Raymonda Revisited

English National Ballet returns to the Bristol Hippodrome for the first time in four years with a beautiful new production of the virtuosic classical ballet Raymonda. We take a closer look at why this ballet classic is so magnificent…

England, 1854. Raymonda runs away from her comfortable life to become a nurse in the Crimean War. There, she becomes engaged to a soldier, John, but soon develops feelings for his friend Abdur, a leader of the Ottoman army. As turmoil grows around and inside her, who will she give her heart to?

The original Raymonda is one of the jewels of classical ballet, with exquisite choreography by Petipa (Swan Lake, Nutcracker) and one of the most glorious ballet scores ever written. Over 100 dancers and musicians bring it to life, updated with a dramatic new story that celebrates the courage of nurses and women who fought for emancipation.

Here, we look at some of the reasons why this magnificent production of a ballet classic is not one to miss this month. Directed by ENB’s Artistic Director and acclaimed ballerina Tamara Rojo, it is bursting with beautiful music, stunning set pieces and superb dancing.

Above: Precious Adams as Sister Clemence in Tamara Rojo’s Raymonda by English National Ballet © Johan Persson

It’s a rare chance to see the full ballet performed, and in a truly grand-scale production
Raymonda is rarely performed in full, largely due to the original ballet’s problematic Crusades-era narrative of a damsel in distress, her knightly lover, and a dastardly ‘Saracen’ kidnapper. Tamara Rojo’s new production reframes the story, drawing inspiration from the legendary Florence Nightingale: Raymonda is a young woman in the time of the Crimean War, who travels to the front to serve as a nurse. She finds herself caught between a hasty betrothal to John, an English soldier; her instant attraction to his friend and ally, the Ottoman commander Abdur; and her own calling as a nurse. Drama, difficult decisions and wonderful dancing ensue in a lavish production brought to life by hundreds of dancers and musicians.

Meet a ballet heroine in charge of her own destiny
The title character of Tamara Rojo’s Raymonda is no passive princess. Raymonda is driven by a duty to help others and is not satisfied to sit at home whilst war rages. She is further conflicted by her promise to marry her childhood friend John, her growing feelings for Abdur, and her desire for independence.

It is an adaptation of the work of ‘ballet’s Mozart’
Marius Petipa was the creator of more than fifty ballets including Raymonda, The Nutcracker, The Sleeping Beauty and Don Quixote are amongst his most famous creations. In adapting Raymonda, Tamara Rojo preserved as much of Petipa’s original and iconic choreography as possible following meticulous research of original notations taken at the turn of the 20th century.

Get swept away by glorious music, performed by a full orchestra
Tamara Rojo described Raymonda’s music, by Alexander Glazunov, as ‘the most extraordinary score ever written for ballet.’ ENB Music Director Gavin Sutherland and Music Librarian Lars Payne have adapted the huge score (more than 4,500 bars long) to ensure that all of its colour and character are kept whilst supporting the reimagined narrative. The influence of Hungarian folk music is further brought to life using unique instruments such as the cimbalom (an instrument with over 100 strings struck by small handheld hammers) and hurdy gurdy (also a string instrument with a hand-cranked wheel to produce sound).

Enjoy the stunning costumes
Designer Antony McDonald combines the colour and gorgeous movement of ballet costumes with the lush detail of period dress. There is not a tutu in sight in this production: the costumes are inspired by the fashions of the Victorian era in which the new story is set, with gorgeous gowns, dashing military uniforms and richly detailed, hand-dyed and printed fabrics to evoke different cultures and styles.

Raymonda will be showing at Bristol Hippodrome from 23 – 26 November. Tickets from £13. Book tickets at: atgtickets.com/bristol. Visit ballet.org.uk/raymonda for videos, interviews and more.

Featured image: Isaac Hernández and Shiori Kase in Tamara Rojo’s Raymonda by English National Ballet © Johan Persson