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The DanceView Times, New York edition

Refreshing Raymonda

American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House
New York, NY
May 22, 2004 matinee

by Mary Cargill
copyright © 2004 by Mary Cargill
published 24 May 2004

ABT’s new Raymonda, set by Anna-Marie Holmes and Kevin McKenzie, is, like the Glazounov music, rich, lush, and very pretty, but somewhat lacking in drama. The story—never one of its strong points—has been rejigged a bit, giving the Crusader hero, Jean de Brienne, an earlier entrance. He bounds on in the first scene, with the now obligatory ménage of turns. According to Beaumont, the original version had him off fighting in the Crusades, and his first appearance was in Raymonda’s dream. He then got to make a flesh and blood entrance in the last act, just in time to rescue Raymonda from the evil Saracen Abderakhman. The Saracen, too, has undergone a metamorphosis from wily foreigner with designs for abduction and murder and a retinue of goblins, to a thoroughly desirable, if somewhat oversexed, young man.

Originally Raymonda was French, and the Hungarian-tinged finale was in honor of King Andrew II of Hungary, who was visiting his Crusade buddy, Jean. But the very pretty, pastel sets of this production, with the minarets in the background, suggest that there was some obscure corner of France bordering on Turkey. The vaguely Art Nouveau designs of the ballroom in the second act may be slightly anachronistic, but the light, airy and hot house artifice of Art Nouveau suits the absolutely beautiful but somewhat static music.

Without much dramatic force, ABT’s Raymonda is really a suite of dances. And what dances they are! It is a bit like watching an expanded Raymonda Variations, followed by an augmented Cortège Hongrois; certainly, a very enjoyable way to spend an evening. Raymonda has four friends (Maria Riccetto, Erica Cornejo, Sascha Radetsky, and Gennadi Saveliev) who dance their hearts out in some gorgeous Petipa (or what has come down as Petipa) variations; the women have an especially wonderful pizzicato duet. Raymonda herself has a number of solos, including the famous Hungarian variation, one of Petipa’s most authoritatively womanly dances. Anna-Marie Holmes’ version omits the claps, unfortunately, but at least the Raymonda I saw (Xiomara Reyes) didn’t look like she was wiping something sticky off her hands.

Reyes is a small dancer, wonderful as Lise in Ashton’s La Fille Mal Gardée, but though her dancing was scrupulous and detailed, she doesn’t really have all the majesty that Raymonda needs. Ethan Stiefel danced Jean de Brienne, looking like a blond god in his white and gold costume. Abderakhman was Herman Cornejo; their character development basically consisted of a jumping contest. (The original Adberakhman was Pavel Gerdt, so it would have been a mimed role, providing more contrast between the rivals.) But both are very fine classical stylists, and their parts were not camped up.

The company as a whole looked very good. The erratic performances during the City Center season of the final Grand Pas Classique were forgotten (though the men would still look more regal if they weren’t bareheaded). The program credits Vladimir Kolesnikov with coaching the character dances, and the audience, too, should thank him. The couples in the Grand Pas Hongrois (where the men did wear hats) had a distinctive snap, and they really looked at each other—folk dancing is, after all, a form of courtship. Adberakhman brought Saracen and Spanish dancers along, and, while it wasn’t the Kirov, both Erica Fischback and Danny Tidwell as the energetic Saracens and Kristi Boone and Carlos Molina as the flexible Spaniards, were very good, dancing with a real upper body articulation and fervor.

Raymonda may not have the dramatic cohesiveness of La Bayadère, the metaphorical profundity of Swan Lake, or the moral richness of The Sleeping Beauty, but ABT’s version is beautiful and refreshing, like wading in a sparking, pastel-tinted spring.

Photo: A studio shot of Ethan Stiefel as Jean de Brienne; photo by Marty Sohl.

Originally published:
Volume 2, Number 19
May 24, 2004

Copyright ©2004 by  Mary Cargill



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last updated on April 19, 2004