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#Throwback Thursday: Raymonda

It's #ThrowbackThursday. I know, the epitome of cheesy. But after Tutu Tuesday, I figured I might as well go the whole way. Besides, it's an excellent excuse to talk about my favourite ballets and ballerinas from times past.

First on the list: Raymonda. Which as I just discovered gets auto-corrected to 'Raymond' a lot. Despite this, the ballet is actually about a young countess, named Raymonda, and is set in the 13th century during the Crusades.

The ballet starts with Raymonda's birthday. Raymonda's friends, Henrietta and Clemence, dance with two troubadours (wandering poets), Beranger and Bernard, but not everyone is in such a celebratory mood; Raymonda's aunt, the Countess Sybille, scolds them for their idle pursuits. She warns them of the White Lady, Melusina, who protects the castle and punishes those who do not perform their duties; but they merely laugh at her superstition and continue dancing.

A messenger brings a letter from Raymonda's betrothed, the crusader John de Brienne. The knight is on his way home from the wars with his master, the King of Hungary, and will arrive at the castle the next day to marry her. Raymonda's joy is interrupted by the arrival of an unexpected guest, the Saracen knight Abderakhman. He immediately falls in love with Raymonda and resolves to win her.

Raymonda's variation, La Scala reconstruction

That night, while Raymonda is asleep, the White Lady appears to her in a dream. The Lady shows her a garden, in which John de Brienne stands. Overjoyed, Raymonda runs to meet him, but he is suddenly replaced by Abderakhman. When Raymonda refuses his advances, he attempts to take her by force, and Raymonda wakes up.

Raymonda dreams of a reunion with John de Brienne

The next day, there is a feast in honour of John de Brienne's arrival, but he is late. Raymonda, warned by the White Lady, rejects the repeated advances of Abderakhman with contempt. Abderakhman decides to kidnap Raymonda, and while his slaves dance for the company, he steadily gets the guests drunk.

Raymonda, with the aid of Beranger and Bernard, rejects Abderakhman

John de Brienne arrives just in time to prevent Raymonda's capture. King Andre II, who accompanies the knight, commands the two rivals to settle the matter in a duel - John de Brienne wins, killing Abderakhman.

John de Brienne and Raymonda are then married, and receive the King's blessing. A number of Hungarian folk dances are performed, including Raymonda's famous wedding variation. The ballet ends with an Apotheosis, in which everyone participates in a knightly tournament.

The ballet was first performed by the Imperial Ballet at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia, on the 19 January 1898. It was choreographed by the famous Marius Petipa, to music by Alexander Glazunov. It was created especially for the benefit performance of the great Italian ballerina Pierina Legnani, who performed the lead role. The original cast featured several other great names, including Sergey Legat as John de Brienne, a young Olga Preobrajenska as Henrietta (later a prima ballerina), Nikolai Legat as Beranger, and the great character actor Pavel Gerdt as Abderakhman.

Pierina Legnani, 1898, in costume for Raymonda's Entrance

The ballet has been revived in 1909 by Mikhail Fokine, in 1914 for Anna Pavlova, and by George Balanchine in 1946 for the Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo. But most modern productions are based off the 1948 Kirov Ballet production, staged by Konstantin Sergeyev. Sergeyev chose to alter or completely change most of Petipa's original choreography, with the consequence that the modern production bears little resemblance to the original.

Olga Preobrajenska, 1902, in costume for the Grand Pas Classique

However, the original choreography was notated in 1898 from a performance of the ballet starring Olga Preobrajenska. This notation has been a part of Harvard University's Sergeyev Collection for some years, and in 2011, Sergei Vikharev was able to use this to stage an almost complete reconstruction of the ballet for the Teatro alla Scala (La Scala Theatre Ballet) in Italy, starring Olesia Novikova and Friedemann Vogel. Here is a link to watch an excerpt, Raymonda's Entrance from Act 1: (I have got the entire reconstructed ballet, but unfortunately it is no longer available on Youtube).

La Scala reconstruction, 2011. Above: Raymonda's Entrance, Act 1; Below: Raymonda rejects the advances of the Saracen knight.

Today, however, most companies stage only parts of the ballet instead of the full piece. Below is a link to a video showing four ballerinas of various eras performing Raymonda's famous 'Hungarian' wedding variation - certainly an interesting comment on the development of ballet. They are, respectively, Irina Kolpakova, Gabriela Komleva, Natalia Makarova, and Svetlana Zakharova. Enjoy!

Thanks for reading!

- Selene

(none of the above content belongs to me)

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