It’s a great time to be a ballet fan in New York right now. And an even better time to be a Ratmansky fan. By the end ofÂ spring season at the Met, fans of the Russian choreographer will have hadÂ the opportunity to watchÂ no less than 8 of his works: 2 full-length ballets (his very retro take onÂ The Sleeping Beauty,Â and the quirky dramedyÂ The Golden Cockerel), 2 triple bills (the Shostakovich Trilogy, plus a mixed programme consisting of Seven Sonatas, The Firebird and Serenade after Plato’s Symposium). At the Spring Gala alone, which I attended on 16 May, there were 2 full Ratmanskys to savour, one beingÂ the aforementioned Symposium, receivingÂ its world premiere. A veritable festival of #Ratmanskyness.
With a starryÂ line-up that included principals Marcelo Gomes, Daniil Simkin, James Whiteside and Herman Cornejo, Symposium achieves an almost impossible task: it’s a ballet about philosophy that is fun to watch. Using the unique abilities of each of his dancers to full effect, this semi-narrative piece tells us not only about platonic love, it also shows Ratmansky entirely at home at ABT, working with a variety of soloistsÂ (from corps members like Gabe Stone Shayer and Calvin Royal, all across the company ranks) toÂ draw out their very best. The overall tone of Symposium is one of harmony, not only with Bernstein’s dramatic score (it’s a “see the music” type of ballet), but with the cast itself.
The dancers interact throughout the various movements, each dancing a “speech”, or encomiumÂ in Plato speak. Here and there, we notice soft, almost feminine choreography (male dancers inÂ bourrÃ©es across the stage), with virtuosic highlights and a central pas de deux that is superbly danced by sacred monster Marcelo Gomes (perhaps representing Socrates?) and Devon Teuscher in the role of the “priestess”Â Diotima. As withÂ most of Ratmansky’s duets, there are no moments of contorted, laboured partnering: even high lifts are fluid and musical. In particular, I think this piece is a fascinating contrast to Wayne McGregor‘s brand new Obsidian Tear, a no less effective one-act ballet with similar ideas, design, and effect (minimalist, men in draperies, male dancing with a quasi-feminine edge), but where the narrative seems to be one of conflict. These two pieces would look great in a double bill.
The same gala evening closed with a revival of Ratmansky’s The Firebird, headed by Misty Copeland, Marcelo again (surely, the evening’s MVP), the amazingÂ Stella Abrera and Cory Stearns. Here we have Ratmansky using the same bag of references as inÂ The Little Humpbacked Horse, but with a nod toÂ German expressionism. As the entrance of theÂ KascheiÂ shows – a scene right out of Nosferatu or M. (think “light andÂ shadows”) – this is a much darker ballet, and Cory Stearns delivers a show-stealing performance as the villain. Sliding ominously across the stage and puffing opiates into our hero Ivan’s face, he has everyone around him in a daze, and poor Ivan needs all the help he can get from the Firebird to break the Kaschei’s spell. Sure, the Firebird could be improved: we need more choreography for the wonderful Misty (more “infernal dance” in particular) and more development in the “pas de quatre”, that is, theÂ confrontation between the four leads. However, by the timeÂ the princesses shed their mossy green skins, as a result of their spell being broken, I was ready to cheerÂ yet anotherÂ keeper from the master.
The following night, I was happy to revisitÂ the beloved “Shosty Symphony”, this time with a different cast. I was looking forward to a second viewing of Chamber Symphony, especially because principal James Whiteside had been very impressive in Symposium. Whiteside is a tall, powerful dancer, yet he managed to crumble into piecesÂ as the “tortured artist”. But in truth, I missed watching David Hallberg tear himselfÂ out in this role, as it suits his “intense persona” so well. Hallberg’s name is still listed on ABT’s programmes (and by the way, what a pleasure to seeÂ Xander Parish‘s name there too), so we canÂ hope for his return to the stage. In the fizzing Piano Concerto, I marvelled at the speed of Masha Kochetkova and Daniil Simkin (how well-matched are these two!) alongside Stearns and Shevchenko, but across these 2 days of ABT immersion, the impression one gets is that the whole company is on winningÂ form. It’s good to haveÂ Alexei on yourÂ team.
Here’s where to catch your next Ratmansky ballet:
- New York City:Â TheÂ Sleeping Beauty (ABT, Metropolitan Opera House, 27 June – 2 July)
- Paris: Pictures at an Exhibition (NYCB, ThÃ©Ã¢tre du ChÃ¢telet, 7, 11, 15, 16 July), TheÂ Sleeping Beauty (ABT, Opera Bastille, 2-10 September)
- Los Angeles: Symphony No. 9, The Firebird, SymposiumÂ (ABT, Performing Arts Centre, 8-10 July)
- Moscow: The Bright Stream (Bolshoi, Bolshoi TheatreÂ New Stage, 15-17 July)
- London: Cinderella (Australian Ballet at theÂ Coliseum, 20-23 July), The Flames of Paris (Bolshoi at ROH, 5-6 August), Le Corsaire (Bolshoi at ROH, 11-13 August)