American Ballet Theatre - 'Raymonda'
The magic goes missing
by Lori Ibay
June 2, 2004 -- Metropolitan Opera House, New York City
Seeing the ballet was always a magical experience for me growing up. Watching ballerinas in glittering tiaras and sparkling costumes was like watching a fairytale take place before my eyes. American Ballet Theatre's new production of Anna-Marie Holmes' "Raymonda" (after Marius Petipa), with spacious, colorful sets and dazzling costumes by Zack Brown, certainly looked like the pages of a fairytale come to life – but even with beautiful performances by the company's dancers, the magic was somehow missing.
Condensed into two acts, "Raymonda" has its own fairytale plot – the heroine at her birthday party meets the handsome suitor a.k.a. "good guy," Jean de Brienne, and the suave, exciting "bad guy," Abderakhman, a Saracen Knight. To help her choose her husband, the White Lady, a sacred statue standing in the Palace Courtyard, comes to life like a fairy godmother in Raymonda's dream. In the Act II drama, the two men fight for Raymonda's hand in marriage, and of course – in true fairytale fashion – the good guy wins.
Although chock full of lively color and spirited dancing, the ballet's simple story is almost too simple to hold one's attention for two full acts. At the same time, it feels as though neither Raymonda nor the audience know enough about Jean de Brienne or Abderakhman (aside from their good guy/bad guy costumes and Abderakhman's refusal to honor the White Lady when he arrives at the party) to decide which suitor she should marry, or to feel invested in Raymonda's dilemma.
In Raymonda's dream, the White Lady shows her Jean de Brienne – a "Mr. Perfect" in every way – but Raymonda's vision of their tender, intimate pas de deux takes place in front of an ensemble of spectators (who don't dance at all), as if to indicate that Raymonda knows who she should pick, at least in the eyes of others. Before her dream ends she sees Abderakhman too – and is visibly enthralled by him as well. When she ultimately pushes him away, is it because she is tired – or confused – or is her heart going against what she knows is the right choice?
In the end, after a lot of exciting divertissements, Raymonda goes with the safe and the familiar and resists the exotic stranger. There is one last duel (although it happens after she has already made her choice), and Jean de Brienne wins – and the two live happily ever after.
The dancing is pleasant but lacks truly thrilling moments as well as originality – with a glimpse of "Bayadere" here and a bit of "Swan Lake" there, it feels like a journey through many of the ballets Petipa created before he choreographed "Raymonda" at eighty years of age. ABT's stars shine as usual – as Raymonda, Paloma Herrera danced with youthful daintiness, like a teenager in her own world at the start of the ballet. By the end, she had transitioned into maturity, showing the audience a more sophisticated and confident heroine.
With Marcelo Gomes as the likeable, good-natured Jean de Brienne, the pair danced romantic pas de deux fluidly and without hesitation. Gomes showed both power and grace with high lifts and soaring leaps, and Herrera's extended, unwavering balances were arresting. Herrera also showed chemistry with Julio Bocca, who danced Abderakhman like a race car – red, sleek, fast, and with a hint of danger. Anna Liceica was elegantly ethereal as the White Lady.
David Hallberg and Gennadi Saveliev with Veronika Part and Michele Wiles danced majestically as Raymonda's friends, and the energetic corps danced vivaciously, especially in the second act's fast-paced Saracen Dance, led by Erica Cornejo and Buck Collins; Spanish Dance featuring Carmen Corella and Carlos Molina with Tobin Eason, Kenneth Easter, Jeffrey Golladay, and Jared Matthews; and Grand Pas Hongrois, let by Sasha Dmochowski and Jared Matthews.David LaMarche conducted the orchestra playing Alexander Glazounov's score adapted by Ormsby Wilkins.
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