Last performed in Cape Town a distant 16 years ago, Raymonda has been brought back to life on the stage of the Artscape Opera House by production veteran Elizabeth Triegaardt and choreographer Norman Furber. And with guest dancers Dirk Weyershausen of the Norwegian National Ballet, international freelance artist Trevor Schoonraad and the presence of the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Allan Stephenson, the performance on Friday evening was adrift with the promise of aesthetic and aural abundance.
The 1898 Russian fantasy ballet opens its first act in merriment. It is set in Hungary in the Middle Ages, and the young noblewoman Raymonda (Laura Bosenberg) has just heard news of the return from the Holy Land of her betrothed, Jean de Brienne (Weyershausen) from his victory in the war with the Saracens. A courtly celebration takes place in which Jesse Milligan in his role of Raymonda’s brother Robert gave a pronounced performance that excelled throughout the night.
But before Raymonda and Jean de Brienne can be reunited, the Saracen knight Abderam, played by the muscle-crafted Schoonraad, attempts to seduce Raymonda, leading her against her will to a richly adorned harem.
Schoonraad’s athletic grandeur provided Bosenberg with ample opportunity to elevate her artistry – yet even so, this act stood out less for its choreographic prowess and more for the sense of sumptuous luxury provided by the rich costumes and the sensory indulgence of the troupe. With vigorously active flowing ribbons, the Saracen men were a highlight, giving a fiery performance that was a source of great delight to the audience.
Happily Raymonda resists Abderam’s advances long enough to be rescued by her knight in shining armour, Jean de Brienne. Returning to the castle, festivities abound as the two lovers reunite with a wedding that delivers the tour de force of the evening. In a befittingly tender pas de deux, Bosenberg and Weyershausen poured themselves into the harmony of their movements, with an emotion that flowed off the stage and into the hearts of the audience.
A vibrant set co-ordinated by Charles Petersen, with lighting by Shamiel Abrahams, explored the strong lines of rich Medieval and Turkish tradition to create striking backgrounds for the contrasting seas of colour and texture provided by the lively ensembles, lavish pas de deux, and the sensational solos.
Anchoring the evening was the precision of Laura Bosenberg in her portrayal of the female lead. Bosenberg’s expressive dancing, and in particular her detailed footwork, remained unrivalled, though was well complemented by the agility of both Weyershausen and Schoonraad.
As a ballet, Petipa’s Raymonda holds strong despite its ambiguous character development and roaming plot. Although argued by some as too elaborate, the ballet is laced together in such a way that gives prominence to the talent of soloists instead of upholding a theme that might divert attention away from technical ability. And with a plethora of visiting artists playing the lead roles (including Hikaru Kobayashi and Valeri Hristov of the Royal Ballet) Cape Town appears to have been awash with exceptional soloists recently.
Pooling all this talent with Glazunov’s score performed live by the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, it was no surprise to overhear the occasional audience member’s “God, it’s so good eh? Oi!” This was a performance that will linger long in the memory.
by Christina Scholtz
Raymonda ran 24 August – 1 September 2012 at the Artscape Opera House.
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