As everyone has heard by now, Natalia Osipova has joined the Royal Ballet as a principal artist. She’ll be splitting her time between that company, American Ballet Theatre, and the Mikhailovsky (as well as a million other freelance gigs, I’m sure). Here is an interesting piece by Ismene Brown of the Arts Desk on the ins-and-outs of the deal.
Here’s a short excerpt:
“Kommersant reports that ABT’s director Kevin McKenzie has reacted with anger to the news of her Royal Ballet contract…..Her agent told Kuznetsova, ‘I did managed to discuss the new situation with Kevin McKenzie, and he did not hide his frustration, as the spring season in London coincides with New York, but this is a new reality that will have to be dealt with somehow. It is difficult to say how it will be settled, but the fact remains that there are conflicting interests, and we will hope for the wisdom of the leaders of the two companies to settle it.'”
Her frequent partner, Ivan Vasiliev, is not part of the deal; he’ll continue as a principal at ABT and at the Mikhailovsky and, one assumes, a frequent visitor at the Royal Ballet as well.
The New York Times has announced that American Ballet Theatre will engage in dancer exchanges with London’s Royal Ballet and the Royal Danish Ballet. An intriguing prospect. Two of ABT’s most promising young dancers, Isabella Boylston and Cory Stearns, will take part. Boylston, who recently had a very auspicious début in “Swan Lake,” will perform in RDB’s Nutcracker next December, and Cory Stearns will go to the Royal Ballet, where he was once a student. (Stearns, a handsome, tall dancer—and excellent partner—has danced roles by Ashton, like Oberon in “The Dream,” with some distinction.) In return, ABT will get Steven McRae, a prized principal in London, and the very promising young Alban Lendorf from Copenhagen. McRae gave a scintillating performance at Fall For Dance in New York two years ago; from that, and several sightings at screenings from the Royal, I can say that he seems like a very exciting dancer indeed: quick, a bit cheeky, noble when he needs to be, and full of wit. (He was excellent in a screening of Ashton’s La Fille Mal Gardée last year.) He will dance the role of Lankendem in Le Corsaire at ABT next spring at the Met. Not a terribly interesting role, I should think, though it must be said that the company will be presenting a new production of Corsaire this year; I wonder if he’ll be in the same cast as Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev? Lendorf, prized for his buoyant jump and affable demeanor, will dance Prince Désiré in Sleeping Beauty, also during the Met season. It is hard not to think that such exchanges are a way to discourage defections, which seem to be on the rise within the ballet world. Keep the dancers happy, help them grow, but also offer the audience new faces and a reason to come back to see ballets they’ve seen a million times already. Something for everyone, except of course for the younger dancers who might want to get a stab at the big roles. Nothing new there.
This one is from Ratmansky’s version at ABT. Last night, Hee Seo and Cory Stearns danced the roles of “Clara, the Princess” and “Nutcracker, the Prince,” i.e. the adult avatars of Clara and her Nutcracker doll. I must say, each time I see this version, I like it more. Last night (Dec. 13) it looked tighter than ever, which is important in a production with so much detail. I still feel the stage of the Howard Gilman Opera House is a bit small and can look over-crowded at times (as in the party scene), but as the company settles into the intricate choreography (and relaxes into the acting, of which there is quite a lot), the ballet just gets richer and its intentions become more clear. The children’s individual personalities begin to shine through, and one notices all sorts of goings-on: last night I was amused by a little scene of flirtation going on by the staircase while the children opened their presents, as Vitali Krauchenka chatted up Katherine Williams, who kept bashfully looking down at her lap. I’m always amused by the fact that after the men get up from dinner, they are a little drunk, their hair disheveled. Last night, the snowflakes were right on the music, producing that special thrill when music and steps seem to come from the same impulse. The same goes for the three Russians (Mikhail Ilyin, Arron Scott, and Craig Salstein), who have honed their comical Russian Dance to a perfect “bit,” cutting their antics short just in time to take off into a series of repeated jumps that seem to say, “ta-da!” just as the music does. And talking about about timing, Roman Zhurbin’s is a thing of beauty; he can tell you everything you need to know about Drosselmeyer by the extra time he takes to embrace Clara, but also by the pacing of his entrance. Nothing is rushed or overly theatrical. And it helps that he moves like a dancer; his acting has elegance of shape and stillness when it is needed.
I’ve fallen completely in love with the dance for the Polichinelles; the kids do a kind of rocking saunter, then drop to the ground and crawl back through each other’s legs; then they hop from side to side with one leg in attitude. It’s so simple, but it works. The Waltz of the Flowers is still hopeless; the flowers do so little dancing, and the four bees prancing on the melody are simply not funny, nor does the whole “funny” concept fit the mood. Maybe one day Ratmansky will change it?
But all is forgotten once the final pas de deux begins. The two children face their adult manifestations but they don’t see each other. Each couple holds hands. The children slowly walk into an opening at the back of the stage, and the adults dance an emotional pas de deux; the heart catches. It’s also and extremely hard pas de deux, requiring lots of strength, enormous endurance, and some bravery (as when the man swings the ballerina around with her leg out to the side and just hopes that she’ll stay up). Last night, Seo and Stearns had a few flubs, but the feeling was right. A joy laced with awe and even a touch of sadness. Seo was luminous; Stearns looked at her with a love-smitten smile, as if assuring her that even if things did not go seamlessly, he would be there. And he was. It wasn’t perfect, but it was moving.
Seeing Balanchine and Ratmansky’s Nutcrackers back-to-back, one can’t help but compare their two. Yes, both are filled with tenderness and magic, but the overall style and approach could not be more different. Beneath the surface jollity, Balanchine’s Nutcracker is, unsurprisingly, much more formal. More of the story is conveyed in pure dance terms. Except, when it isn’t. In fact, the emotional heart of his ballet, I realized the other day, contains no dancing at all. And it is set to music from another ballet, the entr’acte from Sleeping Beauty. This yearning violin melody takes you straight to the heart of the story: a little girl encountering her first powerful emotions, which are a mystery even to her. She runs out, tiny feet flickering under her white nightgown, clutches the Nutcracker doll to her heart, and falls asleep on a couch in the cold living-room. From then on, all is mystery and magic.
Alexei Ratmansky’s Nutcracker for American Ballet Theatre is less radical in its design (he does not alter the order of the music at all), and at the same time more layered and fussy. His is not a pared-down sensibility. (In the same vein, Richard Hudson’s designs are also loudly-colored and voluminous.) The ballet’s power lies in details, images that seem to come straight from the heart and to tap into a limitless reserve of memories. Little scenes like a private moment shared by the family’s two maids after the Christmas party; they titter and gently mock the dancing of the guests, but then stop to clean up a spot on the floor. Or the way Clara suffers when her brother Fritz shoves the Nutcracker to the floor; she drags the life-size doll to safety, pulling with all her strength, alone in her private struggle. (The other toys come to the rescue, but run off as soon as they see her.) Ratmansky’s imagination teems with little stories that illuminate the ballet’s throwaway moments, especially in the stronger first act. Columbine and Harlequin’s little commedia dell’arte romance for the gathered guests is a jewel of dance theatre. As is the little courtship ritual for Sugarplum’s attendants at the beginning of the second act—they approach each other shyly, run away, gather up their courage again, bow, giggle, and walk off in pairs with nervous formality.
There is no coup de théâtre in ABT’s productionequivalent to Balanchine’s awe-inspiring tree, or the sudden replacement of reality with abstraction that precedes the battle of the toy soldiers. Ratmansky’s transformation is more domestic, more tame; the tree is a disappointment. His battle, however, is terribly clever, with lines breaking and re-constituting themselves in different permutations. (Another touching detail: the toy soldiers quake with fear when they are overrun by the mice. They don’t want to die. They have souls.) Similarly, the Snowflake Waltz is a dizzying maelstrom of shifting patterns, sharpened by a frightening malevolence. The doubling of Clara and the Nutcracker Prince with adult versions of themselves is a powerful idea; the children see themselves in the future, and the two couples dance together, sharing a stage but divided by expanses of time. However the adult pas de deux at the end of the first act is rather amorphous, with the exception of a striking moment in which the male dancer turns and turns with the ballerina on his shoulders. Not so the rapturous pas de deux at the end of the ballet, which bubbles over with emotion; the adult Clara, especially, uses her torso and shoulders with great eloquence. Exciting turns morph into lifts. The choreography is quite challenging, and not all the dancers can pull it off. (Ratmansky likes to push his dancers.) Perhaps it’s a bit over-literal to finish the ballet with a wedding, like the end of Sleeping Beauty. Ratmansky’s girl-woman is a universe away from Balanchine’s poised Sugarplum, who is less a woman than a symbol of womanly poise and grandeur. Ratmansky’s view is humbler, more human.
There are imperfections in the ABT Nutcracker: More of the music in the first act could be used for dancing; the Spanish dance in the second act is uninspired and engulfed in taffeta; and it seems a shame to have the women in the Waltz of the Flowers merely frame the action, most of which goes to a group of male bees. It’s a funny conceit, but the music demands more, with its melodic waves catching in the throat like sobs. Tchaikovsky buried a private drama in the petals of a pretty waltz, but you don’t see it here. But, on the other hand, there is the adorable Chinese dance, a frisky pas de deux that ends with a Charleston, and the delicious dance of the Mirlitons with their top hats, doing dainty tendus and gliding forward in a funny sliding walk that looks like something out of Alice in Wonderland. And the tiny polichinelles! They skip and kick and form a snaking conga line, bobbing their heads, and then drop to the floor and slide back between each other’s legs. The entire company looks engaged, challenged, and happy. It’s not a perfect Nutcracker, but when it’s good, it’s really really good.
In Alexei Ratmansky’s new “Nutcracker”, now in its third season, the heroine (Clara) is not quite a little girl, more like a pre-teen. Because of this, her feelings for the Nutcracker and his human incarnation are, well, complicated. When he collapses after his battle with the Mouse King, she tends to him with great seriousness, as an adult would, but moments later, there they are, throwing snowballs at each other like kids. Conversely, in her pas de deux, the adult ballerina who represents Clara’s future self, cries like a little girl. The little girl never quite disappears. As in Tachikovsky’s sumptuous, deceptively sunny score, turbulent emotions lie just below the surface. Growing up is hard—loss lurks at every corner. But, like Tchaikovsky, Ratmansky has the good sense to fold this somber message into a sparkling, delightful package, filled with children and lush, imaginative choreography.
(Photo by Andrea Mohin for the NYTimes. Dancers: Marcelo Gomes and Veronika Part.)
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that “American Ballet Theatre will announce Wednesday that it has signed a three-year deal to perform at the David H. Koch Theater, starting in October 2013 with a two-week season.”
That means the end of City Center seasons, though the decision won’t affect the Met season or the Nutcracker run at BAM. Still, it’s a big change. More fallout from City Opera’s desertion of Lincoln Center.
The première of Ratmansky’s new “Symphony #9,” set to Shostakovich, was one of those moments when, within seconds, you know you are in for a wild ride. Like much of his work, it’s witty, grand in design, and full of detail. It’s also an impressive vehicle for the dancers—they look absolutely radiant and extraordinary in it. Especially Herman Cornejo; I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him pushed so far. What more can a dancer ask for?
“Wisely, Ratmansky hasn’t given Cornejo a partner, the better to show off the musicality of his dancing, the stretch of his legs in the air, the way his body reveals the shifts in dynamics and the melodic line. In the final movement Ratmansky pushes him even further: Cornejo seems to be moving faster than is humanly possible. If it doesn’t kill him, it will place him on the Mount Olympus of male bravura.”