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American Ballet Theatre - 'Raymonda'

by Kate Snedeker

June 2, 2004 matinee -- Metropolitan Opera House, New York City

On Wednesday afternoon, a new cast stepped into the principal roles of American Ballet Theatre's production of "Raymonda." Choreographed by Anna-Marie Holmes after the original by Marius Petipa, the ballet is a colorful spectacle about the lovely Raymonda and the decision she must make in love -- the young and handsome Jean de Brienne or the exotic and exciting Abderakhman. However, not even the sparkling debut performances by Gillian Murphy, Angel Corella and Carlos Molina could breathe much life into this meandering and bland production.

"Raymonda," which originally premiered in 1895, was one of Petipa's last ballets, and it seems more a combination of steps and themes from his earlier creations like "Sleeping Beauty," "Swan Lake" and "La Bayadere" than a coherent and original creation. Though this production was crafted by Anna-Marie Holmes, it is hard to tell where Petipa ends and Homes begins because "Raymonda" has been a rarity on North American stages -- an early version for American Ballet Theatre by Nureyev was short-lived, and since then, the ballet has appeared only in short excerpts. So, it would seem that many of the problems with the production are inherent and not a result of Holmes' adaptation.

The major stumbling block for the ballet is a near complete lack of story, which makes it difficult to keep the ballet moving and keep the audience's attention. The ballet begins at the birthday party of the beautiful Raymonda, the heir to her mother's vast fortune. Courted by both the nobleman Jean de Brienne and the Saracen Knight Abderakhman, she later falls asleep, and led through her dreams by the White Lady, a revered family ancestor, she dances with both men. The next day, she reveals her choice of suitor -- Jean de Brienne. A duel between the two mean ensues, through Abderakhman escapes with his life and de Brienne with Raymonda's hand in marriage.

It's a charming plot, but far too simplistic to sustain a full two-act ballet, especially as Abderakhman never comes across as a believable rival for Raymonda's heart -- she spends far more time dancing with Jean de Brienne in both the party scene and in her dreams, thus it's quite clear who she will choose from the beginning. Also, Abderakhman's reappearance in Act II feels totally unnecessary and the duel between the two suitors almost comically tame.

Even Holmes' re-introduction of the White Lady, using the statue-come-to-life to guide Raymonda in her dreams, becomes muddled because the significance of the White Lady is lost in the general hubbub of Act I. There's no great drama, no great challenges overcome, and perhaps because of that, no great emotional investment in the characters. So, though in the end it's happily ever after, but do we really care?

Despite having relatively little in the way of character or story to work with, Angel Corella, Gillian Murphy and Carlos Molina were solid and intriguing in their debuts as Jean de Brienne, Raymonda and Abderakhman, respectively. Murphy was an elegant and intelligent Raymonda, never the young, nave teenager that the character is perhaps intended to be. As a result, there is never much doubt about her choice of suitor, as she is far too smart to fall for Abderakhman's jewels and flash. In the solos and pas de deuxs throughout the ballet, Murphy demonstrated the full range of her talents, including her stunningly fast and perfectly centered pirouettes and turns and breathtaking control.

She was well-matched by Corella, who though a bit rough in his solo dancing, was a solid, elegant and endearing partner. With nary a wobble in the complicated lifts, it was clear why Corella's Jean de Brienne was Raymonda's pick. How could she not feel safe in his arms, and enveloped by his obvious love and joy? As Abderakhman, Carlos Molina used his height advantage over Corella and his long, lean frame to his advantage, playing up the swoosh of his cloak. He backed up his colorful, but never overblown acting with impressive dancing, especially in his twisting pas du chat-like turns and snappy beats.

The plentiful dances and divertissements in both acts provide ample opportunities for fine dancing, and the company did not disappoint. Zack Brown's colorful costumes and sets were a highlight of the production and provided a pleasing background for the solid corps. While a bit more coordination between the men would have helped, in general the corps was outstanding, soaring and gliding through the choreography with great flow and energy.

Misty Copeland, Erica Cornejo, Herman Cornejo and Danny Tidwell were outstanding as Raymonda's four friends, with Herman Cornejo once again standing out for the effortless height and crispness of his jumps. Laura Hidalgo and Craig Salstein were amusing in the comically frenetic Saracen Dance, and Veronica Part and Ricardo Torres and Karin Ellis-Wentz and Gennadi Saveliev were solid in the Spanish Dance and Grand Pas Hongrois. Monique Meunier brought a mature elegance and gentleness to the all too brief role as the White Lady.

Ormsby Wilkins conducted his adaptation of the Alexander Glazounov score, and the lighting was by Steen Bjarke.

Edited by Lori Ibay

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