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Bolshoi's "Raymonda" live in cinemas

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Believe it or not, all Raymondas I've seen never look to me up to the wonderful level of artistry and regal demeanor that the late Mme. Bessmertnova put into the character. That said, I sort of avoided watching this...mea culpa, I know, but since i don't think i will be seeing any Raymonda live any time soon, I much prefer to rewatch my favorite performer in the role over and over.

Cristian, you know that we feel the same way about Bessmertova's sublime Raymonda. I could literally watch it on a loop all day and not be bored.

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Emiliene, thanks for posting! I am glad I can watch it again at a later date. Loved Alexandrova!

Duffster, I agree it is worth watching. I'm glad I saw it. I was looking forward to it since they announced it as one of this season's transmissions almost a year ago. I didn't know Alexandrova would be the Raymonda though. Very pleased with her!

Birdsall, do I understand correctly that Alexandrova's Raymonda will be shown again? I'd gladly jump in my car and drive into Manhattan to see it.

Read above. There is a posting of the entire Raymonda that played yesterday that you can watch on YouTube!

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MakarovaFan, I believe there is another showing of the Raymonda next Sunday, July 1 at Big Cinemas Manhattan at 11 AM, in case you're interested. I saw it yesterday at that theater and thought it was wonderful.

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I agree with Cristian about Bessmertova's Raymonda. An unforgettable performance. Unless you bring an inner light to the part, you end up with dull and cold. Which is what I felt about Alexandrova's performance. As seen on video, Bessmertnova, Kolpakova, Semenyaka, Guillem, even Gilot have soul, duende, whatever you want to call it. Alexandrova lacks this quality, for me at least.

I usually don't like to comment on dancers' appearances, but this Raymonda's hairdo and facial expressions reminded me more of a rather ill-tempered Soviet apparatchik than a Hungarian princess who has had to go through an awful lot of misfortune before her triumph. A beautiful body and excellent technique do not a ballet heroine make.

The production is sumptuous and beautifully lighted. I usually love long shots in ballet videos, but much of the Act III choreography -- those long, long, long formal Hungarian court dances -- might have benefited from some closer shots to let us see the dancers as persons. I adored Raymonda's two friends and was moved by the women in slow, ritualistic court dance that opens the ballet.

Was interested to hear from the commentator that the galope was choreographed by Lavrovsky. It's long one of my favorite parts of the ballet -- a little bit of 19th-century Parisian fun on the Hungarian plains. (Nureyev's version for Paris really stresses this, as do the stage-filling red tulle dresses the girls wear.)

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I agree with Cristian about Bessmertova's Raymonda. An unforgettable performance. Unless you bring an inner light to the part, you end up with dull and cold. That is what I felt about Alexandrovna's performance. I usually don't like to comment on dancers' appearances, but this Raymonda's hairdo and facial expressions reminded me more of a rather ill-tempered Soviet apparatchik than a Hungarian princess who has to go through an awful lot of misfortune before her triumph at the end. A beautiful body and excellent technique do not a ballet heroine make.

The production is sumptuous and beautifully lighted. I usually love long shots in ballet videos, but much of the Act III choreography -- those long, long, long formal Hungarian court dances -- might have benefited from some closer shots to let us see the dancers as persons. I adored Raymonda's two friends and was moved by the women in slow, ritualistic court dance that opens the ballet.

Was interested to hear from the commentator that the galope was choreographed by Lavrovsky. It's long one of my favorite parts of the ballet -- a little bit of 19th-century Parisian fun on the Hungarian plains. (Nureyev's version for Paris really stresses this, as do the stage-filling red tulle dresses the girls wear.)

I mentioned above how Alexandrova's knitted brows (I didn't specify but mentioned her facial features) are an issue. In this performance I felt it was less stark (maybe new make up) than in La Esmeralda. She has a stern look on her face simply because I think her eyebrows are close to her eyes or something about her face's structure makes her look strict or stern. She would be great cast as a Catholic nun, for example, if she were an actress. I don't mean to be negative about her looks. I think she has a beauty unique to her, but it is a stern look to me. So I understand how her look might not do it for people, but I thought she acted the part well and danced wonderfully. For me she has a Carol Vaness-type face (opera singer). They both have a very stern face that they can't really change even when smiling.

I have to say that the Bolshoi's actual production makes me want to gag. I don't like it at all. I think the sets look very cheap and ugly and the costumes look like something from a 1980s music video. Such a shame the Bolshoi doesn't invest in a new production. They can keep Grigorovich's choreography. I am okay with that, but the costumes and sets have GOT TO GO!!! Ultra dated!!! It screams 1980s to me. I'm surprised they don't stick the Olivia Newton John headbands on the women's foreheads also!

And, like I said, Grigorovich needs to get rid of the whole Raymonda falling asleep against the column. That is the worst part about this staging besides the sets and costumes.

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I'm intrigued by Bessmertnova being regarded as pretty much the gold standard in Raymonda. She's a wonderful dancer, obviously, but by the time her Raymonda was filmed she was well past her prime and in the 3d Act she looks very tired and, occasionally, bored. Saying Alexandrova, in comparison, looks like a "Soviet apparatchik" is a really weird counterhistorical joke (?), since the Grigorovitches were just about the consummate USSR ballet power couple. Alexandrova was 11 years old when the Berlin Wall came down.

Maybe Alexandrova doesn't do "passive suffering" as convincingly as Bessmertnova. Over the years I have gotten the feeling Bessmertnova didn't do anything else, but that may be the distortion of what's been recorded on video. However I'm not sure "passive suffering" is what Raymonda is about. From what I've seen Alexandrova does a splendid 3d Act.

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I'm intrigued by Bessmertnova being regarded as pretty much the gold standard in Raymonda. She's a wonderful dancer, obviously, but by the time her Raymonda was filmed she was well past her prime and in the 3d Act she looks very tired and, occasionally, bored. Saying Alexandrova, in comparison, looks like a "Soviet apparatchik" is a really weird counterhistorical joke (?), since the Grigorovitches were just about the consummate USSR ballet power couple. Alexandrova was 11 years old when the Berlin Wall came down.

Maybe Alexandrova doesn't do "passive suffering" as convincingly as Bessmertnova. Over the years I have gotten the feeling Bessmertnova didn't do anything else, but that may be the distortion of what's been recorded on video. However I'm not sure "passive suffering" is what Raymonda is about. From what I've seen Alexandrova does a splendid 3d Act.

I loved Alexandrova in every act. And, no, she's not passive at all. That is not part of her make up from what I can tell. I usually like Raymonda to be like a little sweet princess in the first act, and Lopatkina actually conveys that very well.....sort of the untouchable, young, sweet, rich girl everyone would love to have. And I would say that Lopatkina's Raymonda (which I love) is actually sort of passive. So I think her third act is less "on" but Alexandrova's stage persona is a lot more "active" (for lack of a better word), so I think her last act is maybe her best.

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i was typing at the same time as Birdsall. In what follows, my focus is on the Third Act primarily --

Thanks, Herman, for putting these performances in historical context. My reference to "apparatchik" was not so much a literal historical judgment as an allusion to the image of uber-serious, uber-competent Soviet bureaucrats that one can see in films like Ninochka (before Garbo falls in love.) The clappling variation is an example: beautifully formed, emotionally dead, with no sense of mystery, joy, or the exotic. The problem is not just facial expression. I can't put my finger on it, but this was (for me) a very unsatisfying account of an iconic variation.

I don't look for "passive suffering" in Raymonda. On the contrary. Act III should have some of the quality of an "Aurora finale"" it seems to me. The conflicts of the earlier part of the ballet need to be resolved with some sense of triumph, majesty, joy. You can't care if the protagonists don't seem to care.

I acknowledge that Bessmertova in the dvd is more physically stressed by the role than a number of younger ballerinas. But I could not take my eyes from her. Alexandrova is a gorgeously formed dancer in an attractively old fashioned way. Somehow, however,my mind wandered and my eyelids occasionally drifted to the shut position as I watched her move beautiful step-by-beautiful step through this particular role.

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I think it's more like Alexandrova's body shape. She is tall with a block like torso and shoulders and arms that don't really have that soft tapered look so prized by balletomanes. She's an excellent dancer but her look is somewhat stern. Strangely I think it might be her relatively tall but compact body shape that allows her to excel in the terre a terre parts of the role. She also has a very good jump. A lot of the Cuban ballerinas I've also noticed to have this shape and they are great terre a terre dancers.

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Act III should have some of the quality of an "Aurora finale"" it seems to me. The conflicts of the earlier part of the ballet need to be resolved with some sense of triumph, majesty, joy. You can't care if the protagonists don't seem to care.

Well, all I can say is it is possible to look at it in a different way. I think her clapping variation is terrific, conveying this sense she's looking back and realizes she has the power to destroy men just like that. And she is okay with that. She's that kind of princess. Not the Aurora type. Next, in the galop, the way she stops the music and then revs it up again, with this exuberant shake of her head. This De Brienne is going to have to be very careful around her.

Another detail that struck me in the exotic dance with the Saracen (I'm trying to avoid typos), the way she puts the back of her hand over her mouth, as if she's trying to stop herself. I have to say though that Bessmertnova conveyed more fascination with this exotic intruder than Alexandrova does.

I would like to watch this video one more time, but there's a note saying their pulling it after 24 hours.

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Well, all I can say is it is possible to look at it in a different way.
I agree completely and sincerely with this, Herman. Sometimes I think that my responses to things are depressingly dependent on what I have liked and seen before. (Like doing endless chaine turns in a long, deep, narrow trench..) Will have to take another look at this Act III, and especially the clapping variation, and bring a more open mind to it.
... I think it might be her relatively tall but compact body shape that allows her to excel in the terre a terre parts of the role. She also has a very good jump. A lot of the Cuban ballerinas I've also noticed to have this shape and they are great terre a terre dancers.

canbelto, you've just given me something additional to look for when I re-visit the video. It's a body type I happen to like and one which one saw more frequently in both New York City Ballet and Ballet Theater in the 50s and 60s. The issue of different body types has been popping up on our current thread on Misty Copeland. Thanks for pointing me in a direction I hadn't thought about before.

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One thing I really do like about Grigorovich's version of Raymonda is that the "Danse Orientale" in the score becomes a sort of dance for Raymonda and for Abderakham. The music has that sexy Arabian sound to it, and it is Abderakham trying to win her over, and I interpret it as Raymonda TRYING to see value in him and his culture (making an attempt). I don't think any other version uses this music (except La Scala and it is used for miming and is apparently what it was originally used for, but I think the music screams for some dancing).

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A beautiful photo by Marc Haegeman, posted to the For Ballet Lovers Only Facebook group:

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Another thing about Alexandrova is that although there is no footage of her dancing, the pictures and descriptions of Pierina Legnani (the original Raymonda) would lead me to believe that she was a similar dancer as Alexandrova. Of course Legnani was probably shorter, but she was kind of "sturdy" looking as well, with a block-like torso, broad shoulders, and "strong" legs. Not aesthetically the most pleasing even in her day, I suspect, but she must have been an excellent terre a terre dancer, considering the kind of choreography Petipa designed for her.

With regards to the production values, I agree that there's a certain Soviet "look" to it that is very dated. Colors are that combo of gray/beige/pastel, there's really no attempt to make the guys' costumes look nice at all, flapping sets. I THINK that that particular aesthetic was probably a result of wanting ballets to be more accessible to people waiting in the bread lines.

Hell, since the Olympics are coming up, I've been looking at old footage of Soviet gymnasts, and I notice that their leotards/makeup have that same look. Very beige and dull, girls wore very little makeup and hair was pulled in a rather child-like pony-tail. It's strange that the poverty aesthetic added to the Soviet gymnasts' appeal in the West. A lot of the commentators I've noticed made comments about how "child-like" and "doll-like" the girls looked, even if some of them were older than you'd expect. It's very different from the gymnasts of today, who compete, it seems, with the world's supply of eye-shadow, glitter, bronzer, and hairspray.

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It's very different from the gymnasts of today, who compete, it seems, with the world's supply of eye-shadow, glitter, bronzer, and hairspray.

OMG! Sounds very Jean Benet Ramsay!!!!! LOL

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The trailer made me like this more than I did when I saw it, on the day it was broadcast.

What Alexandrova says, especially about Abderakhman, I found more moving than I did her behavior in the ballet itself -- and Abderakhman I thought was the only one of the principals who danced with enough soul to keep it alive.

I'm with Bart and Christian -- Alexandrova is just not right for the role, however much she may feel it in her heart, she's not built to make this ballet expressive. Her cheekbones are too big, her eyes are too close together -- she's a wonderful dancer, but she does not look the part. Actually, she just doesn't have a clue about Raymonda -- what she says about Abederakman is interesting in the abstract, but it's not in character. Alexandrova is too healthy, boringly normal. She does the moves, but they don't mean anything. Even the Hungarian solo, she's impatient with hte wrist things -- Semenyaka made amazing drama out of rotating the upperarm bone, taking it from a parallel line into full turn-out. Alexandrova is not interested in this at all. it's like "Whatever -- sure I CAN turn my wrist over as I take it back from my head. Here, I'll show you. idiot." .on top of that, DeBrienne cannot do his pirouettes, and though his jumps are showy, he's just spindly, and lacks lacks majesty.

Everybody ELSE is excellent -- especially Shipulina, and the two men -- the pas-de-bourree dance to the harp is out of this world beautiful -- and Virsaladze's sets are beautiful in this light, the dream is wonderful, the 2 soloists in the dream are fantastic. If only Semenyaka had had this level of production values behind her version!

For me the great Raymondas are Plitsetskaya's, Bessmertnova's, and Semenyaka's. Kolpakova is glorious, also.

And Novikova is extraordinary in her version -- and yes, I'd rather see her pick up the flowers!

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I saw the HD transmission and I don't think I'm being overly PC when I say I was HORRIFIED by what Grigorovich has done to the character of Abderakhman. This version makes him more clownish, more ridiculous, more offensive, than any other version I've seen. Every offensive stereotype is thrown in, and Abderakhman doesn't even get to dance any classical steps -- he comes onstage doing aerial carthweels, and for the rest of the time spazzes out. No other word for the "choreography" Grigorovich gives him. I understand that Raymonda is an old-fashioned ballet and that Abderakhman is the villain, but seeing so many racial stereotypes all concentrated in one character made me cringe.

I've seen the 1898 reconstruction and the character is not nearly so cartoonish. I'm also really surprised Grigorovich would make these artistic choices, since Russia/USSR was/is ethnically and religiously diverse, with many many famous dancers of Muslim heritage.

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I saw the HD transmission and I don't think I'm being overly PC when I say I was HORRIFIED by what Grigorovich has done to the character of Abderakhman. This version makes him more clownish, more ridiculous, more offensive, than any other version I've seen. Every offensive stereotype is thrown in, and Abderakhman doesn't even get to dance any classical steps -- he comes onstage doing aerial carthweels, and for the rest of the time spazzes out. No other word for the "choreography" Grigorovich gives him. I understand that Raymonda is an old-fashioned ballet and that Abderakhman is the villain, but seeing so many racial stereotypes all concentrated in one character made me cringe.

I've seen the 1898 reconstruction and the character is not nearly so cartoonish. I'm also really surprised Grigorovich would make these artistic choices, since Russia/USSR was/is ethnically and religiously diverse, with many many famous dancers of Muslim heritage.

I see your point, although I think the Bolshoi's version is the one that gives Abderakhman actual dancing. I was corrected and reminded that Nureyev's version does too. But This Grigorovich version is on the two 1980s videos too. If you haven't seen Taranda dance this role in the Grigorovich version on those two versions, you might want to check it out. He is so outstanding that I think most of us have shrugged off the stereotype (not saying that is good or bad, but we love Taranda's performance so much that we didn't stop and think about it). Actually, I find the entire ballet Raymonda sort of not PC at all.....European girl scared of Eastern guy and prefers Western guy and then at the end after killing off the inconvenient Eastern guy they celebrate European culture by dancing Hungarian style dances. So by today's standards Raymonda is about the least PC ballet that exists. But for some reason I still love it to death. I re-interpret it for myself as our Western culture being intrigued by Eastern culture but still not comfortable with it, and that is where we still are in today's world still, so it actually still reflects today's world pretty well. That is my take on it.

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The entire storyline of Raymonda has some inherently un-PC aspects to it -- Christian = good, Muslim = bad, Muslim men are a threat to European women, etc. That's built into the storyline and nothing can be done about it, short of not performing the ballet. That being said, I still felt as if Grigorovich went way over the top in his depiction of Abderakhman. The costume, the brownface, the wild gestures and crazy kookypants dancing. Also, maybe I'm reading the story wrong but isn't Raymonda supposed to be sort of intrigued by this exotic foreigner? In the Bolshoi production she's 100% disgusted all the time. And I would be too, if Abderakhman is as crazy as he is in the Grigorovich production. Ugh, I just didn't like it, especially considering the former USSR/present day Russia's large Muslim population, some of which became world-famous ballet dancers. To me, it's as offensive as blackface.

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The entire storyline of Raymonda has some inherently un-PC aspects to it -- Christian = good, Muslim = bad, Muslim men are a threat to European women, etc. That's built into the storyline and nothing can be done about it, short of not performing the ballet. That being said, I still felt as if Grigorovich went way over the top in his depiction of Abderakhman. The costume, the brownface, the wild gestures and crazy kookypants dancing. Also, maybe I'm reading the story wrong but isn't Raymonda supposed to be sort of intrigued by this exotic foreigner? In the Bolshoi production she's 100% disgusted all the time. And I would be too, if Abderakhman is as crazy as he is in the Grigorovich production. Ugh, I just didn't like it, especially considering the former USSR/present day Russia's large Muslim population, some of which became world-famous ballet dancers. To me, it's as offensive as blackface.

OMG! I laughed about the "kooky pants dancing" comment! Still laughing. And your comment about how disgusted you would be too.

I think in some productions she is supposed to be attracted to Abderakhman, and I do think Alexandrova overdid the disgust or unease. I think the 80s videos make Raymonda a little more hard to gauge in this respect. I think they are all a little scared in both videos, but not necessarily disgusted. I remember them going back and forth between apprehension and intrigue. I think "intrigued" is the right word especially since Grigorovich choreographed the Danse Orientale for both characters right after the Spanish Dance. In the Bolshoi version the Danse Orientale is the moment he is really trying to win her over and she is TRYING to get into the idea of Eastern culture (my interpretation). I think Alexandrova's disgust is either her invention or the director told her to do that as a new take on the story. I don't remember Bessmertnova or Semenyaka being quite as disgusted, but when I saw this the other weekend I assumed it was simply Alexandrova's stern facial features that made me feel she was too disgusted by him. Now that you bring it up, I think it is a mistake in her interpretation or the director's. I do think she should either be intrigued, as you say, or she should be oblivious, but not really disgusted.

I did find the dancer who danced Abderakham more cartoonish looking in this latest transmission. I think Taranda was all man and would make any Raymonda consider ditching boring Jean de Brienne!!!!

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The way I see it, Raymonda's plot is already very weak. It does add a bit of intrigue if Abderakhman poses more of a threat not just physically, but psychologically. That's why the original 1898 Raymonda works -- Jean de Brienne is only a vision in the first act. In other words, he's sort of this Knight in White Shining Armor that Raymonda idealizes. And Abderakhman is a mime role but he's a flesh-and-blood man, and Raymonda is definitely curious. Or intrigued.

I agree maybe it was an unfortunate choice to make Alexandrova visibly making faces of disgust the entire time. I have to pull out the 1980s video with Semenyaka -- I have it but have never watched it.

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I think the plot of Raymonda is very offensive to Muslims, and that is why ABT has not done it in such a long time. The libretto would definitely need some heavy editing/re-writes.

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The original 1898 production is usually described as "by Petipa," and I have seen refereces to "Petiipa's libretto." I haven't come across, however, details about where Petipa got the story.

Does anyone know the actual source (or sources) of this story line?

By the way, an interesting 2002 thread about the Raymonda story line is linked here --

http://balletalert.i...story-be-saved/

About the depiction of the Christian-versus-Muslim conflict -- Making the characters French and Hungarian connects the story to the actual Crusades (in what we now call the Middle East).

Russians (representing Orthodox Christianity) seem to have been trying to identify an idealized version of the Roman Catholic Crusades with their own long history of military and cultural expansion in Muslim regions in the Caucasus and Central Asia. By 1898, the date of Raymonda's premiere, Russia had already been fighting to dominate Muslim populations and absorb them into the Russian Empire for several hundred years.

The Soviet Union inherited both the policies and the prejudices of the Tsarist regime when it came to thinking about the Muslim societies to the south. The recent conflict in Chechnya is just one offshoot of this..

Russian artists have long been fascinated with the interactions of Christian and Muslim societies. Gogol visited Palastine; Pushkin visited and wrote about the Caucusus; Tolstoy served in the army in the Caucus and wrote some of his best stories about it as well.

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I think La Bayadere is pretty offensive to Indians, but that has not stopped it from being presented.

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