PETIPA'S FINAL masterpiece Raymonda (1898), keeps a low profile here, known only from Nureyev's one-act compilation for British companies, or from a Bolshoi season 13 years ago. Yet she's a big and important girl, a mix of the usual Petipa ingredients of classical dance, exotic dance and the supernatural. The choreography shows Petipa at his most dazzlingly varied and accomplished. And Glazunov's score, beautifully animated at the Coliseum by the Bolshoi orchestra, is a sumptuous continuation of Petipa's famed collaboration with Tchaikovsky.
So why hasn't Raymonda gone the popular way of Swan Lake? Lydia Pashkova, a society writer, devised a scenario about a medieval heroine saved from a Saracen's infidel clutches, which was described at the time as having "everything but meaning" and must be held responsible for the structure's deadening repetitiveness. Yet the pageant of crusaders, Hungarians, Saracens and ghostly apparitions does have some allure, and Nureyev's Paris production manages some semblance of drama.
Yuri Grigorovich's version for the Bolshoi does not. Rather, he further flattens the feeble narrative support, so that the choreography collapses under its own weight. This Raymonda is a long trundle, so overstuffed with dances that their brilliance is overwhelmed. Simon Virsaladze's court costumes belong to Disneyland, while Jean de Brienne, in gleaming heroic white and power shoulders, is Darth Vader after bleach treatment. But the decor is Virsaladze at his economical, tour-friendly best, deft evocations of castle walls and rich hangings. The corps de ballet are wonderfully drilled, most sensationally in the vision scene, a synchronised kaleidoscope of lines, small eddies and star-shapes, coalescing and bursting like a Busby Berkeley set piece.
The opening night's Raymonda, Nina Ananiashvili, is the Bolshoi's internationally admired prima ballerina, but she lacks lyricism and the poetic sensibilities elude her. This became especially obvious in comparison with Anastasia Volochkova in the next performance, a recent young recruit from the Kirov. Ravishingly tall and blonde, her long outlines make her a partnering handful, but she sings through space. She dances with her whole body, preternaturally alert to the phrasing and contrasts Petipa and Glazunov strived to integrate into each solo. She is airily delicate in her pizzicati dance, the music as chiselled as a jewel; she seems to rock back and forth, locked in the hallucinatory time-warp of the vision scene; she glitters darkly in the romantic grandeur of the Hungarian final act.
Nikolai Tsiskaridze as her crusader Jean de Brienne soars and whizzes, shrinking the stage; he prefers dash and flash to perfect positions. Not even Mark Peretokin's sombre power can make much of the curiously muted figure of Abderakham, the Saracen abductor. Nina Speranskaya and Anna Antonicheva dance with glorious refinement as Raymonda's friends. They and the whole company deserve better.
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