From: THE TIMES, July 21, 1999

Dance Review by Debra Craine


Debra Craine enjoys a feast of sumptuous dancing

at the Bolshoi Ballet's Raymonda

By the time he created Raymonda in 1898, Marius Petipa was at the end of his long and illustrious career with the Russian ballet in St. Petersburg. With his 80th birthday just around the corner, and almost 50 ballets under his belt, he knew everything there was to know about the magnificence of classical dancing and he brought that knowledge to bear on this courtly love story set in medieval Hungary during the Crusades. It never did have much of a story going for it (silly and convoluted, said the critics) but what dancing it possessed. And it is the dancing that has kept Raymonda alive in the Russian repertoire ever since. Now the Bolshoi Ballet brings it to London and what an embarras de richesse it proves to be: three opulent acts of wall - to - wall dance. And with the Bolshoi on sparkling form at the Coliseum on Monday night, we couldn't get enough of it.

Yuri Grigorovich is responsible for the current Bolshoi staging, a 1984 production which credits extracts from Petipa and Gorsky. While others have tried to find dramatic depths in the story of Raymonda's love for the knight Jean de Brienne, Grigorovich doesn't even bother. He keeps the plot so simple that it barely registers. Indeed, Raymonda's abduction by the dashing Saracen warrior Abderakhman is so brief that it leaves one wishing our young heroine had the chance to explore that particular romantic avenue a little further before being rescued by her worthy knight.

Grigorovich also eschews mime and narrative detail, so it is hard to find any personal resonance in his characters or indeed any credibility in his tale (which is a pity), but he doesn't stint on the dancing, and when he gives the stage over to Petipa's grand design the effect is dazzling.

Raymonda cries out for technical excellence, and this it happily gets from an outstanding opening night cast. Nina Ananiashvili... is a porcelain beauty radiant with Russian classicism and possessed of the most unaffected national pride in her dancing. Some of Raymonda's variations are incredibly pretty and Ananiashvili is so inherently dainty, her steps picked out with exquisite poise and her phrasing decorated with sweetness. Her famous Act III solo was a revelation, delicately unforced and generous in its scope.

Sergei Filin, as Jean de Brienne, dances with great vigour and handsome style. His display dancing is impeccable, he has a majestic jump and he finishes his phrases beautifully. Mark Peretokin exudes raw appeal as the piercing - eyed Abderakhman, and Anna Antonicheva is lovely as Henrietta.

The company as a whole was on top form on Monday.

A glowing moment was the vision scene in Act I, in which Raymonda has a premonition of Abderakhman's heated pursuit of her. This scene, bathed in blue-green, is the ballet equivalent of Busby Berkeley, rows of maidens swimming flamboyantly across the stage in glittering classical formation. Act III, the wedding festivities often seen as a one-act ballet in its own right, is here just wonderful, evoking a reassuring fantasy world of perfect felicity.

The Glazunov score, lavishly sweet and dancey, jollied everyone along, thanks to Alexander Sotnikov and the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra.