Raymonda, English National Ballet at Bristol Hippodrome

IT is always a special treat and a joy to see ballet and opera staged in the grand manner, and at a time when all forms of the arts are under severe financial attack it was doubly so, to see 65 dancers on stage and hear a similar number of musicians giving full vent to their musical talents.
It was indeed a fitting way for Tamara Rojo to end her ten year reign as artistic director of ENB, particularly as in reassembling this rarely seen ballet she utilised the talents of practically every section of the company. Doug Fullington had to delve into the past to discover the steps originally conceived by Marius Petipa for the first production in St Petersburg in 1898. After the decision had been made to transfer the story of the beauteous Raymona, torn between two lovers and a strong sense of duty, from mid Europe and the Crusades to England and the Crimean War, Vadim Sirotin added a string of character dances. With Antony McDonald’s evocative sets and beautiful costumes, made even better by Mark Henderson’s lighting design that captured each changing mood within the story and music, and Alex Guarsson’s always enhancing, never intrusive video designs, director/choreographer Rojo and her dancers were given a wonderful canvas on which to paint their story.
Gavin Sutherland and Lars Payne adapted Alexander Glazunov’s score in a manner that made you believe he had composed it for this tale, not the original libretto. With goods of that quality on offer the Rojo must have felt like a child let loose in a toy shop on Christmas Eve.
There are no really outstanding set pieces for the dancers to exploit or really memorable melodies in the score, but the sweeping overall effect of the combination is a delight for the eye and on the ear.
One thing is certain.The composer would have been delighted to have heard his score being played with such commitment and obvious enjoyment, not only by the full orchestra but by the quartet on stage in the last act, whose instruments included a cimbalom and hurdy-gurdy.
It would be nice to commend the individual work of the principal dancers and some of those involved in the excellent array of character dances, but unfortunately ENO’s otherwise splendid programme, and the websites appear to be very reluctant to commit themselves to name those who play the roles in the touring production. While individuals may have to remain nameless, the full corps de ballet can come forward and take a well-deserved bow. Partnerships between male and female dancers in formal and fun dances added that final gloss to the evening .
This ‘Last Hurrah’ of Tamara Rojo as artistic director is a worthy full-scale production which gives ballet enthusiasts an opportunity to see a striking new adaptation of a rarely seen work, is not to be missed.


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