Rojo has removed the story from the Middle Ages and the Crusades to 1854 and the Crimean War. Raymonda, inspired by Florence Nightingale, is a young Englishwoman who decides to go to Crimea to support home troops fighting alongside the Ottoman Turks. One of those is her fiancé, John de Bryan.
In Crimea she meets, and is attracted to Adbur Rahman, a Turkish officer and friend of John’s – a rousing performance by Jeffrey Cirio.
Jeffrey Cirio as Abdur Rahman in Tamara Rojo's Raymonda, English National Ballet. Photo: © Johan Persson
She is split between the two men; in the end, at the party to celebrate her wedding to John de Bryan, she makes a startling decision (no spoilers!).
A brief scene in the garden of Raymonda’s home in England shows the young woman (Shiori Kase on opening night) reading a newspaper as other family women apply themselves to embroidery.
Swiftly we move to the British encampment in Crimea, where she’s followed her enlisted fiancé, John (Isaac Hernandez). This is a boisterous set-up populated by soldiers, of course, but also many women, whose presence is not explained: are they camp followers, prostitutes, both?
Who knew so much fun was to be had in a British encampment in the Crimea? With just a couple of injured men partly hidden at the edges of the stage, this is the occasion for much pointless dancing for the women in plaid pinafores and the uniformed soldiers.
Also present are Raymonda’s friends Henriette (a sparkling Julia Conway) and Sister Clemence (Precious Adams in ascetic mode). Henriette’s role is unclear (can nurses take friends to battle assignments?), but it would appear both women represent Raymonda’s contradictory feelings, particularly after she meets Abdur Rahman.
Finally the men go to war, and Raymonda, alone in her tent, falls asleep. In her dream – an affecting scene in hazy ghostly white – nurses dance with fallen men.
English National Ballet dancers in Tamara Rojo's Raymonda. Photo: © Johan Perssson
At over 75 minutes, Act I would benefit from losing a good 15 minutes of pointless ensemble dancing.
Not so Acts II and III, which move at a clip: the former at a party in Abdur Rahman’s tent, where a series of exotic divertissements are performed for the guests’ entertainment; and the final Act back in Raymonda’s England home, where a party is being held to celebrate her and John’s wedding.
Here Rojo has ingeniously adapted the inescapable Hungarian theme of both score and original dances by having as guests at the party a large group of Hungarian farmhands who’ve come over to England to work in the harvest.
Shiori Kase was a fetching, if a little meek, Raymonda, imparting through her pure dancing a pioneering woman’s inner struggle to find her own destiny. Isaac Hernandez gave his usual virtuoso performance, and there was much to admire from everybody in both named and corps roles.
Tamara Rojo’s first foray into choreography and direction is typically daring, and on the whole her wager pays off. Once the structural problems are resolved, this Raymonda, with its lavish costumes, sparkling dancing and Glazunov’s glorious score (cogently played by the English National Ballet Philharmonic, conducted by Gavin Sutherland), will be an enjoyable addition to ENB’s repertoire.
|English National Ballet, Raymonda review
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18 Jan 22 – 23 Jan 22, 19:30 Matinees available, consult website. Dur.: 2 hours and 50 mins inc two intervals
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