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Raymonda and Other Works; March 24-26, 2006

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The Spring program, presented by Ballet Arizona at the end of March at the jewel box “Orpheum Theatre” was called “Raymonda and other works,” The other works were Go with it!, choreographed by Ib Andersen to selections from Preludes and Fugues by Shostakovich in honor of the 100th anniversary of the composer’s birth, and the opening work, before, by Julia Adam to chamber music by Haydn.

before features four men and four women. The men wear knee length unitards, the women leotards with mid-thigh length sheer, stiff a-line skirts. Half each gender is in black with bone-colored, thinnish horizontal stripes, and the other half in the opposite. The set was a series of horizontal columns that appeared in the adagio section. The design tied well into Adam’s choreographic sense, which is like a needlepoint-like grid against which the dancers create their playful and irreverent patterns.

The ballet starts with all eight dancers, and then the group breaks into smaller ones, mirroring and interweaving with each other, and always coming back to several striking “leitmotivs”: one dancer flipping upside down with bent Coppelia legs complete with flexed feet, caught by the other dancers. Each of the dancers falling horizontally in succession, with each subsequent dancer nesting on one before they moved as a unit. A vertical line of dancers moving from one wing to the other, with one dancer stepping up and over the dancers in the center of the line. There was a theme of competitiveness throughout.

The piece also featured successive solos built around a white silk handkerchief that fell from the flies before the beginning of the piano adagio movement, some plain classical and others more stylized. The dancers passed (or dropped) the handkerchief as they ceded the stage to each other. While there is a lot of humor in the piece, the movement ended with a gesture for which I must be missing the humor gene: the dancer blew his nose loudly into the handkerchief.

In the final movement, which started in slow motion, the competitive theme was reprised, as the dancers fought over possession of the handkerchief. It ended on a more sober note, as a couple posed toward the stage left wing, and a white silk handkerchief fell from the flies. Hearing the Haydn, I couldn’t help thinking of Tharp’s treatment in Push Comes to Shove. Though it shared some of the quirky response to the music, the humor in Adams’ piece is as a rule more subtle and less frantic.

Adams gave fine roles for all eight dancers: Michael Cook, Robert Dekkers, Giselle Doepker, Kenna Draxton, Paola Hartley, Kendra Mitchell, Nikolai Moroz, and James Russell Toth. It is impossible to single out any one, because Adam used their dance and physical qualities to such great advantage. She did something unusual, though: while she did use the height contrasts among the women most effectively – the men’s heights were more even – she didn’t particularly highlight their strengths in the “Dancer X has great extension, let that be the theme of the mini pas de deux; Dancer Y is a great allegro dancer, let’s give him a breakout solo” sense.

Adams’ choreography complements Anderson’s in its use of the floor, humor, and appreciation for geometry. Unlike other ballets of his that I’ve seen, which prepare the dancers for another piece in the program, this one seemed to focus on showcasing the strengths of the specific dancers, and what a coming out party it was.

The costumes were basic: princess-line, flesh-colored leotards for the women and flesh-colored unitards for the men, with a single, common ornamentation: an elongated horizontal “X” on both sides of the ribcage, underlined with in the same navy blue. If I hadn’t seen the program notes before the performance, and had come into the performance in the middle, I wouldn’t have recognized the music as 20th century music. (I wonder if Go with it!, a title that sounds a bit Made in Marketing Department to me, was to counter any sense of fear the audience might had of seeing the name Shostakovich.)

I have to apologize in advance that I won’t be able to describe this ballet in great detail. After I returned home from Phoenix, my week was made of non-stop performances and large projects at work. Not only was I not able to do a write-up the last two pieces immediately, but there was so much music and dance that crashed into memory, especially during the week following, that I’ve lost the details. What I haven’t lost is my sense of how much I loved this ballet.

The ballet begins and ends with the cast of ten couples, with pas de deux and pas de trois in between the ensemble movements. The adagio pas de deux were made primarily of a trio of movements: developpes, arabesques, and lifts. Much of Robbins Chopin piano ballet opus does the same, as well as any number of piano ballets since. However, in most of those ballets, the women wear skirts. What made the difference in Go with it! was the costumes: with simple leotards, the beauty of the turned out pelvis and inner thigh extended out of the pulled up torso, was the central focus. The bones and the center of ballet were clarified, not obscured. For Ginger Smith (with Astrit Zejnati) and Kanako Imayoshi (with Elye Olson), Andersen created roles that really showcased their strengths: Smith’s turnout and creamy extensions and Imayoshi’s ability to shape and articulate long phrases. Smith, who trained at the School of Ballet Arizona, was a finalist at Prix de Lausanne, and danced with Boston Ballet II and with Robert Denvers in Flanders before joining BA a couple of years ago, is an eye-catcher as a demi-soloist, but this role suggests that she can carry a ballet. I’ve seen Imayoshi before, mostly in classical and neo-classical demi soloist quartets, but this was the first time I saw her. This was a role that put her in such a different light that I kept going back to the program.

These pas de deux were followed by a pas de trois for Paola Hartley, Vitaly Breusenko, and Michael Cook. I’m glad that in this neo-classical Andersen cast Hartley with the taller Cook and Breusenko, because it expands her range. (In classical ballets she dances most often with Astrit Zejnati; they are a perfectly classically proportioned pair.) Structurally, it was a good juxtaposition to put the pas de trois in the middle of four pas de deux, but I don’t think the pas de deux that followed were as strong as the first two. I’m not sure if it was because for the women, Tzu-Chia Huang and Natalia Magniacaballi, the roles were less revelatory, or if, thematically, there were really three pas, not four. I very much liked the double pas that followed, with Magniacaballi/Cook and Imayoshi/Olson.

Next followed a solo for Astrit Zejnati, and a duo for Vitaly Breusenko, with Andersen’s typical fluency for choreography for men. All three men joined together and the movement ended with a visually stunning tableau, with all three men, one hand on chest, the other reaching forward and up, with an open hand, fingers creating a starburst. To a very sweet, almost impressionistic piece, Andersen created a sparkly pas de trois for Hartley, Huang, and Smith, to follow the men.

While it’s not surprising that Andersen would choreograph more expressively and revealingly for his own dancers, there was something detached about Adam’s choreography, however great the dancers look. It’s sophisticated play, and while it’s very possible that it was deliberately void of the suggestion of heart I found in Go with it!, before ultimately wasn’t as satisfying.

In the afternoon’s performance, Alexander Izbitser gave sensitive readings of Shostakovich’s music. Sadly he became ill and wasn’t able to perform in the evening.

Raymonda Divertissement contains greatest hits – the main adagio performed by the main couple and corps couples, solos for Hortense and Florence, and pas de deux with variations for Raymonda and Jean de Brienne – as well as pieces for two quartets of women, the corps men, and the entire ensemble. There was also a piece for a small group of men, but I can’t remember if it was for Hortense and Florence’s counterparts.

Giselle Doepker danced the first woman’s variation. With her head held high but gently on her shoulders, allowing graceful freedom of movement and epaulement, her fluid arms, and her incredible hands -- articulate down to her fingertips –- she was simply exquisite. In the variation that followed, Kenna Draxton’s legs sang.

Some of the women in the corps, notably Ginger Smith and Kendra Mitchell, danced beautifully, but on the whole, most suffered from being neoclassical dancers in classical roles, with a lack of requisite stillness in the upper body. (The same dancers look fine in Theme and Variations, for example.) It will take time and experience. The men, on the other hand, were uniformly superb, having absorbed some of the gracious classical quality of the quartet trained in Eastern Europe.

Astrit Zenjani comes from that world, too, which put him stylistically and hierarchically – in the classical sense -- at the ballet’s center. His Raymonda was Natalia Magnicaballi, who was a regal heroine.

The Orpheum Theatre is a very nice jewel box several blocks from the Symphony Hall. My suggestion to anyone purchasing tickets for performances there is to bypass the website and call the box office directly for orchestra tickets. (Balcony seats are fine via web.) I haven’t sat in the very first row, but the first eight or so rows are difficult for anyone under 6 feet tall, if a tall person or a person with a big head is the row directly ahead.

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Helene, to whom was the RAYMONDA choreography credited? Petipa or Balanchine or Andersen-after-Balanchine? In the orginal, the two friends are named Henriette and Clemence. RAYMONDA is one of my favorite ballets, so I am always glad to hear about performances.

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Helene, to whom was the RAYMONDA choreography credited? Petipa or Balanchine or Andersen-after-Balanchine? In the orginal, the two friends are named Henriette and Clemence. RAYMONDA is one of my favorite ballets, so I am always glad to hear about performances.
Sorry, doug, that was my faulty memory on Raymonda's friends' names. There were no names in the program, apart from the title.

The staging was done by Olga Evreinoff, and the choreography was credited to Petipa. Andersen wasn't involved in the staging. I don't even know if he cast it.

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Thanks, Helene. My assumption, then, is that the production is based on Soviet-era RAYMONDAs - probably K. Sergeev's from 1948.

The 1948 Sergeyev production was revived at the Kirov on the 23.06.1970 with new designs by

Ivan Vassilievich Sevastianov replacing the earlier Virsaladze settings. Having heard of the

suggested fondness for making alterations to productions, does anyone know if any changes in the choreography took place?

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I've never seen the Kirov Raymonda, and, unfortunately, it's not available on tape, so I couldn't compare what I saw to the Sergeyev version.

The biographical info I found about Evreinoff on the web is a paragraph from a program called "Danza & Mare", According to the translation on Babelfish, Evreinoff studied at the Vaganova School and then performed in Prague and Oslo. I'm not sure if "artista ospite," which is translated as "artistic host" means she performed as a guest artist with National Ballet of Canada, but she was on the artistic staff there, and taught at School of American Ballet, for the Joffrey summer program, spent nearly a decade (80-89) as ballet master at ABT and National Ballet of Canada, taught in various capacities at Royal Ballet of England, Royal Danish Ballet, English National Ballet, and was affiliated with Dutch National Ballet.


This is the third production she staged for Andersen and Ballet Arizona; she also staged the full-length Swan Lake a few years ago and Pacquita excerpts.

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I've attended a handful of performances in Phoenix, starting with the Balanchine Centennial programs in June 2004. Among the programs I've seen, he was the only man cast in the principal role in Theme and Variations and Apollo (on the same program), and Raymonda Variations. He shared the role of James in La Sylphide and Romeo in Romeo and Juliet in the past two seasons (performing Tybalt in the other cast), and the first pas de trois in Agon. He also had a nice role in most Andersen's recent work Go With It!.

He's been cast prominently, and he's been dancing beautifully.

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Thanks, Helene -- it's wonderful to have real news of this company. I wish I could see them.

It's also great to have a repot on Julia Adam's new ballet. She's SanFranciscan, of course (well, by way of Toronto, but she started choreographing here. I've found every one of her ballets interesting -- and very different from each other, almost as if she didn't want to repeat herself. The one thing that's been consistent is that she always seems to want to "take you someplace" -- did you get that feeling from "before"? SFB is going to do her ballet "Night" again next year, which she made for Tina leBlanc and is like a succession of dreams. It's one of the few ballets I've ever seen at SFB that when the first performance was over, the whole floor stood and cheered. It caught something that was in the air, it was incredibly timely when it was new -- wonder how it will go next time around.

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before reminded me a little of Il Nodo, which Adam choreographed for Oregon Ballet Theatre two years ago, and which the company is reviving next season. I'm not sure if before really was more clever than its own good, or if it suffered from Go With It! being danced immediately after. I felt like Andersen's work was in the same family, but had heart to it, and it wasn't just the music. In a way this is nit-picking, because I've seen a number of ballets programmed by various companies that I'd have been thrilled to see be replaced by before.

Night sounds very different and fascinating.

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