A Wednesday matinee is not the time an audience can usually expect great stars and go for broke performances. It's usually the occasion for a nice piece of dancing for an undemanding audience, a good time to try out young performers. But ABT gave a performance this Wednesday afternoon that could match any company, any evening, any time, with the debut of Veronika Part (the dancer most likely to be taken for a 1940 movie star), squired by Marcelo Gomes, and a supporting cast of David Hallberg, Anna Liceica, Stella Abrera, Monique Meunier among others, not to mention Georgina Parkinson as the Countess. (An audience member with few manners but a long memory shouted “Bravo” when Parkinson entered.)
The production has been modified a bit since last year, though it still doesn’t quite work as a dramatic whole. It is a mistake, I think, to have Jean de Brienne appear at the beginning, just to give him a few turns, when the music and the original scenario give him a much more dramatic and moving entrance as a character in Raymonda’s dream. I think, too, that de Brienne should, as in the original, make a dramatic return from the Crusades just in time to rescue Raymonda—as it now is, he has been jumping around going “my arabesque is better than yours, and my turns are, too” for quite some time before actually fighting. Abderakhman (a brusque and effective Tamás Solymosi) is still the most extraneous character in all of ballet, but at least the fight now comes before the wedding celebration.
However, “Raymonda” has always really been about the music and the dancing, and both were glorious. “Raymonda” is full of solos calling for different technical aspects, from quick little footwork to the most grand of adagios, and is a test of stamina as well as style. Part is one of the most lush, most musical, and of course, most beautiful dancers on stage today. Footwork is not her strongest asset, and there are other dancers who can make the fluttering little runs skim faster, but few can phrase an adagio so eloquently or captivate an audience with the wave of an arm. The final Hungarian solo (if only the ABT dancers would actually clap!) is a dance she was born to do; she was warm, majestic, and profoundly feminine in Petipa’s most condensed and perfect delineation of womanhood.
Gomes is an elegant de Brienne, and a generous partner. It does seem that it would be possible to rethink some of the lifts—Part is tall and does not look her best held up precariously. Many of these lifts must have been added later—after all, a thirty year-old Legnani, swathed in corsets, could hardly have spent two hours jumping on Sergei Legat’s shoulders.
“Raymonda” is not just its principals, and one of the many benefits it brings is the chance for the company to dance its many rigorous classical variations. Anna Liceica as Clemence, and especially Stella Abrera as Henrietta, danced their many variations (it seems as if they get a chance to do Balanchine’s “Raymonda Variations” all by themselves) with a stylish crystalline clarity. Their partners David Hallberg and Danny Tidwell (who also danced in the male pas de quatre), were equally pure. The scene in the garden when Raymonda plays music for the four of them is one of the gentle and eloquent depictions of friendship on record.
That canny showman Petipa knew, of course, that swathes of classical dancing need some variety, and spiced “Raymonda” with various character dances. The Saracen dance by Laura Hidalgo and Arron Scott was particularly lively, and Sasha Dmochowksi and Sascha Radetsky were stylish and energetic as the lead couple in the czardas. And all credit to the ABT corps, who have been dancing beautifully. Since the corps is Parkinson’s responsibility, perhaps that opening “Bravo” was meant as a present day compliment.