DAY OF THE UNEXPECTED: AN OPERA WHOSE CHARACTERS ARE SMELLS & A TUDOR-ESQUE STORY BALLET BY RATMANSKY

I had a crazy day. This afternoon I went to the Guggenheim to see this new ScentOpera — an opera told entirely through music and smell (each seat had a little microphone that blew the scents into your face) — which I’ll write about soon. Suffice it to say it was very interesting and I think Nico Muhly has found his niche: composing for smell — because, unlike with dance, his music most definitely did not overpower these whiffs at all, at least not as created by perfumier Christophe Laudamiel. I nearly passed out from “Funky Green Impostor.”

Anyway, more about that soon.

Tonight was the premiere of ABT‘s new resident artist Alexei Ratmansky’s first ballet for the company — a night for which many have been waiting ever so eagerly. For those not up on the ballet-world gossip: Mr. Ratmansky (from the Ukraine, and former artistic director of the Bolshoi) initially was rumored to be contemplating taking the resident choreographer position at NYCB. Then he didn’t and everyone was depressed because Christopher Wheeldon was leaving to start his own company and everyone really liked Ratmansky and wanted to see more of his work stateside. Then, next thing everyone hears is that he’s accepted the same from ABT, making everyone happy but confused — NYCB is known for being more daring and contemporary in its repertoire; ABT sticks more to the traditional classical story ballets. Ratmansky,who was leaving the Bolshoi because he wanted more of a challenge (the Bolshoi’s rep is akin to ABT’s), seemed a better fit for NYCB.

Anyway, I was expecting tonight something along the lines of Concerto DSCH or something he’s done for NYCB (which is all that I’ve seen by him): a contemporary Balanchine-esque ballet without a linear narrative but with a discernible theme and with original, clever, thought-provoking choreography. Instead, On the Dnieper (the Dnieper is a river in the Ukraine), set to Prokofiev’s music of the same name, is a story ballet that I found to be about three parts Tudor, one part Robbins (with some of the fight scenes).

It’s the story of Sergei (danced by Marcelo Gomes), a young soldier who returns home, after war, to his fiance Natalia (Veronika Part), only to realize he no longer loves her but is attracted to Olga (Paloma Herrera), a flighty, flirtatious local girl who is betrothed to another man (David Hallberg). After a brief encounter, Olga falls for Sergei and begins to doubt her love for her fiance. One evening at a party, Olga dances with her fiance and Sergei becomes jealous and challenges the fiance to a fight. Sergei is felled, and Natalia rescues him — picks him up, cleans him off. But soon Olga is back. Natalia, after trying desperately and unsuccessfully to win Sergei back, heartbroken, does what she knows she must for the man she loves — helps him escape with Olga.

It reminded me of Antony Tudor because there’s a lot of drama — albeit without all the heavy psychology — a lot of hurt, wounded tragic characters with broken dreams, unrequited love, painful sadness that just reverberates through the whole auditorium. And the characters each seem to have a way of moving unique to them: Marcelo’s Sergei jumps back and forth a lot with lots of beats of the feet — as if he can’t decide whom to choose, what to do, as if he’s torn.

David Hallberg’s fiance is rather borderline psychopathic, highly impassioned (to make an understatement) but almost frighteningly controlling of Paloma’s Olga. After the way David had described his character on the Winger, I was expecting a reprisal of his “friend” in Tudor’s Pillar of Fire or his R&J Paris – -vulnerable and hurt but proud and trying to bear his pain noblely in a way that made me want Juliet to leave Romeo for him. That’s not what we got at all! Our first viewing of him is slicing madly through the air at Paloma and her friends as if to say, stop everything, I’m here. Besides the jumps and aggressive arms, he has a lot of crazy fast footwork throughout. At one point, when his jealousy is getting the better of him, he starts shuffling his feet so fast, he actually looks down at them, stunned, like he really can’t control them. A way out-of-control Fred Astaire.

Paloma is all about the fickle, flirtatious girlish jumps. And Veronika is more adagio, and she keeps extending her arms both to one side, then laying her head on that shoulder as if an expression of her loyalty and devotion to Sergei. Later, when she realizes he’s drawn to another woman, this movement looks more like a prayer that he’ll return to her. Veronika is heartbreaking and she’s the emotional centerpiece to the ballet. You really want to cry for her at the end.

I think it’s a good ballet — a little slow in places, but generally compelling and with meaningful movement that echos the characters’ desires and actions. It just surprised me that it wasn’t what I’m used to from him. I think after seeing so much NYCB, I’m becoming so enamored of Balanchine and non-narrative contemporary rep of the kind he’s done on that company. I hope that not all of the work he’ll do for ABT will be story ballets. I hope he will do some Concerto¬† DSCH and Russian Seasons and Dreams of Japan-like ballets for ABT as well. ABT’s dancers are so brilliant; it’s fascinating watching what they can do with those kinds of movement-heavy, dramatically open-ended kinds of dances.

Also on the program — which I’ll write more about after seeing the other casts — were Balanchine’s Prodigal Son (danced tonight by Herman Cornejo, replacing Ethan Stiefel, who’s still out with an injury), and James Kudelka’s Desir. Desir is about several different relationships — mostly couples — about sexual angst, romance, fighting, etc. I liked parts of it but not all (I’ll write more about it after more viewings), but what really floored me was a beautifully romantic pas de deux with sweeping lift after sweeping lift performed by Cory Stearns and Isabella Boylston. I’ve never really seen Isabella before and Cory I have but not much, and he’s definitely never stood out as much as he did tonight. Those lifts looked hard and he didn’t tire one bit. He was the ideal strong male partner, showing her off, making her look beautiful, giving her such gorgeous height, sweeping her up through the air, without being the least bit show-off-y himself. He was all about her and they both shone. They were breathtaking. And I’m definitely not the only one who thought so. The audience went wild with applause when they took their bows. They got even more applause than Gillian Murphy and Blaine Hoven! (who were excellent as the angst-ridden couple who eventually gets it together in the end). I’m glad Kevin McKenzie gives young dancers these kinds of chances to stand out.

More soon on the rest of the ballets, and hopefully some pictures as well.

4 Comments

  1. Ratmansky's ballet = INTERESTING. Fascinating! Ratmansky seems to do something completely different every time (although I haven't seen Concerto DSCH yet). It'll be great to follow his career path, and it looks like he's doing a lot of exciting things.

    Herman's Prodigal Son sounds amazing. Was it?? :) I'm looking forward to hearing about it.

  2. Ratmansky's ballet = INTERESTING. Fascinating! Ratmansky seems to do something completely different every time (although I haven't seen Concerto DSCH yet). It'll be great to follow his career path, and it looks like he's doing a lot of exciting things.

    Herman's Prodigal Son sounds amazing. Was it?? :) I'm looking forward to hearing about it.

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