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Bolshoi's "Raymonda" live in cinemas

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How could, or should ballet, with its language, present stories discussing different nationalities or races, and beliefs about them, in different time periods?

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These ballets are presenting Western stereotypes regarding other races and nationalities.

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As mentioned above the entire story of Raymonda (dealing with the Crusades as an underlying theme) is really not PC, but it is what happened in history (Christians versus Muslims). And it is still going on, believe it or not. Just recently, the Muslim center near Ground Zero was hotly debated. It would be hard to show any story about the Crusades in a PC light, and actually I think the issues contained in Raymonda are still very relevant.

I do think that the fact that Raymonda has Aberakhman as a guest at her birthday party and the fact he falls in love with her shows some "human" interaction in which humans attempt to see humans as humans and the religious and cultural conflicts fall to the wayside for a very brief moment in their lives. Of course, it is fatal to Aberakhman in the end. I interpret this as how we want to understand other cultures but in the end we most often fail to do so despite a desire to do so.

I think Canbelto is trying to say that despite the non-PC elements, there is no need to dress him up and overdo it and make him into something comparable to an Aunt Jemima. However, I wonder if the costume designer actually looked into the Muslim dress of that time period. Maybe that is how they dressed. I have no idea. Of course, in ballet you have Indians in Bayadere dancing in tutus so costuming in ballet is never 100% historically correct. Maybe my point is silly. It would be interesting to know, however, if any amount of research went into the costume for Abderakhman or if it was just someone's personal idea of Muslims. If some attempt at historical accuracy in all the costumes was made (some middle ages European dress is shown in Raymonda), that might explain it. But if no attempt, then I think Canbelto has a point.

Others have mentioned other offensive elements in other ballets. Personally, I think the Chinese dance in Nutcracker is stereotypical. I am half Asian, but I actually enjoy the Chinese dance when I see it in most productions (often wonderfully danced). It is a problem in operas and ballets.....these are very European art forms based in the attitudes of the time and preconceptions about cultures, and so sometimes something is a bit shocking. I really don't think ballet will ever be PC no matter how much we might want it to be.

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Madama Butterfly has always been one of the few operas I had major problems with. I think Puccini's librettists misread Asian culture completely. Their intent was to show how America basically messes up Asia. It was an attempt to be pro-Asian, but in its attempt it is actually very condescending toward Japanese culture. My mother is Japanese and married an American navy guy, but I know she would not wait for years for him to come back. He knew he might not come back so he re-enlisted, married her (despite the navy trying to stop it) and brought her to the U.S. So I feel my mother's story is the TRUE Asian Butterfly story and Puccini's opera is all wrong about how submissive Asian women are.

But slowly over years the music won me over. I no longer have a problem with Madama Butterfly. I love seeing or hearing it, although there are no sopranos who can sing it today, so why bother? It is a tougher role than most think, and I can't stand to hear the screeching you usually hear in it. So I probably won't ever see it again despite the fact I finally now like it! LOL

Anyway, my point is that there is no getting away from the fact that some of these very European based stories in ballet and opera are problematic to many of us. This is probably why so many directors are re-interpreting operas on stage which I am so tired of although have like SOME re-interpretations.

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Saracens were for generations the bogeymen and enemies of Europe and Christianity. Apart from the crusades Ottoman expansionism ravaged Eastern Europe (right up to the gates of Vienna), occupied Southern Italy and Iberia, remember El Cid? And the Barbary pirates captured and sold around a million northern Europeans into slavery, if you were looking for villains you looked no further. Raymonda was right to be scared.

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I don't think that was how they dressed. I have a hard time believing Grigorovich attempted to research medieval Saracen attire. My point is that yes many of these ballets and operas have elements that are offensive today but directors still have choices on how "far to go" with the camp and stereotypes. For example in a production of Madama Butterfly the director can choose to emphasize how foolish and gullible Butterfly is and make her a laughingstock or he can show a very naive and loving (and thus sympathetic) girl. Are all Asian women like Butterrfly? Of course not, but that doesn't mean a production of Butterfly can't still give the character dignity.

I simply think Grigorovich went way too far.

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In all the versions I've seen, Aberakhman is a sympathetic and much more interesting character.

Jean de Brienne reminds me of a character in a romance novel I read in college: he sees the heroine bathing in the woods and falls in love and lust with her, but then when he, a noblewoman, finds out she's a noblewoman, he becomes all formal, and she runs away to join the Navy, because she wants passion that he thinks is only for servants.

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In all the versions I've seen, Aberakhman is a sympathetic and much more interesting character.
Me too. But not in all the Soviet era productions.

Young Nureyev staged Raymonda for the Royal and danced Brienne with Fonteyn. I never saw that, but I do recall seeing him dance Brienne at ABT.

When preparing a new version of Raymonda for Paris much later on, Nureyev greatly expanded the Abderakhman's role. I have the feeling that Nureyev might have been coming to the conclusion that he wished he could dance Abderakhman himself. The character he created, for another dancer, has passion, sensuality, and STEPS that go far beyond the Soviet versions. As a result, Act III is a dramatic letdown. It is probably heresy, but sometimes I wish I had the chance to see an Act III featuring Raymonda and her Saracen husband.

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I think it depends on which company and what decade: the first "Raymonda"'s I saw were the Bolshoi/Grigorivich version, with Bessmertnova and Semenyaka, both of which were made in the '80's. I don't think the character was unsympathetic in the 1980 Kirov/Kolpakova version, either, even if it didn't have the mesmerizing Taranda in it.

I find Nureyev's version unwatchable for the most part.

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I don't think that was how they dressed. I have a hard time believing Grigorovich attempted to research medieval Saracen attire. My point is that yes many of these ballets and operas have elements that are offensive today but directors still have choices on how "far to go" with the camp and stereotypes. For example in a production of Madama Butterfly the director can choose to emphasize how foolish and gullible Butterfly is and make her a laughingstock or he can show a very naive and loving (and thus sympathetic) girl. Are all Asian women like Butterrfly? Of course not, but that doesn't mean a production of Butterfly can't still give the character dignity.

I simply think Grigorovich went way too far.

On the Bolshoi website Simon Virsaladze is listed as the "designer." I don't know if that means he also designed the costumes or just the sets, and if he didn't design the costumes I wonder who did. Would Grigorovich have designed them? I don't know about ballet, but in opera there is usually a costume designer and many of them do research the time period before they make the costumes, although this is becoming rarer, since many stagings seem to just use off the rack stuff from Macy's b/c the story is usually updated (these stories have lasted centuries and moved people for centuries but suddenly in the last 20-30 years they must be updated to make them relevant). I knew a costume designer years ago, and he took his work very seriously. Of course, sometimes finances of an opera company kept him from realizing what he wanted to do.

I am not really defending Raymonda or the Bolshoi's depiction of Abderakham. You have every right to your feelings about the depiction of this character. I think the Mariinsky's Raymonda has a similar costume if I remember correctly. I will have to go back and look.

I have to say I am not very impressed with Simon Virsaladze's designs overall anyway. The Bolshoi really needs a new production of this ballet. I really hate the Michael Jackson cape that Jean de Brienne wears! And I find it hard to believe Crusaders dressed like that, so you might be right that no real thought was put into the costumes. You have just given one more reason to get rid of this production. It needs replacing big time!

It also is hard to like these sets and costumes after La Scala came out with such a beautiful production last October.

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I think it depends on which company and what decade: the first "Raymonda"'s I saw were the Bolshoi/Grigorivich version, with Bessmertnova and Semenyaka, both of which were made in the '80's. I don't think the character was unsympathetic in the 1980 Kirov/Kolpakova version, either, even if it didn't have the mesmerizing Taranda in it. I find Nureyev's version unwatchable for the most part.

Pavel Dmitrichenko was interviewed during the transmission (he danced Abderakham), and his take on the character was that he is just so in love with Raymonda and he says he loses the battle with Jean de Brienne b/c he takes a second to gaze at Raymonda and then Brienne strikes the blow. However, the transmission did not capture his gaze toward Raymonda, and I have never noticed this detail in any production. The La Scala production has the White Lady shine a mirror in his eyes which causes him to fail (she is the protector of the House of Raymonda or whatever you call it! LOL).

I have always felt sorry for the character myself. He is depicted as "different" and "rough" compared to the "European" characters, but I would be surprised if viewers hated him. The Mariinsky's version (unlike the Bolshoi's) does have him shoving his slaves around (sort of mistreating them though).

I do think with hindsight that Alexandrova, as much as I loved her performance, overdid the digust. I don't remember any other Raymonda being that grossed out by Abderakhman.

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Unfortunately the Raymonda broadcast was taken off the internet after a day.

What I find rather puzzling is this discussion about the way Raymonda's story is un-PC. Of course it is. Virtually all 19th century ballets entail stereotypes we would like to believe are gone. What are you going to do about it?

And on the other hand Alexandrova's facial features are discussed here with a judgmental frankness that does not seem to take into account that her cheekbones and close-set eyes are ethnic features, and I doubt we would talk this way if it concerned an American company and an, let's say, African-American dancer.

I'm not casting aspersion; I'm just saying there's a little disconnect here IMO.

Raymonda is definitely supposed to feel some attraction to the Saracen; it's in Bessmertnova's face and in Semenyaka's, too. Part of the triumph in Act III is that she's managed to shake this thrill. That's what makes Raymonda such a fascinating ballet: not just killing the weird guy, but confronting and mastering the weirdness in ourselves.

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Unfortunately the Raymonda broadcast was taken off the internet after a day.

What I find rather puzzling is this discussion about the way Raymonda's story is un-PC. Of course it is. Virtually all 19th century ballets entail stereotypes we would like to believe are gone. What are you going to do about it?

And on the other hand Alexandrova's facial features are discussed here with a judgmental frankness that does not seem to take into account that her cheekbones and close-set eyes are ethnic features, and I doubt we would talk this way if it concerned an American company and an, let's say, African-American dancer.

I'm not casting aspersion; I'm just saying there's a little disconnect here IMO.

Raymonda is definitely supposed to feel some attraction to the Saracen; it's in Bessmertnova's face and in Semenyaka's, too. Part of the triumph in Act III is that she's managed to shake this thrill. That's what makes Raymonda such a fascinating ballet: not just killing the weird guy, but confronting and mastering the weirdness in ourselves.

I like your interpretation about confronting the weirdness in ourselves. I think that is an element of Raymonda.

By the way, when I talked about Alexandrova's facial features as being stern or her eyebrows I did not view her as anything but Russian/European. I did not really think of her features as any ethnicity other than European and many Europeans do not have her stern look, so I wasn't not thinking of her features as a race issue, although I want to say that I find her to be a beautiful woman, so I am not trying to criticize her looks at all. I was just trying to explain why she may have looked more disgusted by Abderakhman than when other dancers portray Raymonda. I think she is able to look disgusted very easily, and that is due to her unique look that I think is about her own personal features and not about her race.

I am half Asian (Japanese mother and Anglo-Saxo father descended from French, English, and German people). In my family, my dad would joke that we are Japs and we would laugh at his white legs at the beach. Also, I had a grandmother who did not like the fact that my father married a Japanese woman, although she eventually grew to love my mother, so racial issues and racism are sort of normal issues for my family. Issues of race and racism are not taboo at all. My reality of growing up with a grandmother who was racist against my mother and yet still loving both of them gave me a different perspective on racism also. There are levels of racism and also a person who is racist is not necessarily a horrible person.....just has not had exposure or has ideas that may change over time with positive experiences.

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Alexandrova is a Slav with the typical high cheekbones of Eastern Europe, but still fundamentally European unless there is anyone out there still adhering to the strange interpretations of race that the Nazis dreamed up. Raymonda is French in the story, presumably Gallic, but as it is a Russian ballet is it has been predominantly danced by Slavs for generations. Abderakhman is referred to as a Moor, a rather loose term, which generally means either an Arab or Sub-Saharan, but his name is Islamic and so by race probably Semitic.

Raymonda's fear of the man is because he represents the enemy her fiancée is fighting in the Crusades and an enemy that sought to subjugate Southern France. Alexandrova's interpretation of the role sounds a little harsh, as I have seen other Raymonda's that have spared Abderakhman a pitying glance as he is carried off to his death. Clearly she has no feelings other than hate for the man who has just engaged her lover in battle.

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I have always been under the impression that Abderakhman was a guest visiting Raymonda's family. So even if he was the enemy he was a guest at that moment. He brings gifts in the first act (Mariinsky version). The Bolshoi version has him appearing first in her dream which makes less sense to me, b/c why would she dream of him before she ever lays eyes on him?

But the main reason I wanted to post is to post a link to this article which I found, b/c above we were discussing the issue of racism in Raymonda. I found this article interesting.

http://www.dancemagazine.com/issues/July-2010/Exotic-or-Offensive

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I'm not convinced of the blue face solution for the Moor in Petrushka. They can darken his skin to a certain degree so the result is not that much of a parody, but then..isn't the WHOLE thing about the Moor's solo choreo while alone in his room a parody...? If you were to try to change the whole thing, you might as well better forget about the entire ballet, because the Moor's story is all about the western caricaturized perception of his ethnic/social group.

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I don't have any answers. I just thought the article was interesting and something to think about. But there are no perfect solutions.

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Perhaps that's why Petrushka is falling into oblivion...a shame, if it is.

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I think the Mariinsky did it last season. I get the impression that the Ballets Russes ballets are not very popular in the U.S. Even Firebird doesn't seem to be played as often as you would think it should be. ABT just did a new version, but I don't think many other companies do it currently. Maybe it will change. I think there are fashions/trends in ballet. I know there are in opera. For years you won't see something like Rusalka and then suddenly everyone is doing Rusalka all over the place.

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I look at the Bolshoi and Mariinsky schedules often for our Calendar, and there aren't very many performances of mixed bills. Full-length ballets comprise the large majority of the companies' schedules, not just the touring schedules.

Have the Folkine Ballets Russes ballets been a focus of either company during Soviet times?

About "Raymonda" I've heard Moscow described as a medieval Silk Road-like market town, and also considered the sticks and backwards until it was renamed the capital and became modernized. It had been ruled by Mongols/Tatars, I wonder if the portrayal of Abderakham was also a sideways swipe at Moscow/Muscovites, the way that political satire uses the "other" including animals.

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w/ the exception of Fokine's CHOPINIANA - in Vaganova's 'version' - and a seemingly free-form DYING SWAN, Fokine's works were little seen in Soviet Russia.

an 'unusual' version of PETROUCHKA was around, fitfully, and a sometime attempt to stage EGYPTIAN NIGHTS and SPECTRE DE LA ROSE, as well as, perhaps even, EROS, can be found when reading about Soviet ballet.

it would seem to have been largely the efforts of Andris Liepa, in concert with Isabel Fokine, which brought Fokine's works, in I.Fokine's 'versions,' back to Russian soil in the 1990s.

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I think the devil is in the details with something like Raymonda. If Abderakhman was represented as someone exotic, a kind of foil for Jean de Brienne, and if there was a hint that Raymonda was simultaneously attracted to and afraid of this Saracen knight, then I would not have found the Bolshoi presentation so offensive. But the fact is he was represented as a total crazy lunatic clown, and Raymonda acted like he had rabies in the Bolshoi HD performance. That's making the story both less nuanced and more offensive.

It's sort of like the "blackface" in old movies. I don't find Fred Astaire's blackface number offensive because it seemed to me he was paying homage to the strong tradition of African American tap dancers. Today is it un-PC? Yes. But it's not offensive. However, something like Birth of a Nation is just sort of disgusting from a modern viewpoint because of its presentation.

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All this talk about Raymonda inspired me to take out my old DVD with Bessmertnova and Gediminas Taranda. I just love it, the music is just to my taste - yet it must be said that Mme.

Bessmertnova might be a tad old for this. She was a wonderful dancer, and I imagine that one would not have thought of her age viewing from a theater seat, on DVD it does get more noticeable. And I love Taranda, that guy just appeals to me and I have masses of DVDs from his entire career.

Of course, the story might not be absolutely PC, I do agree with some posters' views. By the same token, there are so many fairy tales and old classics that are not PC at all, so why bother, sit back and enjoy and listen to the music - one cannot analyze everything to bits.

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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.

off%20topic.gif It turns out that bart's "Masha of the Komsomol" instincts weren't entirely off base. Maria Alexandrova is currently running for Moscow City Council as a candidate from the Communist Party.

http://tvrain.ru/mosgorduma/mariya_aleksandrova/

http://краснаямосква.рф/area41

I hope this isn't a violation of the board's no-politics rule. I'm posting it only as a bit of curious trivia.

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The politics and religion policy here is that they can be noted, like this fact about Alexandrova, or discussed, like religious themes in a ballet or politics and the NEA, if they are directly related to ballet and not agenda-based.

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