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Raymonda thrives at the Paris Opera Ballet



By Patricia Boccadoro

LettrinePARIS, 9 February 1998 - "Don't talk, work!" were Rudolf Nureyev's words to the dancers of the Paris Opéra Ballet on his arrival as artistic director in September 1983 and the result was the sumptuous re-staging of Raymonda two months later.

It was important not only because it was Nureyev's first big production as director of the French company, but also because of the personal links he established with the dancers via his chorégraphy, teaching and direction. There could hardly have been a ballet better suited to enhance the brilliance and fine schooling of the Paris troupe, for besides the three main roles with their lyrical pas-de-deux, dramatic swordfights, and vision scenes, there are glittering solos for over a dozen more dancers and many spectacular ensembles including lavish Hungarian dances, an exhuberant Spanish dance, a magnificent Polonaise and scintillating pas-de-quatre and pas-de-six! The lively traditional folk-dances and lovely adage were given the rigour and discipline they had lacked since the departure of Serge Lifar in 1958.

Nureyev, commissioned to reconstruct Raymonda from memory in 1964 for the touring company of the Royal Ballet reduced the story to its bare essentials. He then revised his work for the Australian Ballet a year later and again in 1972 for Zurich Ballet. 1975 saw a fourth version for American Ballet Theater before his "definitive" carefully thought-out work, tailor-made to fit the French company. He developed the characters and simplified the over-complicated libretto, discarding everything that had become superfluous in the last hundred years.

Raymonda

No other version I have seen remotely matches up to this. The present Bolshoi staging, first danced in 1900, is repetitive and bland; some movements seem to be repeated a dozen times. The production at the Kirov which I saw two years ago was scarcely better.

After an absence of ten years, Rudolf Nureyev's Raymondawas happily programmed again recently at the Opéra Bastille. Raymonda is to marry Jean de Brienne (whom she has never met) when the Saracen warrior, Abderam arrives. In love with the young girl, the Moorish prince seeks to seduce her with precious gifts, and is attempting to kidnap her when de Brienne returns from the Crusades and kills him in a duel. Raymonda marries Jean de Brienne.

The ballet, with its weak plot, is set in the thirteenth century but is staged for a nineteenth century Russian view of the fifth crusade...briefly, it is an excuse for a feast of superlative dancing, which is what Nureyev provided; "it is a tribute to classical dance", the Russian director told me in a 1985 interview.

He had worked closely with set-designer Nicholas Georgiadis, and the first act opens in a great hall hung with lamps, where oriental tapestries recalling chivalrous deeds jostle with medieval manuscripts and ornate paintings, against an opulent background of red , black, and gold. The vast silken tent (act II), in shades of gold, bronze, and yellow, which was purely Nureyev's invention, was displayed to even greater advantage on the slightly larger stage of the Opéra Bastille.

Lacking the aura and exquisite technique of Elisabeth Platel who created the role in 1983, Fanny Gaida, partnered by the valiant Manuel Legris, coped as best she could with the pitfalls of the title role, one of the most demanding in the classical repertory. The dancing of Ghislaine Fallou and Delphine Moussin, respectively Henriette and Clemence, Raymonda's friends, was a joy to behold, and Laurent Hilaire as Abderam, was quite magnificent.

Music: Alexander Glazunov
Choreography: Rudolf Nureyev d'après Marius Petipa
Scenery and costumes:
Nicholas Georgiadis

Photo: Principal dancer Laurent Hilaire
Photo Credit: Jacques Moatti

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