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Balanchine & Danilova's Raymonda (1946)


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I saw that production many times way back then. The best account of it can be found in Jack Anderson's book "The One and Only: Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo".

"At a time when serious dancegoers were discovering the narrative works of Tudor and Graham, the 'Raymonda' scenario must have seemed downright foolish. Audiences did not quite know how to take the events of the ballet. Often, City Center patrons would hiss Nikita Talin as the evil Saracen, as though he were the villan in a parody revival of a Victorian melodrama" (note:Nikita Talin had a special talent for playing evildoers--he was also hissed in his role of the Bartender in 'Frankie and Johnny')

The production had the feel of a"shoe-string" effort, although the designs were attributed to Benois.

That said, there were some stirring performances by Danilova and Leon Danielian. I have never seen Danilova's czardas variation topped. Her wonderful smouldering bourres performed on those perfectly formed legs was a thing of beauty. Danielian was a dancer known for his brilliant 'batterie'. In his variation he performed countless entrechat-six and after each one descended into a full plie in 5th position and bounded up again and again--.

Frederic Franklin as the crusader never looked comfortable in the role---indeed, Jack Anderson quotes him as saying:

I always feared that the armor I had to wear made me look like Ingrid Bergman in 'Joan of Lorraine'"

Apparently, New York was not ready for this 'chestnut'---the Sadler's Wells visit with their full-length "Beauty" and "Swan" were still a few years away. They showed us how a full length ballet should look.

As dazzled as we were by their productions, we were a bout to loose something far more precious. I have often thought that if I could go back and visit any ballet period I would choose those heady years of the 40's with the talents of Tudor, Robbins and deMille starting to bloom.

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After writing the above, I received in the mail the next day a copy of a book I had ordered: "Speaking Of Diaghilev" by John Drummond. In the book there is an interview with Ursula Moreton who was in the Corps in 1920-22, and was very much involved in his production of "The Sleeping Princess"---she says the following about the reception the ballet received in London:

"And so the whole time, which was about two months of rehearsal, was absolutely fascinating. And we thought that it was going to be such an enormous success. The costumes and decor of Bakst were fabulous, really beautiful. One couldn't forgive the English public. I couldn't at the time. It seems extraordinary. But one couldn't convince people. The British public is conservative; they had been used to seeing 'Scheherazade', Thamar and Carnavel, and that is what they wanted. They were not prepared for this at all, and we had never seen anything like it since, at least not within the living memory."

It strikes me as similar to what went on in New York with "Raymonda". I don't know why she called the Bitish public 'conservative'--if anything, the public of the 20's and the 40's welcomed and embraced the new. (but, then, they were dealing with Fokine and Tudor.)

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Thanks for that, atm. I can see why she found the British public of that era "conservative." Yes, they embraced "the new" -- but then, that became the only thing they wanted to see and they didn't like anything that was different.

I think that happens all through dance history. This isn't about Raymonda, but it goes to the question of why the Balanchine-Danilova Raymonda wasn't appreciated in its day. I think, especially in England and America, where ballet really was new -- there wasn't an enduring tradition. Few people had gone to the ballet from childhood, as they would have in Paris, Copenhagen, St. Petersburg or Moscow. And so when you see ballet for the first time, it's either a direct hit by a lightning bolt, or you wonder what people see in it. Those who love it love what they're seeing. I'm not even sure it's a matter of being conservative or open to new things -- although sometimes that's it. It's that you love what you're seeing. And you want to see more of THAT. No matter what else you're offered, it's not THAT.

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