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BWW Review: RAYMONDA, London Coliseum

Tamara Rojo's updating of a classic ballet for 21st century sensibilities proves a hit and miss affair

BWW Review: RAYMONDA, London Coliseum

BWW Review: RAYMONDA, London Coliseum In his short story, Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote, Jorge Luis Borges gives us a protagonist who is rewriting, word for word, Cervantes' celebrated work. It is, amongst other things, a justification of the ineluctable fact that all art is made anew by human contact. There can be no classic 'text' - arguments that rage over fidelity to sources are not based on principle but merely on taste.

Such thoughts flitted through my mind watching Tamara Rojo's new version of Raymonda, a quite different ballet to those that have come before. Our heroine is a comfortable Victorian young lady who tires of sewing warm clothes for the British Army fighting in the Crimea, puts on her red coat and finds her way to a field hospital to make a difference. There she is courted by two men - a stand-up guy officer in the Hussars (who's nice, but a little safe for a woman who has just done what she has done) and a Prince in the Ottoman Army (maybe not quite as nice, definitely not as safe, but more in keeping with the spirit that carried her over roiling seas and into hostile lands).

There are echoes, loud and soft, of the Marius Pepita's original choreography, and the same can be said of the music, Gavin Sutherland and Lars Payne editing and adapting Alexander Glazunov's luscious score. We lose some outdated stereotyping and antiquated dances, particularly for the men, and we gain a protagonist with more agency located in a more nuanced love triangle.

It looks lovely of course, Anthony MacDonald's costume design spectacular, particularly those worn by Katja Khaniukova' Henriette, whose red dresses speak to her risqué outlook on respectable 19th century life. There's a sharp contrast drawn with the stiff white linen of Raymonda's other friend, Sister Clemence (an ever-admonishing Natascha Mair), so the poor wannabe Nightingale isn't just pulled between male suitors, but also female friends, between adventure and duty.

Joseph Caley dances with no little charm as the noble John, to whom Raymonda is somewhat reluctantly betrothed, but he can't compete with the swagger and sexual energy of Daniel McCormick who has enormous fun with Prince Abdur Rahman, all but twirling his moustache as he sets his cap at our by now confused heroine.

Erina Takahashi just isn't given enough to do, Raymonda's zeal to tend to the wounded that provoked her journey East seemingly dissipates quickly, as we see very little nursing, nor many wounded, as even the best scenes (the best of which was an ethereal dream sequence) had me thinking of Duran Duran videos from the early 80s - lots of beautiful people doing lots of inconsequential things. Rojo should have had the courage of her convictions with her re-imagining and given us some mud and blood, gallons of guts and gore and fewer grinning boys and girls who look like they're at a Duke of Edinburgh's Award campsite in August rather than Sevastopol battlefield in winter.

Fortunately the music can banish such thoughts, played with verve and feeling by the English National Ballet Philharmonic. You do understand how Tchaikovsky could remark that he would never have tried to write Swan Lake if he had heard Raymonda.

But, despite its hyperbole, that comment does underline the opportunity presented by this rare staging of the full ballet. It needed surgery to fix much that was weak 100 years ago and is weaker still now, whilst sensitively preserving its glories. This Raymonda does give us the best of its source material, but it could be much bolder in exploiting both its new narrative and its new setting, leaving us with something much more compelling than a 'meh' ending in keeping with too much of what came before.

Raymonda is at the London Coliseum until 23 January.

Photo Laurent Liotardo

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