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Raymonda Act III
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Raymonda Act III
As the title indicates, Raymonda Act III was initially part of a much longer ballet, with the version being performed as part of the 2008 autumn season in Birmingham being the final celebratory part of the story. It sees the wedding of the two principal characters, Raymonda and Jean de Brienne, with hordes of guests performing pieces in celebration for the amusement of the bride and groom.
This all-out entertainment assault is one of the reasons why this third act is performed in isolation. Patricia Tierney, Birmingham Royal Ballet Notator explains: 'This is when you see the real classical technique, in these third acts. With [choreographer Marius] Petipa, these were his greatest moments, and so that's what's been retained. This act was probably always what people remembered from the full-length version as well, and so it's been passed on over the years.'
The piece is notable for its Hungarian influence, with the elements of the country's national dance style visible throughout. 'Raymonda is still in the classical mould, but it's like a ballet version of Hungarian national dancing,' Patricia explains. 'There's a lot of massed character dancing as part of this big celebration at the end of the story. They dance in heels or thick boots, and there's a lot of group work, with attention to the patterns that the figures make on stage so that it's quite sculptural.'
Right from the beginning the piece features large amounts of group work, with dancers moving in and out of square and diamond shapes. 'The solos that follow are more classical,' says Patricia, 'although there is still a touch of the Hungarian style in the ports de bras [way the arms are held and how they move from one position to another].'
'There's a pas de quatre for the men that is actually quite a virtuoso section, there's some tough stuff in there and they have to do it all together in synchronisation. It'll be danced by four soloists, and they'll have to work hard to stay together.'
In a real wedding, while various people may briefly take centre stage for individual dances (or speeches!), the focus of the event is ultimately on the bride and groom. Raymonda is no exception.
'Even with all these formations, these blocks of people,' says Patricia, 'it's more of a vehicle for the principal couple to show their adage, to show their pas de deux and solos, with all these other dancers framing them.'
'The male Principal role is quite macho, with a lot of bravado. It's quite slow with lots of showing off, but, as you often get with national dances, it soon quickens up so it gets more lively at the end.'
The female Principal character is equally fond of the attention offered by her wedding guests. 'Her solo's quite strange actually,' notes Patricia, 'because at first it seems like there's not a lot to it. Although she's on pointe a lot, her body's quite calm, with lots of slender arm movements, lots of showing off and razzamatazz. It's all about style and posing, and she really doesn't get going until the second half. Remember though that all that time she's up on pointe so it's very tough on the toes.'
As Patricia highlighted, it was this classical technique that choreographer Marius Petipa excelled at.
'His musicality really shone through, very much so. And his solos were always a little bit different, always in a different style. There would sometimes be moments of repetition if you had a really good step and you wanted to see it again, or he might repeat a step if the music repeated a particular strain, but in this instance the solos are all very, very different.'
As a three-act ballet over a century ago, Raymonda was criticised for its unwieldy storyline. However thanks to the strength of the music and the choreography, Act III has thankfully remained with us as a stand-alone celebration of classical dance.
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