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The Clap (in Raymonda)

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To clap, or not to clap? There are two distinct views on this and they've been expressed in two recent symposiums in New York:


(from Dale Brauner's article on DanceView Times this week)

Homage to St. Petersburg

Kolpakova has been coaching the couple and others for the company’s upcoming production of Raymonda, which will get its American debut during the spring Met season.

When the ballet was previewed as Grand pas Classique this fall at City Center in New York, there was a bit of controversy when Raymonda’s “claps” during her solo were not heard. According to the Russian tradition, they are not supposed to.

“In the last act, Raymonda is presented to royalty,” explained Dvorovenko. “Well, you would not expect (Britain’s) Queen Elizabeth to make a loud clap. It is supposed to be just slight brushing with hands, and your wrists are angled.

“At the Paris Opera when Rudolf Nureyev did the production, he did the different kind of presentation for the ballerina. The ballerina, at the end, she became kind of a mean person, as she achieved some thing and this (she claps hard) will show everybody. But traditional Russian style is just a gentle clap and the way Irina shows it is incredible. She turned the upper body. She constantly asks you to elevate your body, to be radiant. She works on your facial expression, they way you look, the way you move. She said you can always tell a high-class ballerina not by the main steps but by the between steps, the way a ballerina acknowledges somebody, or runs across the stage.”


But Frederic Franklin had this to say at another recent New York symposium. From Mindy Aloff's Letter to New York (November 10, 2003) in DanceView Times:

Letter from New York

The Raymonda suite that Anna-Marie Holmes has put together from what is going to be a full-evening ballerina vehicle still looks like a work-in-progress, an impersonal swatch of classical opportunities. Its insinuating, czardas-like solo for the ballerina has her doing air claps rather than real ones, and although I understand the reason for it (Hungarian aristocracy thought that real clapping was vulgar), in the context of A.B.T.’s ballerina issues, the air claps make the Raymondas a little more remote than they could be. At Barnard College in October, Frederic Franklin, in his 90th year, dropped into a variations class taught by Barbara Sandanato as part of his duties as the 2003 Virginia C. Gildersleeve Professor, and for the same Raymonda solo he got up and danced the version that Alexandra Danilova used to do with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. “It’s really demi-caractère,” he explained, and when he clapped, you could hear it and feel it. At A.B.T., Wiles offered a compromise—a real clap with a very soft sound. It was lovely, but, perhaps I’m alone in this, I wish Raymonda’s voice was louder, more like the Danilova that Franklin momentarily brought back to life.

So what do we think happened? I'll put up a poll in a minute so you can vote for which you'd prefer, but I'd love to hear other lore here -- Russian, European, American.

There was an article a long time ago in Dance Research Journal (and I hope I have the right one) by Alastair Macauley, an interview with Ashton, about the claps. I remember the question being raised, but it was so long ago that I can't remember his answer -- if anyone knows about this, please report!

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One of the Franklin films at Barnard showed him coaching some of Raymonda's friends variations, from the 1946 Balanchine/Danilova verision. He said (in response to my question) that Danilova had set these variations, and Balanchine had not rechoreographed them. Since Danilova would have learned the Maryinsky versions not too many years after Petipa choeographed it, it seems to me that Franklin is a fairly direct link to the original, bypassing the Soviet influence, and if he says Raymonda clapped, that is good enough for me!

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I've seen (I think, it's been years) a video clip of Danilova talking about that variation, "is Arab song..." she sighed, and lifted her rbreast bone and showed her profile with more je ne sais quois than I'd ever seen before.....

Or was it Makarova coaching the same variation, to prety much the same effect, trying to get a certain oozy quality in a soutenu -- "gooshshsh" she'd say, and then show it again, as if she were donig fondu on both feet while swiveling around....

I';m inclined to think there was a lot of character flavor in certain variations -- like Aurora's last act solo, with its Russia-dance phrase. Kchessinska was famous for her Russian dance. Petipa was himself famous for his Lezghinka, which he was still doing in his 60's (and hte Lezghinka, remember is that Caucasian men's dance done in black-kid shoes, on the knuckles of hte feet, with all the sudden drops down onto hte knees).

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I find the melody of that variation not so much recollective of Arabian music, but very much like Hungarian, played on the cembalom, a sort of zither played with hammers, like a xylophone. That's why the piano is used - hammers striking strings. And because the melody is so rubato, it can be tricky for Raymonda to clap exactly on the music, unless she, the conductor, and the pianist are in entire agreement.

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I remember the clap as I first learned it from Mr. Franklin. I also remember Fonteyn making noise (maybe my convenient memory?) - but I really remember her passe's in the coda - those remain a lesson in the ability of an artist to make a single, simple step into a virtuoso moment!

As Raymonda is a role, I feel the ballerina should determine whether to make the sound dependent on where she feels the character is at that point.

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Yes, the passé retirés in the coda were a great feature of Toni Lander's Raymonda, too! Something so elementary, yet so perfectly fitted choreographically, together with personality blazing out from the stage, make this an unforgettable moment. And the two final numbers of the "coda", forming a "double coda", demonstrate clearly Petipa's genius for ending on a fever pitch, then as the applause rises, goes on to an even more emphatic finale!

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There is a die-hard Petersburg tradition not to clap in Raymonda's variation. When Nureyev staged it for Paris he let his Raymonda's clap real loud. When he was corrected by Ninella Kurgapkina, asking why he allowed this while he knew quite well that in St. Petersburg this would never find grace, he replied: "Because Raymonda is a bitch". Who said there anything about princesses? :D

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How well I remember Danilova's brilliance in the passe-retires of the coda; in fact, the whole variation. The ABT ballerina I saw this past season was an anemic copy. I have a marvelous photograph of Magallanes and Danilova taken during a performance, probably at the Ballet Russe premiere. I will try to post it on my blog.

P.S.--I do not recall hearing a clap, maybe yes, maybe no--Danilova was so exciting in the part, it could have been overlooked.

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I watched the DVD of the documentary Dancer's Dream: The Great Ballets of Rudolf Nureyev -- Raymonda tonight, and there was a quote from Elisabeth Platel (from the translation in Peter Rigney's English subtitles), speaking about the solo and the clap:

Rudolf said, "This is the achievement of Raymonda's dream.  The memory of Abderam in dances which were a bit barbaric, and in her position as Queen. 

That explains the famous smack, which cost us so much in Russia.  The Russian tradition doesn't allow any noise.  Rudolf was absolutely for it. 

Discussions are still raging.

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I LOVE Semenyaka's performance [bolshoi DVD], where she makes the claps the beginning of everything. They're the onslaught into a magnificent phrase, a huge spiral of the arms, which turn IN at the shoulder as one hand goes down, the other comes up, and then there's this unbelievable rotation that happens in the back, the wings spread, the shoulders melt omehow as the arms reach out and complete their arcs and arrive in classical second position. AN ABSOLUTELY amazingly beautiful long-drawn-out gorgeous phrase. I've never seen anybody else do it with such amplitude or such a sense of inevitability -- it's like a rainbow materializing in the sky, the arrival at perfection and simplicity. How do you top that? Well, then she does it again! And that's just the beginning!!! when she gets to the passes, the FIRST ONE is final. And then come all the rest of them until you're just screaming. It is SO exciting!!!

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Thanks, Paul, for your description. It will send me back to the DVD to look more carefully. Topics like this, and posts like yours, this are a wonderful education for the eye of those of us who have less knowledge and experience.

P.S. (Changing tone): I can add this to my rather short list of other theatrical claps -- saving Tinkerbell after being asked "clap your hands if you believe in fairies." I do! I do!

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o hans, that's hilarious!

and Helene, you're SO RIGHT!

in fact, the Trocks version of Raymonda is almost straight, it needs some jokes....

But they can DO it.

I'm suddenly picturing Mark Mrris doing hte Arabian ance in the Hard nut -- remember, he claps his hands and his houris fall down dead, one by one.... DIvine imperiousness.

The Trocks could try that, too.

In nureyev's version, there's a high table full of grandees upstage of hte dancers -- every time she clapped, someone could fall over into their cups. i think I'd have to laugh at that -- the devil would make me do it.

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I prefer the clap too, but it's not a make or break thing for me... Depends who is dancing the role. Raymonda, however, should not be dancing on top of the music, eg, too lightly. The clap, if well done, definitely adds paprika to her solo, and she becomes the music unlike any where else in the ballet.

I remember the house trembled a little when Monique Meunier danced the lead in Balanchine's Cortege at NYCB. A perfect role for her.... Such a long time ago... sigh... Monique just recently danced Dewdrop with SAB's Stamford, CT, performances.... She looked...not in shape... to be polite.

>>From your post to the Trocks' ear...

That would be so hilarious!!! I may send a note over there...

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