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American Ballet Theatre - Raymonda
presented at the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center
New York, NY
The Metropolitan Opera House's curtain rises to reveal a blue-green, ornate, floral, gilded curtain. The elegance of this blue-green curtain gives you the first feeling of the ballet. Such elegance is carried through the dancing to the very end of the two act ballet.
The opening of act one included two sets of partners performing movements in paralell on opposite sides of the stage. They were replaced by groups of three men who would leap across the stage. The two sets of partners returned. They were then followed by a procession of women in large veiled fairy tale hats. The dancing opened up with separated couples, followed by large groups of dancers. I thought this created a pleasing mathematical sequence that not only had neatly placed parallels and progressions, but also breathed as it opened the ballet.
Normally I do not read program notes before a show because I want to judge it on its own merits, and not filtered through someone else's perspective. I want to know if someone can walk into the show knowing nothing about it, and understand the show's message, especially if it is a narrative work. However, I have recently been coming around to the opinion that narrative dance is more story interpretation than story telling. Narrative dance is designed for people who already know the story being told. This fits quite well with a Brechtian view of theatre in which the audience should know what happens ahead of time so they can focus on how the action happens. There are ways to accomplish this within the work itself, but Raymonda doesn't do this, so I decided to read the plot synopsis ahead of time. By doing so, it was clear why Raymonda's mother chastised the lute player, and why everyone kept gesturing towards the statute of a white lady. Without it, I am not sure the plot points would have been so clear.
Watching Raymonda, I realized that classical narrative ballet and contemporary plotless ballet are not as far apart as they seem. On some level, a classical ballet like Raymonda uses its narrative as a cover to present what is really pure dance. There are several long sequences where one dancer after another comes center stage and dances. Sometimes they dance solo, sometimes in pairs, sometimes as a group. None of these sequences depend upon or advance the plot. In narrative theatre, it is generally accepted that the best actors make no movement that does not have an intention or a meaning behind it. These dance sequences can usually be justified within the narrative, often because people are dancing at a party, but the choreography itself has no necessary relationship to the narrative.
This afternoon's Raymonda was Michele Wiles. She was still and graceful in her en pointe holds during her solo with the scarf given to her as a favor (in the sense that a knight would give a lady some token of his love for her as he went into battle or a joust). She was lithe, ethereal and assured. Later, during a group number in a dream sequence, the corp danced with scarves to echo this solo.
Misty Copeland and Erica Cornejo as Henrietta and Clemence were surefooted.
My grandmother, who accompanied me this afternoon, thought all of the dancers were smooth, and that the costumes were magnificent. She liked every minute of it, but especially the group scenes and the pas de deux. And that was only act one.
As act two started, I knew that Raymonda was going to have to choose between Jean de Brienne and Abderakhman, and I knew from having read the plot synopsis that she was going to choose Jean. Even within the dance, though, Raymonda's choice seemed predetermined because her purple outfit matched Jean's purple outfit, but not the bright orange of Abderakhman.
There was a section in act two where two men pass Raymonda back and forth, much like a scene I observed in a Salsa club in Cancun, Mexico, some years ago (athough the Salsa dancers weren't dancing en pointe).
Act two also contains a section where two men in turn walk Raymonda around 360 degrees en pointe. This was much like the Rose Adagio sequence in Sleeping Beauty, except that while this Raymonda Adagio was impressive, the Rose Adagio requires the dancer to go around four times without stopping.
In act two Abderakhman attempts to impress Raymonda by showcasing all of the dancers he has at his command. These include a group of kids who are exceedingly cute, and who dance a number that includes much jogging and side to side hopping. He also brings out an energetic couple, and six person flamenco troupe.
Jean then dances and, not to be outdone, brings out a phlanax of Russian dancers who perform fast paced prancing with repeated head flicks. The number felt a little like klezmer.
Finally, Abderakhman dances for himself. He doesn't seem to be getting through, so he brings out his cute kid minions to dance again.
Frankly, I don't think Abderakhman ever stood a chance. I think Raymonda's mother only tolerated him being there to make it look like many suitors were being considered, when in fact Jean had been awarded the job ahead of time. To my eye, Jean didn't look like he did anything out of the ordinary at the party to convince Raymonda to marry him.
Raymonda is a beautiful ballet, but some of the choices seem a little conventional. I think it would be very interesting to reimagine Raymonda where Raymonda wants to be with Abderakhman. This isn't intended as a criticism, so much as a suggestion that there may be more message beneath the surface of Raymonda than at first meets the eye.
Michele Wiles particularly stood out during her solos in act two. She had several perfect moments of stillness en pointe. She was willowy and sensuous.
My grandmother again liked all of act two, but she especially liked the Spanish and Russian group numbers. She thought they danced with tremendous spirit. I have to agree.
On a practical note, two little girls were sitting in front of us. They were sitting on special cushions that raised them up a few inches. It turns out that you can get these cushions for free from the Metropolitan Opera House coat check room. You leave a credit card or driver's license with them, they give you as many cushions as you need, and you get your card back when you return the cushions after the show. I thought this was a very good idea, so if you are bringing small children to the ballet, make sure to look into getting these special cushions for them.
Choreography by Anna-Marie Holmes after Petipa
Conceived and directed by Anna-Marie Holmes and Kevin McKenzie
Music by Alexander Glazounov, adapted by Ormsby Wilkins
Scenery, costumes and set design by Zack Brown
Lighting by Steen Bjarke
Raymonda: Michele Wiles
Jean de Brienne: David Hallberg
Abderakhman: Carlos Molina
Henrietta: Misty Copeland
Clemence: Erica Cornejo
Bernard: Sascha Radetsky
Beranger: Gennadi Saveliev
Countess Sybelle: Marine Van Hamel
White Lady: Carmen Corella
Seneschal: Kirk Peterson