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Mariinsky's Old-Fashioned 'Raymonda'

Oxana Skorik and Andrei Ermakov in Raymonda, Mariinsky Ballet (photo by Valentin Baranovsky)

Alexander Glazunov's Raymonda is not a familiar score on this side of the world. Russian friends, however, speak of it in glowing tones, music synonymous with the idea of ballet, as well as the choreography that goes with it. The Mariinsky Ballet is showing its Soviet-tinged production, from 1948, for which Konstantin Sergeyev revised the original choreography by Marius Petipa, this week at the Kennedy Center Opera House. Seen on Tuesday evening, it is a museum piece, old-fashioned but nonetheless an often enchanting work, featuring what dance scholar Jennifer Homans has called "a wealth of jewel-like dances."

The libretto is a tale of crusaders, Saracens, and princesses, with a dash of Gothic ghost story, the mysterious White Lady, who is expunged in the Soviet updating. The eponymous princess is courted by a knight named Jean de Brienne, who ultimately foils the plan by a visiting Saracen to abduct Raymonda. The Muslim lord, who showers the princess and her family with slaves and other gifts to the accompaniment of Middle Eastern-tinged music later imitated by Hollywood composers, ends up slain in combat for his trouble, after which a third-act apotheosis shows the wedding of Raymonda and de Brienne.

Other Reviews:

Alastair Macaulay, Mariinsky Ballet in ‘Raymonda,’ Searching About for a Perfect Suitor (New York Times, February 24)

Sarah L. Kaufman, Mariinsky Ballet’s ‘Raymonda’ comes slowly to life (Washington Post, February 24)
Oxana Skorik had an uncertain start and did not really take one's breath away in the title role, but she had some beautiful moments, especially strong and motionless in pirouettes. Taking his cue from Tchaikovsky, Glazunov included some delightful parts for celesta and harp, especially in the first act, where most of the dramatic focus is placed, somewhat oddly. Konstantin Zverev was appropriately over the top as Abderakhman, making a suave dance with Raymonda to a slow, pretty version of his music in Act II. At one point two other men lifted up Skorik and Zverev took over from them, holding her up with impressive strength.

As Jean de Brienne, Timur Askerov was earnest and technically accomplished, while Kristina Shapran (Clémence) and Sofia Ivanova-Skoblikova (the second variation in The Dream) stood out in supporting roles. The Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra sounded unfamiliar with the score, but there were some lush sounds from the strings and outstanding violin solos, overseen by Mariinsky conductor Gavriel Heine. Glazunov's gorgeous interludes were accompanied, somewhat emptily, by video of clouds on a scrim.

This production continues through February 28, at the Kennedy Center Opera House.


Garamond said...

While I'd heard that Kondaurova is a much better dancer, I also saw the ballet with Oksana Skurik as the lead. It was depressing and embarrassing to have Washingtonians, who hold Mariinsky in such high regard, witness an outdated and irrelevant spectacle and clap at every turn, when the real greatness of Mariinsky stayed at home. That same evening thehomestage for Mariinsky staged Rome and Juliet (also an old production), but at least there fantastic dancers like Renata Shakirova. It's time for Mariinsky to not treat Washington as a conservative backwater. We are yet to see such stars as Kimin Kim join the Washington visit of the troupe, not to mention a much needed upgrade to more modern productions (especially from 1948, as was the case with Raymonda). Let's not get too comfortable with the loyal audience, considering that Eifman ballet (also from Saint Petersburg) now makes occasional visits to the Kennedy center, and if you see their Rodin, you'd laugh at Raymonda.

Anonymous said...

Shakirova is young, and doesn't yet dance Raymonda. Obviously you missed Kimin Kim when he danced Spectre just last season at Kennedy Center on the Mariinsky tour, so that's also incorrect. Some of the Mariinsky's great assets are their traditional productions, which are done on a such a high level of quality and scale. It seems to be a peculiarly American point of view to think that everything needs an "upgrade" or update. The Mariinsky indeed has modern productions, but chose (together with the Kennedy Center) to bring its traditional Raymonda - a ballet it premiered in 1898 - this time around. Not sure where else you'd see something like this, as very few companies in the world can pull it off. Beauty is never outdated, nor is it ever irrelevant.