Originally choreographed by Russian ballet legend, Marius Petipa, and performed in St. Petersburg in 1895, Raymonda then was a far cry from the world of 1950’s Hollywood glamour that is the backdrop of Stephen Baynes’ stunning new production. Petipa, who envisioned a world of medieval knights fighting wars, and love triangles and mystical spirits, painted a rather convoluted plot so much so that his production was somewhat left behind in stark contrast to some of his better known works, Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty. The score of Raymonda by Aleksandr Glazunov, was what essentially led to the collaborative realisation of the Hollywood-inspired production that has toured in Melbourne and Adelaide and now comes to bedazzle us in Sydney.
Replacing the drawn-out epic storyline and archaic setting of the crusades is the decadent world of a Hollywood starlet, Raymonda Grey, and her transition to royalty the night before her wedding to a European prince. There are no battles in this production, at least in the way of swords but rather, more of egos and hearts. The love triangle takes central focus to the plotline as Raymonda dreams of her beloved Prince replacing her by Princess Arabella. In reversal, Raymonda is also distracted by the smooth charms of her production co-star, the dashing Adam Drake, which jeopardises her popularity stakes with the King and Queen. The dream sequence which takes up a significant portion of the plot could be arguably paralleled to Petipa’s original mystic element except instead of spirits; we have Raymonda’s incessant conscience and anxieties fuelling the drama.
The results are indeed spectacularly dramatic. Putting the exquisite design and stunning choreography aside, dramatic prowess is integral to the production with the majority of dancers required to portray characters, the principals of whom are pastiches of Hollywood icons. Raymonda (Kristy Martin) has the exquisite composition and poise of Grace Kelly with the flawless beauty of Audrey Hepburn. Adam Drake (Damien Welch) has the debonair charm of Humphrey Bogart with the cheekiness of Fred Astaire. And then of course, there is Kay Artley (Lana Jones) who is Marilyn Monroe right from the wink to the wiggle. In addition to the characterisations, the principals, through their sensitive translations and accents to the stylised choreography, add a powerful emotional slant that draws the audience in on a human level. While we have become accustomed to seeing romantic love in ballet productions, it is relatively rare to see the more unfavourable but very real emotions of jealousy, impatience and insecurity and what more, portrayed with such authenticity by dancers. There is also an element of humour in Raymonda, again evoked by the characterisations adopted by the dancers; Raymonda’s maid having a quick swig of brandy and Adelaide Potts’ transformation from conservative secretary to Spanish sex siren in the nightclub.
Led by the exquisite Kristy Martin, who is the epitome of elegance as Raymonda, Steven Heathcote as Prince Jean de Brienne and Damien Welch, (whose parents, Garth Welch and Marilyn Jones, were interestingly the leads for the debut of Raymonda in Australia in 1965), the 2006 Australian Ballet’s Raymonda is a lavish production that is a marvel to watch. The design team led by Anna French (costume), Richard Roberts (set) and Jon Buswell (lighting) painstakingly go into detail to create an authentic 1950’s backdrop complete with genuine clapper boards and press cameras with dancers donned in elaborate beaded dresses of every jeweled hue and the set lit to bring to life, the technicolour magic that took Hollywood by storm. Each frame is poetic mise-en-scene equivalent of the cinematic beauty created by Jack Cardiff in probably the most famous ballet film of all, The Red Shoes, directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger in 1948. Curiously, Raymonda’s dream sequence also echoes the haunting shadows and dark edge that featured in this classic film.
Raymonda is a perfect way to end the year in anticipation of the festivity around the corner. Luxurious, romantic, beautiful and innocent, Raymonda is an intelligent and refreshing adaptation of Petipa’s original work. The sensual duets particularly between Martin and Heathcote during the dream sequence are even passionate enough to distract one from the seriously impressive diamond necklace laced around Martin’s elegant neck, no doubt, loaned on behalf of their very apt production sponsor.
The Australian Ballet
Choreography Stephen Baynes
Music Alexander Glazunov
Costume Design Anna French
Set Design Richard Roberts
Lighting Design Jon Buswell
Venue: Opera Theatre | Sydney Opera House
Dates: 1 - 20 December
Times: Mon – Sat @ 7.30pm (except Mon 11 & 18 Dec @ 6.30pm); Matinees Sat @ 1.30pm
Bookings: Sydney Opera House Box Office 02 9250 7777