Ratmansky Unplugged

14ratmanksy2_span-articlelargeLast week, the choreographer Alexei Ratmansky sat down with Paul Holdengraber of the New York Public Library for an extended conversation about his influences, interests, taste, ideas about ballet, and a million other things. There is an audio file of the conversation on the NYPL’s website. If you’re interested in ballet, it’s essential listening.

The NYPL talk made me think of the various interviews I’ve had with Ratmansky while preparing articles on his Shostakovich Trilogy and his first season as ABT’s choreographer in residence. I put together some of his comments  for DanceTabs last year.

Benois Dixit

The Benois de la Danse winners have been announced. They are: Herman Cornejo, Polina Semionova, Alexei Ratmansky, Mariko Kida (whom I don’t know), and Brigitte Lefevre. All eminently worthy. Fie on those who announce the demise of ballet! And many, many more good things to come.

Nuts

Misty Copeland as Columbine. Photo by Gene Schiavone.
Misty Copeland as Columbine. Photo by Gene Schiavone.

I can’t say how sorry I am to hear that Alexei Ratmansky’s Nutcracker will not return to Brooklyn Academy of Music after this year. It’s such an imaginative, whimsical, and ultimately touching production. The person I went with this year cried at the end, when little Clara wakes up in her bed and reaches for the Nutcracker boy, only to have him disappear, just beyond her reach. “It’s just so sad,” she said when I asked her what had made her so blue. And it is. The confusion we feel just as childhood slips away from us is our first experience of loss, our first intimation of the limitations of life, of death’s presence just beyond the scene.

I’ve always been moved by another moment in the ballet, when the Nutcracker boy is pushed to the floor during the party scene and Clara first feels a rush of empathy toward him. Only she, among the “real” characters, can see his suffering, and she drags him, with great effort—he is as big as she is—to a chair to take care of him. But before she does, the toys—Columbine and Harlequin and the be-turbaned Canteen Keeper—return to help their fallen brother. He’s one of them, you see.

The Nutcracker boy later returns the favor, in the snow scene. He revives Clara, desperately, when she nearly dies of cold. The scene is echoed in last year’s Shostakovich Trilogy, when, in the fourth movement of Symphony No. 9, the central female character places her hands on her partner’s body, as if to discover the place from which he is bleeding, to protect him. These stolen moments of human concern are one of the things I love  most about Ratmansky’s choreography and what, I think, distinguishes him from the crowd.

Last year I saw three traditional Nutcrackers, including Ratmansky’s. Here’s what I wrote then.

And here is a piece in the Times about ABT’s decision to take its Nutcracker on the road.

The Long Goodbye

Jenifer Ringer as the cigarette girl in Ratmansky's "Namouna." Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Jenifer Ringer as the cigarette girl in Ratmansky’s “Namouna.” Photo by Paul Kolnik.

It was just announced that four principals will be retiring from New York City Ballet next winter and spring. I’m especially sad to see Jenifer Ringer go. She hasn’t danced much lately–she’s been busy with her two children–and she’s been missed. Ringer was one of the first dancers I fell in love with, unsurprising since she is a particularly warm, welcoming presence onstage. She seemed to me to represent something essential to American dancers: a kind of easy-going naturalness, musicality, and sense of freedom. She is always herself onstage. I’ve loved her in so many ballets, including as Sugarplum in Nutcracker, in which she exuded beauty and almost maternal warmth. She was the essence of femininity and interiority in Emeralds and Dances at a Gathering. And she could be  sophisticated too, as when she danced the fabulous role of the cigarette girl in Ratmansky’s Namouna (see above). And then there was Liebeslieder, most especially the duet in which the woman slowly slides her leg along the floor beneath her dress, and miraculously rises up, like a ship on the seas, then floats down again. I’ll never forget watching Violette Verdy at a public coaching of Liebeslieder with Ringer and Jared Angle; after the pas de deux, Verdy said only: “how lovely.” I’ll be at her farewell performance, on Feb. 9, and I’m sure I’ll shed a tear or two.

MacArthur fellowships for Kyle Abraham and Alexei Ratmansky

reatmanskyssimonschluter
Photo by Simon Schluter for theage.com.au

It was just announced that two choreographers, Kyle Abraham and Alexei Ratmansky, have won MacArthur fellowships. Congratulations to both!

It’s no secret that I think Ratmansky is one of the most quietly innovative choreographers working today, breathing new life into ballet without making grand pronouncements about his intentions. Mainly he revitalizes by doing, by taking history into account while also taking stock of the present, and making the language of ballet seem new and fresh and of our time. Dancers who work with him become more connected to the music, and to their own imaginations. The music he uses opens up and reveals new secrets. In his dances there is space for humor, classicism, vulgarity, warmth, loneliness, despair.

I’ve been excited about Ratmansky from the beginning and have written about his work several times since his arrival in NYC. In 2009, when he had just been named choreographer in residence at ABT, I wrote this piece, “Ratmansky Takes Manhattan,” for The Nation. Earlier this year, I wrote a long piece about the making of his recent Shostakovich Trilogy, also for The Nation, “Running Like Shadows.”  In 2011, when ABT first performed The Bright Stream, I did a little essay on the ballet’s history for Playbill. A few of the outtakes from several interviews appeared in this cumulative q&a in DanceTabs, “Balletic Musings, a Continuing Conversation,” in August.

Needless to say, the MacArthur is great news. Dance is back. Congratulations to both!

Shostakovich Dances

pc1vishnevastearns1gsOver the course of several months, I sat in on the rehearsals as the choreographer Alexei Ratmansky made his new “Shostakovich Trilogy” for American Ballet Theatre. I was struck by the choreographer’s deep engagement with Shostakovich’s musical style, his inner world, and the ideas and experimentation of early Soviet dance. The more I learned about Shostakovich and his times, the more the work seemed to reflect essential qualities of the music. I wrote about this in an essay for The Nation, “Running Like Shadows,” which came out today.

And here is my review of the Trilogy, for DanceTabs.

I’d love to hear your impressions and comments.