A New Tempest for ABT

Marcelo Gomes and Daniil Simkin in "The Tempest." Photo by Andrea Mohin.
Marcelo Gomes and Daniil Simkin in “The Tempest.” Photo by Andrea Mohin.

Alexei Ratmansky’s new Tempest premièred at American Ballet Theatre’s fall gala, held at the old State Theatre. Because of the departure (and now closure) of New York City Opera, the theatre is now becoming a magnet for dance companies. ABT is appearing there for the first time since the seventies, and it looks quite at home on its stage. It’s a great space for dance, with excellent site lines.

Anyway, the program consisted of of three works: Balanchine’s Theme and Variations, The Tempest, and a trifle by Marcelo Gomes. Here’s my review for DanceTabs.

And a short excerpt: “As the note in the program points out, ‘the ballet is at once a fragmented narrative as well as a meditation on some of the themes of Shakespeare’s play.’ It is both those things, but even more, it is a series of psychological portraits of its central characters. Each (Miranda, Ariel, Caliban, Ferdinand) dances a kind of aria. Most also have a duet with Prospero; he is the hub of the play’s network of relationships.”

Susan Jones, or, the Art of the Ballet Mistress

Susan Jones cooaching "Paquita."
Susan Jones cooaching “Paquita.”

Here’s my interview with Susan Jones, a ballet mistress at American Ballet Theatre in charge of the corps de ballet. Jones joined ABT in 1970 and stayed for nine years. In that time, she danced every corps role in the rep, plus Lizzie in Fall River Legend, Cowgirl in Rodeo, and a few other choice parts that suited her dramatic side. She quickly showed a skill for remembering steps, which became handy when working with Twyla Tharp on Push Comes to Shove. Baryshnikov made her a ballet mistress, and she never left. This fall, she is re-staging Tharp’s Bach Partita, which hasn’t been done for almost thirty years.

MacArthur fellowships for Kyle Abraham and Alexei Ratmansky

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!

Alexei Ratmansky’s “Shostakovich Trilogy”

Diana Vishneva and Cory Stearns in "Piano Concerto," the third section of the "Shostakovich Trilogy." Photo by Gene Schiavone.
Diana Vishneva and Cory Stearns in “Piano Concerto,” the third section of the “Shostakovich Trilogy.” Photo by Gene Schiavone.

This ambitious new tripartite ballet, set to two symphonies and a piano concerto, all by Shostakovich, had its première at ABT over the weekend. It’s a fine work, sprawling and intense, abstract and full of stories and vivid stage pictures. An huge gift to the company, which shows itself in superb form. Here’s my review for DanceTabs.

And a short excerpt:

“What is most remarkable about the Trilogy is its range, combined with the interweaving of elements from one ballet to the next. Here is a world, Shostakovich’s world as seen by Ratmansky. Each piece has a distinct character, and yet the three clearly come from the same mind, and echo each other in various ways.”

And another striking image:


Part of the final tableau in "Chamber Symphony," the second part of Ratmansky's trilogy. Photo by Gene Schiavone.
Part of the final tableau in “Chamber Symphony,” the second part of Ratmansky’s trilogy. Photo by Gene Schiavone.