(photo by Nicole Bengiveno, from NYTimes)
Hmmm, this is turning out to be a bit of a drama. NYTimes chief Sir Alastair weighs in on Alexei Ratmansky’s joining ABT, as does Apollinaire Scherr, who points to this piece of commentary, one of the most interesting in my opinion, by Robert Johnson in the New Jersey Star Ledger.
Johnson is the first critic I’ve read who’s not head over heels in love with the choreographer, but one of his reasons for so being is that he seems to think Ratmansky has somewhat of a Communist streak. He says that during his directorship of the Bolshoi, Ratmansky tried to revive the company, suffering in the wake of Perestroika, by re-staging some successful Soviet-era ballets. Johnson asks what “red eminence” this programming might have. Ratmansky’s own work “Bright Stream,” set to music by Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovitch, and praised by many dance critics here (the ballet, that is, was praised, not Shostakovitch), Johnson calls “a disingenuous frolic on a Soviet collective farm,” then interprets Ratmansky’s latest “Concerto DSCH” which recently premiered at the New York City Ballet as a mockery of Imperial Russia, with Soviet revival style triumphing.
I unfortunately haven’t seen “Bright Stream” or any of these other Soviet era ballets, but of course am now dying to. I did see “Concerto DSCH” and didn’t interpret it at all the way Johnson does.
But, even if you can attribute these underlying, subconscious politicized ideas to the choreographer, which is a huge if, so what? Can’t someone critique the Imperial period without being considered pro-Stalinist? (Johnson reminds of the bloody atrocities committed by the Soviet regime) Has anyone ever seen Peterhof? It looks just like Versailles. Your first thought is, whoa, look at all this opulence, no wonder there was a rebellion. But in any event, can an aesthetic critique be interpreted as a political critique? I personally think not, but even if so, is this reason for threat? Aren’t we post-Cold War now?
I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but I found that part of the article a bit shocking in a McCarthyist kind of way. But I do have to say, I applaud Johnson for resisting herd mentality and offering the first real Ratmansky criticism. (He does have more bases for criticism; this is just the one that seemed most prominent to me. And, by reading James Wolcott, Laura Jacobs seems critical as well — I’ve got to get a subscription to the New Criterion!) In the end, I do have to say, with all I’ve read on Ratmansky this past week, Johnson most makes me want to run out and see everything I can by the man…
(photo by Jennifer Taylor, of “Bright Stream” from NYTimes)
Oh and, somewhat apropos of the critics jumping on the bandwagon thing, I just want to point people to an interesting discussion, begun by Claudia La Rocco (who is so awesome to comment here ) on fans versus critics down in the comments section of this post.