Interview with Rachel Beaujean and Grigori Tchitcherine
In the sixty years of its existence, Dutch National Ballet has presented its own distinctive interpretations of nearly all the great ballet classics, with one notable exception: Raymonda, the last masterpiece created by Marius Petipa. Rachel Beaujean and Grigori Tchitcherine delved into the history of this legendary ballet, which will be the crown jewel of this anniversary season – in a brand-new version by Beaujean.
Their introductions to Raymonda were totally different. Rachel Beaujean was already an acclaimed dancer when she first saw a video of the ballet, which for a long time was hardly ever seen in the West. Whereas Grigori Tchitcherine, as a student of the famous Vaganova Academy in St Petersburg, was practically brought up on Raymonda. At the age of eleven, he already danced in the the Arabian boys’ dance in the production by the Mariinsky Ballet.
But they are in complete agreement about the importance of Petipa’s last great masterpiece. Beaujean says, “The solo variations, the Pas d’Action, the stylised folk dances; they’re all incredibly beautiful.” Tchitcherine adds, “And everything is so superbly interwoven. Raymonda is unique in that respect. The character dances in Act 2 are not all lumped together in one divertissement, like in Nutcracker, for example, but form a real entity with the purely classical sections.”
They’ve been researching the history of Raymonda for two years now. Beaujean laughs, “Pianist and musical adviser Olga Khoziainova put it nicely: ‘I’ve been carrying this child for two years already’.”
At first, it seemed essential to look at the original notation of Petipa’s ballet from 1898 – made by Vladimir Stepanov and kept in the archives of Harvard University. Beaujean says, “The Stepanov notations are always spoken of highly and many choreographers say they’ve used them, but I think it’s mainly a publicity stunt.” Tchitcherine says, “Stepanov’s notes are very summary and consist mostly of just a few lines and arrows. At best, you can make out where the dancers were on the stage, but not what the choreography looked like or what style it was.”
‘Ballet is a living art form, so you have to make adjustments to the dynamics, tempo and virtuosity’
Living art form
Eventually, they concluded that the choreography still performed by the Mariinsky Ballet (where Tchitcherine danced for five years) is probably closest to Petipa’s original. Beaujean says, “So that’s our starting point.” Tchitcherine adds, “Although nobody can say for certain which sections are by Petipa and which by Konstantin Sergeyev, who adapted the production for the Mariinsky in 1948.”
It is anyway not their intention to make a faithful reconstruction. Beaujean says, “Ballet is a living art form, so you have to make adjustments to the dynamics, tempo and virtuosity, otherwise today’s audiences would be bored out of their minds.” Tchitcherine agrees, “Presenting ballet as it was in Petipa’s day is like going back to silent movies.”
Beaujean is making radical changes to the storyline as well. She feels encouraged to do so by the fact that Petipa and the composer, Alexander Glazunov, were not happy themselves with the original libretto and made changes to it. “The steps Petipa choreographed for Raymonda are absolute jewels. But director Ted Brandsen and I agree that these jewels need to be placed in a crown and setting that are relevant to today.”
Text: Astrid van Leeuwen