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Bolshoi N.Am. -'Raymonda' reviews/comments


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#1 Natalia

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Posted 04 October 2004 - 08:23 AM

As the much-anticipated 2004 North American tour of the Bolshoi Ballet begins this week, I've started threads in which all of us who attend performances may input our comments & reviews. Here's the one for 'Raymonda,' which opens the run this coming Wednesday (Oct 6) in Boston. 'Raymonda' will also be performed in Mexico City, Berkeley & Chicago.

I look forward to reading all of your observations!

#2 Natalia

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Posted 07 October 2004 - 04:31 AM

The tour opened last night in Boston, with this ballet. Any 'BalletAlerters' there? Please let us know your thoughts!

The two reviews in the Boston newspapers (posted by Ari in the 'Links' forum, October 7 thread) are real downers; one of them is headlined 'Bolshoi Bombs in Boston.' Ouch! Was it THAT bad?

#3 jbtlse

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Posted 09 October 2004 - 10:25 AM

I was really looking forward to seeing Raymonda because I'd only ever seen variations from it. The problem was there was not much personality, no sparkle. The Bolshoi women were lovely dancers. The men were forgettable unfortunately.

I saw The Pharoah's Daughter in London with Zakharova (I thought she was stunning). Though my view was obstructed, the company seemed to be in much finer form in London.

#4 nysusan

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Posted 10 October 2004 - 06:30 PM

I was there and I was stunned by the poor reviews the Gracheva, Filin, Belogolovtsev cast of Raymonda received in the Boston papers. I couldn’t disagree more strongly, especially with regard to Gracheva. She was exquisite. And the audience was quite appreciative.

This Raymonda is a tale of courtly love that unfolds slowly like a beautiful, intricate, richly layered tapestry. The scenery is a bit austere, and there were a few “star wars” touches to some of the crusaders costumes, but nothing like the Disney meets Miami Vice costumes & scenery ABT brought us.

Gracheva and Filin brought out many of the themes that we normally associate with ballets like the Sleeping Beauty - the continuity of a royal line, respect for court traditions - and the maintenance and defense of a culture, a way of life. Gracheva’s technique was superb, and she and Filin brought out all the richness and nuance of the story through their dancing. Filin showed a wonderful clean line and high leaps, he was a very dashing knight. Gracheva had rock solid technique - wonderful, secure balances, high extensions and the most gorgeous phrasing & musicality I’ve seen in a long time. She is a true classicist - regal, royal, majestic, but she also radiated warmth. Her back & torso were wonderfully straight and centered, and her arms were beautiful. She has an amazing ability to slow down time, to present a series of steps, perfectly articulated and crystalline and fit perfectly within the musical phrase. She never appeared rushed, her dancing was lush and plush and she gave each movement it’s full measure. She did not distort the music in any way, yet she danced as if she had all the time in the world. I remember hearing a description of Ulanova “like cream pouring from a pitcher”. I’m not comparing the two dancers, but that’s the feeling I got from Gracheva.

The only flaw I could see in Gracheva’s portrayal is that Raymonda is supposed to be a young girl, and she did not look young. I also saw her in Don Q, and there it was apparent that speed & turns are not her strong point but none of that came into play in Raymonda. She and Filin had wonderful chemistry from the start, and by the end of the ballet they just radiated the glow of a regal couple who were not only very much in love, but one whose union had an air of inevitability about it.

I also saw Maria Allash with Alexander Volchkov and Rinat Arifulin. What a difference, they were a totally lackluster 2nd cast. Allash looked young and beautiful, and her dancing had a certain delicacy to it, but none of Gracheva’s grandeur or graciousness, no phrasing or plastique. Also there was no feeling of growth in her characterization. She and Vochkov had absolutely no chemistry between them, they danced like strangers and with no regard to the story (let alone a back story). As if in response to the lead couple the whole production seemed very flat the second night, and the audience response was noticably muted compared to the first night.

All of the supporting roles were well done. Alexandrova and Shipulina were the first cast Clemence &Henriette. MA looked like a dancer of great promise but Shipulina was the one I really loved. In addition to Nelli Kobakhidze, Ekaterina Krysanova really impressed me. Both Abderakhmans were effective and all of the character dancers were great - the Saracen couple (both casts), spanish dance, czardas and especially Anna Antropova & Gregory Geraskin’s mazurka.

It is a long ballet, especially the first act, and it can flounder without great performances from the leading couple. Gracheva & Filin kept me mesmerized throughout their performance but, to be fair, I did overhear a couple of comments like silly & boring, and someone voiced a complaint about the first act that I found interesting. They said that “nothing happened for the last 35 minutes”. In a way they were right, there’s very little narrative progression, but each one of those gorgeous variations illuminates the development of Raymonda’s character, of her relationship to the court and with Jeanne de Brienne. I don’t think I would recommend Raymonda to anyone who doesn’t absolutely love classical ballet. Anyone who has a hard time sitting through a traditional version of Sleeping Beauty or Swan Lake should skip Raymonda. But if you love 19th century classical ballet - this is a combination of pure Petipa and the kind of character dancing Russian companies are justly famous for.

The only thing I agree with the critics on - the male quartet of soloists in the third act was ragged, very much below the level I expected

#5 Natalia

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Posted 12 October 2004 - 06:28 AM

Thank you for the wonderful review , nysusan. That's the Gracheva I know & admire, for sure. I was wondering if the newspaper reviewers were so put-off by the cumbersome plot that it tainted their thoughts on the lead soloists.

jbtlse - This is a relatively young set of soloists & corps. In reviewing the Boston roster, I can now tell that the majority of seasoned soloists (mid- & coryphee level) AND corps de ballet stayed behind in Moscow. The Olga Suvorovs, Nina Kaptsovas, Andrei Bolotins and Dmitri Gudanovs are not here.

On the positive side: Perhaps the Ratmansky regime is being generous to all dancers, allowing many who missed the UK tour to do the North Am tour? That is great, as every major tour allows dancers to earn more-per-performance than s/he would earn back home. In olden days, the corps de ballet & coryphee-level soloists were always the same, for every tour.

#6 ina

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Posted 13 October 2004 - 05:31 AM

Just a few comments. Dmitry Gudanov was promoted to a principal in the end of last season. Normally he does not take part in the ballets, which are touring
US now. He is engaged in the performances in Moscow. When the major part of the company is on tour, we have here in Moscow ballets, which are not very crowded – mostly “Giselle” and “La Sylphide”. Gudanov, one of our best romantic dancers, is engaged in both.
In general the rank and the scale of the company allows both touring and home performances with preservation of the quality. At least I hope it happens this time too. The rest is the matter of taste and preferences. For example I think “Raymonda” to be one of the gems of the classics in spite of the quality of the story ( it is either bad or very bad – depending on the staging). But I am ready to accept it for the sake of the richness of dancing and music. New “R&J” is not among my favorites, but it’s construction is very theatrical and the dancers have a chance to manifest their dramatic skills. The weakest point, as I see it, is choreography, especially in solos and duets. This is my personal opinion, and I am eager to learn how it all looks for the ballet lovers overseas.

#7 Natalia

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Posted 13 October 2004 - 06:28 AM

Thanks for this, ina. Happy to hear that Gudanov has finally made principal! I have very mixed feelings about the 'R&J' -- it is 'total theater' (good) but it SHOULD also be a romantic ballet, with beautiful pas de deux between the hero & heroine. Maybe our first-time US audiences can tell us if it works on both levels? I have my opinion but I would rather hear from our first-time viewers.

#8 Natalia

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Posted 19 October 2004 - 12:45 PM

I'm just moving these review-links here, as they relate to 'Raymonda,' and not 'Giselle':

Copied over from Links:

The Bolshoi Ballet opened its North American tour last night in Boston.
Christine Temin in the Boston Globe
QUOTE
"There's another act?" my companion asked after we'd reached what could have passed for an ending. There is another act, and it's the reason to see "Raymonda." After all the preening and parading are over, after the Infidels have been chased away, there's the wedding, where all pretense of plot is abandoned. Thank goodness. The dancing wakes up.

As Raymonda, Nadezhda Gracheva was skilled but mannered, as if she'd performed the part a few too many times. Her partner, Sergey Filin, was a more dynamic presence. As the smitten Saracen, Dmitry Belogolovtsev looked like he'd studied Rudolf Valentino movies. The hokiest moment was the pas de deux for Raymonda and the Saracen: It's tough to reject an unwanted suitor convincingly when he's holding you up as you pirouette, and Gracheva and Belogolovtsev didn't manage the effect.







Theodore Bale in the Boston Herald


QUOTE
American ballet companies rarely perform the full-length "Raymonda,'' so Bank of America Celebrity Series' presentation of the legendary Bolshoi Ballet and Orchestra in this 19th century classic seemed like an overdue treat for Boston.

Unfortunately, this is a production one has to work hard to enjoy. It's perplexing, because the Bolshoi dancers are without doubt extraordinary artists, and the musicians more than capable. The sets and costumes are lavish. So why is this "Raymonda'' a mostly neutral experience?

The problem rests with Yury Grigorovich's average choreography (with "extracts,'' whatever that means, from the original production by Marius Petipa and Alexander Gorsky) as well as Glazunov's forgettable score. One becomes easily tired of these dull, meandering melodies and the lack of musical variation. Tchaikovsky this is not.

#9 Cygnet

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Posted 28 October 2004 - 07:28 AM

. . . Glazunov's forgettable score. One becomes easily tired of these dull, meandering melodies and the lack of musical variation. Tchaikovsky this is not.

Sorry if I go slightly off topic here, but re: the score, is Mr. Bale being a little petty ? OK, the Bolshoi production isn't his cup of tea. Its true that "Raymonda" as a ballet score isn't "Sleeping Beauty," but it does have some lovely segments. Glazunov wasn't as prolific as the master (Tchaikovsky), but its obvious that he was greatly influenced by his approach to ballet composition.

#10 Natalia

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Posted 28 October 2004 - 09:47 AM

The entire review shows Mr. Bale's naivete with ballet and its history. He gave no concrete reasons --such as technical faults -- why the evening's performance was so poor, in his mind. He'd probably never heard of Glazunov until that performance.

#11 nysusan

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Posted 28 October 2004 - 10:37 AM

re: the Bale review - I agree, it should be taken with a grain of salt. I love Glazunov's score for Raymonda, I Iisten to parts of it all the time. I think it contains some of the most beautiful music I have ever heard. And I can't tell you how many times I have watched those Dudinskaya/Sergeyev and Kolpakova/ Semenov Raymonda excerpts. The reviewer made it clear that he didn't like the music or the choreography, so I didn't really give his opinion much credence. After trashing the music & choreography it wasn't surprising to me that he didn't like the performances either.

#12 Cygnet

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Posted 28 October 2004 - 12:01 PM

  . . . I can't tell you how many times I have watched those Dudinskaya/Sergeyev and Kolpakova/ Semenov Raymonda excerpts.

Ditto that nysusan! Grigorovich's version is good, but Sergueyev's is best. There's
100% more jumping and dancing for Raymonda in Petersburg than in
the Bolshoi version. (IMHO the Maryinsky Act 3 has the most paprika :wink:) .

#13 Helene

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Posted 10 November 2004 - 11:37 PM

I saw Raymonda in Berkeley on Sunday afternoon. I haven't been smitten like this since the first time I saw Liebeslieder Walzer in 1986. Each act has more dancing than many full-lengths. (I now understand the temptation ABT had to condense it). It was like going into a fabric store and finding yard after yard of beautiful, vibrant brocades, silks, satins, velvets, and lace. I was smiling non-stop for hours afterward, even on BART and at the airport, and that never happens.

I've heard the plot described as both thin and convoluted. I thought it was very straightforward: Act I: A young noblewoman is betrothed to a young knight. All is happy until he is called away to fight on a crusade. (Dressed completely in white.) After they part, she has a dream about him that morphs into a nightmare of sorts: she's pursued by a strange man, and she wakes anxiously. Much dancing to establish the court and the relationships. Act II: Somewhat like Penelope when Odysseus is away, Raymond is pressured by her aunt, the Countess, to accept the attentions of a wealthy Saracen. When she rejects him after he makes quite a show of it, he tries to abduct her. Just in time, her betrothed shows up with his knights. (With not a spot on his white costume.) The King (of Hungary) tells the two men to settle this through single combat. (Still no spots.) The young knight is victorious, and pledges his love to her. Among other things, big spectacle of dance as the Saracen shows off his riches, and a wonderful classical pas de deux to end the act. Act III: Wedding celebration. Lots of dancing to celebrate wedding.

What I found interesting about the plot is that the King of Hungary, Andrew II, one of whose wives was a French woman, and who led Crusades, did not capture the Saracen and have him killed after extolling the superiority of Christendom, nor did he encourage a full-scale battle, neither of which would have changed the scene much dramatically. Nor did he simply "reward" Jean de Brienne with Raymonda after a Crusade well done. He let the knight, Jean de Brienne, fight the Saracen, Abderakhman, as an equal. The ballet itself does not treat Abderakhman as an equal, though, but as a stock Easterner character with the combination of virility, fury, despotism, and foolish machismo depicted in Rossini's L'Italiana in Algieri and Mozart's The Abduction from the Seraglio.

Anna Antonicheva danced Raymonda. I'm of two minds about her: much of her dancing was exquisite, particularly the scarf dance and the wonderful pas de six showcasing Raymond and her two friends, danced beautifully by Olga Stebletsova and Maria Allash, and Abderakhman. I thought the entire dream scene enchanting, as the curtain rose to show the corps, with their blue-grey tutus, in a pattern that looked like a flower from where I was sitting, and lit at twilight. Antonicheva has lovely lines and at her best, sweep, but I felt like she faded in and out of the performance a bit during the classical parts of the first two acts. As a character, while she was a very nice, well-brought up young woman, I didn't really feel that she conveyed much pathos. The paucity of mime didn't help: for example at the beginning of Act II, clearly she is not happy that her Aunt wants her to take the Saracen seriously and couldn't care less about the absent Jean de Brienne or Raymonda's feelings for him, but without mime Raymond has little way of conveying this, other than to look a bit subdued. Antonicheva's Raymonda became a much more interesting person in Act III, showing a lot of spark in the character-driven choreography.

I liked Sergey Filin's Jean de Brienne very much: he had clean lines and was open and attentive to his Raymonda, while showing enough moxie to convince that he was a formidable knight. After winning the battle in Act II, and after a public scene with lots of rushing around by the beaten Saracens, the way in which he quietly knelt and kissed Raymonda's hands was one of the most romantic pieces of theater I've ever seen. In the Dream Sequence, Dmitry Belogolovtsev's Abderakhman started out a bit watery, much like his Basilio in Don Quixote; this character would have no chance against Filin's Jean de Brienne. He really picked it up in the second act, where he was a formidable, if a bit campy, foe, with a combination of passion and lust for Raymonda, ultimately throwing himself at her feet, dead, but with great dramatic flourish. Ksenia Sorokina and Alexander Petukhov danced the Saracen duet in Act II boldly, in technicolor, leading swirling masses of Abderakhman's court.

The Act III character dances were vivid yet contrasting, with the Mazurka led by Anna Antropova and Georgy Geraskin with upright, aristocratic carriage, and the Hungarian performed deep in the knees and sultry by a treasure, Yulianna Malkhasyants, and Timofey Lavrenyuk. The Grand Pas de Deux that followed was danced quite joyfully, like a giant weight had lifted, and Raymond could come into her own.

Two young women were standouts: Nelli Kobakhidze, who popped out of the Act III corps, and especially Ekaterina Krysanova, who, in superb performances of the Second Variation in the Dream Sequence and the variation in the Grand Pas, infused her phrasing with a remarkable energy that was different from any of the other dancers I've seen in the Company. By not committing to a direction until the last minute, yet never distorting the phrase, she created a sense of the unexpected and a vibrancy that fueled the most consistently alive classical dancing of the afternoon.

And to think that there's an even better version at the Maryinsky!



#14 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 11 November 2004 - 12:52 AM

Thanks so much for the report Helene. Hmmm. Everyone seems to have spotted Kobakhidze. Is she slated for greater things or is she one of those dancers that is more popular here than at home?



#15 Mel Johnson

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Posted 11 November 2004 - 05:59 AM

Please remember that this is one of the few ballets that has actual historical characters. Jean de Brienne was the real Crusader King of Jerusalem, and although he was married several times, once to a French noblewoman, none of them was named "Raymonda". He hung out mostly in Constantinople. Although most productions make King Andrew II a sort of senior statesman, de Brienne had about 25 years on him, and treated him like a kid. I don't believe Raymonda is well-served by telescoping characters, one into another.

Poor old King Andy seems to have been overshadowed by the women in his life. His first wife was Gertrude of Meran, who had an in with the Teutonic Knights, the same bunch of soldier-monks that Alexander Nevsky threw out of Russia in the 15th century, and his second wife was Yolande de Courtenay. Andrew II is chiefly remembered today as the father of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary. Still, no Raymondas.


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