending to behold. How could they ever have gotten away with those thundering, hunched over "Barbarian" dances despite the fact that Glazunov's churning score at that point, of course, suggested something turbulent and not quite "civilized?" Still, it was hard to keep a straight face. The Spanish dancers-big hair for the women, huge cambrés and ear rings for the men—however, would be right at home in one of the more old fashioned Vegas shows. Nuance was the last thing on Mr. Grigorivich's mind, so all you could do is look at it as a product of its own era and try to imagine how a Soviet audience might have seen it.

Anna Antonicheva's Raymonda was rather bland. While technically quite acceptable, one only intermittently had a sense of her inhabiting the role. Looking a little bit like a young Aurora, bursting onto the stage like a colt, she quickly settled into dancing the steps. Even the third act "hand clapping variation", for all its speed and coordination challenges looked pallid. I longed for SFB's Lorena Feijoo. Mr. Filin's Jean de Brienne at least wore his own hair and didn't have to quickly pull off the wig, as Fokine did, for the wedding scene. He has nice elevation and is a good partner. There were moments, in a kind balancing pas, when the lovers actually threw some sparks in our direction. Dmitry Belogolovtsev, a formidable dancer, gave Abderakhman a chiseled, though never chilling interpretation. Even some dignity when he died at Raymonda's feet.

Raymonda PHOTO: Igor Zakharkin
Volume 2, No. 42
November 8, 2004

Copyright ©2004 by Rita Felciano


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