The ENB director has pulled the story forward to the Crimean war, based the female lead on Florence Nightingale – and adapted the choreography for today’s more slender dancers
When people talk about modernising classic ballets, it usually means taking popular stories and creating new steps for them. But Tamara Rojo is trying the opposite. In her first creation for English National Ballet, Raymonda, she’s keeping the original steps and rewriting the story, turning an 1898 ballet set in the Crusades into a new production inspired by Florence Nightingale and the Crimean war.
Rojo’s brainwave solves two problems that pop up when it comes to restaging older works. First, scenarios that have gone stale, sometimes peppered with casual sexism and racism – the original Raymonda is a young woman, engaged to a knight, who is pursued and kidnapped by an offensively cliched Arab baddie. Second, if you always reinvent the steps, you lose the “text” of the ballet itself, the very basis of the art form.