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 of spring season at the Met, fans of the Russian choreographer will have had the opportunity to watch no less than 8 of his works: 2 full-length ballets (his very retro take on The Sleeping Beauty, and the quirky dramedy 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 being the aforementioned Symposium, receiving its world premiere. A veritable festival of #Ratmanskyness.
With a starry 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 soloists (from corps members like Gabe Stone Shayer and Calvin Royal, all across the company ranks) to 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 encomium in Plato speak. Here and there, we notice soft, almost feminine choreography (male dancers in bourrées 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” Diotima. As with 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 amazing Stella Abrera and Cory Stearns. Here we have Ratmansky using the same bag of references as in The Little Humpbacked Horse, but with a nod to German expressionism. As the entrance of the Kaschei shows – a scene right out of Nosferatu or M. (think “light and 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, the confrontation between the four leads. However, by the time the princesses shed their mossy green skins, as a result of their spell being broken, I was ready to cheer yet another keeper from the master.
The following night, I was happy to revisit 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 pieces as the “tortured artist”. But in truth, I missed watching David Hallberg tear himself 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 see Xander Parish‘s name there too), so we can 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 winning form. It’s good to have Alexei on your team.
Here’s where to catch your next Ratmansky ballet:
- New York City: The Sleeping Beauty (ABT, Metropolitan Opera House, 27 June – 2 July)
- Paris: Pictures at an Exhibition (NYCB, Théâtre du Châtelet, 7, 11, 15, 16 July), The Sleeping Beauty (ABT, Opera Bastille, 2-10 September)
- Los Angeles: Symphony No. 9, The Firebird, Symposium (ABT, Performing Arts Centre, 8-10 July)
- Moscow: The Bright Stream (Bolshoi, Bolshoi Theatre New Stage, 15-17 July)
- London: Cinderella (Australian Ballet at the Coliseum, 20-23 July), The Flames of Paris (Bolshoi at ROH, 5-6 August), Le Corsaire (Bolshoi at ROH, 11-13 August)