Mariinsky Ballet's Raymonda

Photos by Natalia Razina and Valentin Baranovsky Bookmark & Share

Romantic Russian Raymonda

By Gary Smith

Mariinsky Ballet's Raymonda video

It's difficult to imagine a more exotic work than the Mariinsky Ballet's Raymonda. This exquisite piece from the grand era of Russian ballet is replete with glorious images of women in tutus and toe shoes, men in elegant, be-jeweled tunics, and dance that whisks you away from reality to a land of romance. Filled with superstition and grand seduction, this is the kind of large scale classical dance that reminds you why you love ballet.

First danced at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre St. Petersburg in 1898, it's part of the legacy of the great choreographer Marius Petipa. His Tchaikovsky ballets —The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake and The Nutcracker —form the great triangle of Russian classical dance. These ballets remain the reason why so many people come to dance in the first place. It's difficult, in fact, to think of a major classical ballet company that doesn't have these works at the center of its repertoire.

It's true that Raymonda didn't quite join such elevated ranks, but it is a serious cousin to these classics and a work that adheres to all the great classical conventions. It is also a ballet that has survived in a number of permutations. Its last act wedding scene with glorious dancing in the form of a luxurious pas de deux and a stunning series of Hungarian-style celebration dances is loved by many. With its dramatic shifts of story and dance variations, Raymonda is a ballet that lifts the spirit.

The great Russian-born choreographer Balanchine created Cortege Hongrois for New York City Ballet as a tribute to the essence of Raymonda. If you've seen Balanchine's Cortege you will no doubt long to watch the full- length production that inspired it.

Many Russian-trained dancers, such as Nureyev and Makarova, choreographed full-length versions of the ballet that are still danced in important companies such as the Paris Opera Ballet.

The good news is the Marrinsky Ballet is bringing Konstantin Sergeyev's legendary 1948 staging of Raymonda to Segerstrom Center for the Arts in a lavish, dramatic telling of the tale with dancing that is simply wall-to-wall spectacle.

The story of Raymonda and her love Jean de Brienne is filled with moments of symbolism and passion. Set against a time of knights and the Crusades, the ballet juxtaposes love and romance with holy causes and grand political designs. When a Saracen prince, Abderakhman, arrives with his male heart on fire, Raymonda enters an exotic world of the imagination. Lured by his sensual presence and the sweet scent of jasmine, she is attracted to his masculine brio. Like Dorothy she finds her own Oz. Like Dorothy too, after her adventures there she discovers there's no place like home.

In the ballet's fairy tale world, a fierce duel ensues when Jean de Brienne (Raymonda's suitor) and Abderkhaman (her Saracen warrior) battle for her love. Because we're in a fairy tale world of ballet, things end happily for most of the characters and there's a glorious wedding celebration that provides a feast of dance.

Danced to glorious Glazunov music, Raymonda has waltzes, grand variations, an extended czardas and a grand pas de deux that is the equal of anything danced in Swan Lake or The Sleeping Beauty.

Then too, seeing Raymonda danced by the Mariinsky Ballet is like taking a time machine back to the era of Petipa. Watching the Grand Pas Classic Hongrois from the ballet's third act, or the exquisite Raymonda Pas de Dix, is like being at a spectacular performance in St. Petersburg's ornate Mariinsky Theatre. The fact you can see it without having to travel makes it all the more attractive.

There's something about watching the Mariinsky Ballet dance that is unique. The dancers who bring Raymonda to North America are steeped in the traditions of classical ballet. This goes beyond just executing steps. Their perfection has something to do with capturing the essence of an era. Tradition fuses with the modern, athletic training dancers receive today. It's no secret that today's dancers jump higher, turn faster, jeté farther and bouree longer than those who came before them. When you fuse all this technical wizardry with the spiritual dimensions the Mariinsky dancers bring to the world of classical ballet you create something unique.

There's something special about seeing a ballet danced with the same spirit, the same heart, the very soul of the original. The roots show. Visually, the Mariinsky's Raymonda is exquisite. Sets and costumes retain the elegance of a by-gone ballet era, yet they adopt the technical wizardry of today's modern possibilities.

The Mariinsky boasts some of the finest dancers on the planet. More than that though, there is an ensemble feel when they dance. This is the kind of dramatic intensity that only a truly great ballet company can achieve.


Dates: September 24 – 27, 2015
Tickets: $29 and up
For tickets and information, visit
or call (714) 556–2787.
Group services: (714) 755–0236

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The Center's International Dance Series is made possible by:
Audrey Steele Burnand Endowed Fund for International Dance
The Segerstrom Foundation Endowment for Great Performances

Barbara Steele Williams Designated Agency Endowment

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