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Review: A Skilled Ballet Leader Creates a Messy ‘Raymonda’

Rojo stitches this together with attempts at 19th-century authenticity. To reconstruct Petipa’s original ballets, which have been altered over time, the dance world has increasingly returned to manuscripts in which Petipa’s steps were recorded around the time his St. Petersburg tenure ended. Rojo asked a notation specialist, Doug Fullington, to help, but has kept little beyond the women’s variations. These are also sometimes given to different characters than in Petipa’s instructions, or subtly altered.

There are also nods to another Petipa ballet, “La Bayadère,” most notably in the beautifully realized first act “Vision” scene: an episode that feels like a tribute to Florence Nightingale, one of Rojo’s inspirations. Nightingale, a British nurse organizer during the Crimean War whose likeness appears on 10-pound notes, was known as the Lady with the Lamp, and the nurses in Rojo’s “Raymonda” carry lamps through darkness, too. Yet more often than not, war is a distant background, barely hinted at.

While on the surface Raymonda has greater agency than in Petipa’s original, she comes out an inconsistent character. Even after she is married (in a depressing wedding dress that obscures the choreography) she continues to hesitate between John and Abdur, who hijack one of the ballet’s great moments: Raymonda’s pensive yet authoritative “claque” variation in the final act, which closes out her symbolic arc.

On opening night, Shiori Kase, a calm and careful performer, portrayed Raymonda as timid and unsure of her choices until the very end, when she leaves her own wedding to go back to nursing — an incongruous development, wrapped up in under a minute.

Rojo’s “Raymonda” is by no means an outlier in the international ballet repertoire: It is only the latest production in a sea of half-updated, tangled versions of the few surviving 19th-century ballets. Total reimaginings can work, as Akram Khan’s “Giselle,” one of Rojo’s commissioning successes, showed, but a serious art form should set higher standards of coherence for the versions it presents of classics. San Francisco will certainly hope for better.

Through Jan. 23 at the London Coliseum; ballet.org.uk

Circassia News

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