In my last post I discussed how the histories of winemaking and ballet have neatly dovetailed for centuries. But wine and ballet mixed together? Not the best match, as anyone who remembers Leslie Browne’s intoxicated attempt to dance in the corps of Giselle in the 1977 dance film The Turning Point can attest. Browne’s drunken turn as a Wili is hilarious and reminds me of the Mistake Waltz in Jerome Robbins’s The Concert. I love how blissful the oblivious Browne appears as she bends the wrong way and ruins the choreography. That, however, is something that would only happen in campy movies. Since dancing ballet is a task that requires one’s full faculties, alcoholic impairment is verboten to dancers. And though there are drunk characters in many story ballets, they are generally stock figures who don’t perform real ballet steps and serve as a contrast to the nobility and grace of a prince/hero. The inebriated Goons in Balanchine’s Prodigal
“I’ve got to get out of these ballets where I’m the only guy,” Andrew Veyette said to me this past Tuesday as we sat on the front of the stage to watch the final rehearsal of the opening night’s Raymonda Variations cast. (We were to perform it on Friday.) I laughed. This ballet really does feel like it belongs to us women. As I mentioned before, the plum dancing in Petipa’s full-length Raymonda belongs to the ballerina alone. Balanchine tweaks that idea and spreads the wealth more liberally in his treatment, but the feeling is the same. Although he gives the male principal plenty to chew on, it is clear that his role is that of an interloper—for Raymonda Variations is all about the paradox of the pretty little ballerina. It is girly froufrou on top and tough as nails underneath –a balletic wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Given how familiar Balanchine was with Petipa’s choreography, I think he purposefully plays with gender and rank in his adaptation too. In the original Raymonda the ballerina has six variations; in Balanchine’s version there are six women who perform variations. (Five of these women get one solo apiece while the principal ballerina gets two and a pas de deux.) What is interesting is that
This morning, the New York City Ballet celebrated the 4th of July with a two hour rehearsal of Union Jack, Balanchine’s ode to Great Britain—oops. After that bit of treason we returned to our Raymonda variations. Balanchine wrote—in Balanchine’s Festival of Ballet: Volume II (co-authored by Francis Mason)—that the plot of the original, full-length Raymonda (1898) choreographed by Petipa was, “nonsense,” and, “difficult to follow.” Story ballets are rarely based upon great pieces of literature, nor are they paragons of feminism (or even character development!). They mostly involve virginal women trapped in odd bodily forms—swans, sylphs, etc.—until some gloomy squire comes to their rescue via swords and marriage. Raymonda is no different, but it is really a mess.
The story was written by a Russian columnist, Lydia Pashkova. Yuri Grigorivich (the Bolshoi Raymonda choreographer and the author of The Authorized Bolshoi Ballet Book of Raymonda) says of Pashkova, “[h]er works were not brilliant; they were entertaining.”I’ll try my best to summarize. The setting is a castle in medieval Hungary. A young noblewoman named Raymonda awaits the arrival of her betrothed, Jeanne de Brienne, who is off fighting in the crusades. In his absence a
Raymonda is one of those ballets that people love to call “a confection.” To all appearances it is as girly as ballet gets: we corps and soloist dancers sport Pepto-Bismol pink tutus with garlands in our hair, while the principal couple dons turquoise blue satin. Glazunov’s melodies lilt and repeat themselves often, and the music is even and predictable and lovely. However, all this twee fluff camouflages the fact that it is one of the most technically demanding ballets in our repertory. And at the end of day two of rehearsals, it wasn’t getting any easier. As is par for the course in Raymonda, several girls ended their solos sprawled on the floor.
I have always thought that Balanchine was being rather tongue-in-cheek with this ballet, but the more I dance it and watch it, the more I think it is downright hilarious! It begins with a long and dramatic overture before the music trickles almost to a stop and the curtain rises upon a stage of
Photo by Paul Kolnik
Today was the first day of City Ballet’s Saratoga rehearsal period, and while the rest of the country watched the US play in the World Cup, I spent the afternoon with twenty panting, flushed women. The cause? Balanchine’s Raymonda Variations. It is so damn hard! Raymonda is probably the worst ballet to have to rehearse on the first day back after a layoff; however, it is the perfect ballet with which to kick off this blog because it has represented so many firsts for me over the course of my career. The ballet’s second variation was my very first ballet solo. Patricia McBride coached me in the role for the Chautauqua Festival program when I was thirteen years old (and only in my second year on pointe—which seems soo risky to me in hindsight). I still wear the earrings that she gave me as a merde gift for performances today. Ironically, I can’t wear them for a ballet like Raymonda—they are huge and dangly and more suited to accompany big dresses like the ones in Vienna Waltzes and Thou Swell!
Raymonda’s first variation –“the hopping solo”—was among my first solo roles when I joined the New York City Ballet too. I danced it often, beginning in my first year as a corps member, and I loved it. That solo marked the beginning of my specializing in a lot of our repertory’s solos based on hopping on pointe (like Generosity in the Sleeping Beauty, Spinner in Coppelia) which unfortunately also lead to my big surgery. Eventually, I developed a necrotic cuneiform in the middle of my arch on my hopping foot. After some painful years of ballet while several doctors tried to diagnose my