Maia Makhateli
Photo: Marc Haegeman

‘A fantastic addition to Dutch National Ballet's repertoire’

8 March 2023
  • From 9 December to 1 January, Raymonda is back at Dutch National Opera & Ballet with again Maia Makhateli, Young Gyu Choi, Olga Smirnova and Giorgi Potskhisvili, among others!

Text: Astrid van Leeuwen, Rosalie Overing, Lune Visser

In 2022, Rachel Beaujean’s new production of Raymonda was internationally labelled ‘best production of the year’. The ballet received no fewer than three mentions in Dance Europe's annual Critics’ Choice. The leading British magazine also gave honourable mentions to four Dutch National Ballet dancers, in the categories ‘Outstanding performance by a female dancer’ and ‘Outstanding performance by a male dancer’. Rachel Beaujean and dancers Maia Makhateli, Young Gyu Choi, Olga Smirnova and Giorgi Potskishvili talk about their experiences of this ballet classic.

Rachel Beaujean – production and additional choreography
“Looking back, all I can say is that the creation process of Raymonda was one of the happiest periods of my life. Especially as I learned such a lot from it myself, because of all the research I had to do. Moreover, I regard cherishing the great classics as a personal mission. If you want to help develop the art of ballet, then you just can’t ignore that incredibly rich Russian tradition and that gigantic artistic heritage. However, you’re dealing with a vulnerable art form. Presenting the nineteenth-century ballets at top level demands huge expertise, lots of money and undying devotion from the dancers.”

Maia Makhateli – danced the role of Raymonda
“Day and night in the studio, countless rehearsals and perfecting even the smallest movements down to the last detail; preparing for a role like Raymonda is a task that’s never actually finished. It’s a true ballerina role, which demands great strength and experience. That was already the case in the original ballet, but because the story has changed in Rachel’s Raymonda, we’ve had to add even more choreography. It was very special to dance this main role, also because it was my first encounter with the ballet – I’d never even seen a live performance of Raymonda before! But I embraced the challenge, and in the end, my first experience of it could not have been better.”

Young Gyu Choi – danced the role of Abd al-Rahman
Raymonda is very special to me. I was involved right from the start, and I could watch – and experience – how the production was created. The role of Abd al-Rahman is multifaceted. For some dancing roles, you only need to show one side of a character, but in Rachel’s new story I had to portray someone who was both tough and loving. That makes the role a very interesting one. How do you portray a strong fighter and a tender romantic at the same time? In general, I’m extremely proud of what we achieved, and I’m already looking forward to the revival!”

‘My first experience of Raymonda could not have been better’

Olga Smirnova – danced the role of Raymonda
“One of the biggest challenges in dancing the role of Raymonda is to give a different character to each variation (a dance fragment performed by a principal or soloist – ed.). Raymonda’s personality develops throughout the ballet, so the variations have to reflect her evolving emotions and inner conflicts. I think it’s really clever how Rachel has succeeded in adapting this ballet to the values of our modern society without losing the purity of the traditional dance steps – for example, the choreographic wealth and beauty of the final wedding act in Hungarian style. It’s meant that this new Raymonda has become a fantastic addition to Dutch National Ballet’s repertoire. And in my opinion, its creation marks a very important event in Dutch cultural history.”

Giorgi Potskhishvili – danced the role of Abd al-Rahman
“I’d always dreamed of dancing a role like this. I wasn’t actually nervous before my first performance. I was well prepared and I focused on the last tip from my ballet master: ‘Just enjoy’. Because if you enjoy dancing, then the audience will enjoy you. It was only later on that I fully realised what I’d experienced. In spite of my young age, I’d just performed a leading role and presented a very special production – along with the whole company. That’s also something I think is really great about this production of Raymonda: there’s room for everyone, not just the principals. Every dancer gets the chance to show themselves, and in my opinion they did so with great verve.”

  • Raymonda returns in season 2023-2024! From 9 December to 1 January at Dutch National Opera & Ballet