Alexei Ratmansky. ‘The real thing’

12–13 November 2011, City Center, New York

When I wrote unaffectionately about Alexei Ratmansky’s 2009 work for the Australian Ballet, a new version of the 1933 Massine ballet Scuola di ballo, I received some feedback from friend and colleague David Vaughan. David wrote that he wished I could see work made by Ratmansky for New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. ‘I am sure you would realize’, he wrote ‘that he is the real thing’.

It has been interesting, too, over the two years since I wrote that review to hear comments from dancers and others who worked with Ratmansky on that Australian production. They all found it a huge pleasure and had nothing but praise for Ratmansky. But nothing changes my opinion of his Scuola di ballo, and I had nothing to go on other than what I saw on stage, which is as it should be for any reviewer.

However, I now believe that David was right, at least in the wider scheme of things. I recently had the good fortune to see two performances of Ratmansky’s Seven Sonatas during American Ballet Theatre’s recent Fall season at City Center, New York.

Seven Sonatas, also first made in 2009, is danced to keyboard sonatas by Domencio Scarlatti. The work is for three couples who engage with each other in a variety of combinations. They dance with and for each other. At the heart of the work, and centrally in the structure, are three pas de deux. The first and the longest had a note of anguish to it. Maria Riccetto and Blaine Hoven, in the first cast I saw, danced an intense and emotive pas de deux. Was this couple breaking apart? The woman seemed to be wanting to end the relationship as she extended her body away from the man. But it was never clear cut and Ratmansky’s gift to us was to leave us wondering.

The second pas de deux was also the shortest. It was full of unabashed pleasure, in life, dancing and partnership. Of the two casts I saw Xiomara Reyes and Herman Cornejo best managed the spectacular choreography with its sudden changes of direction and its difficult turns. The third was a teasing game in which Julie Kent and Alexandre Hammoudi excelled. I loved Kent’s expressions, both facial and bodily, as she played with Hammoudi’s emotions, leading him on all the time. At one stage he was left alone briefly to dance a solo hoping Kent was watching from the wings. And she no doubt was as she re-entered the game to bring it to a satisfying conclusion with a leap into his arms.

Before and after these pas de deux we were treated to such lyrical movement in which the arms and upper body played a major role. Sometimes the arms and hands seemed very natural—clasped in front or behind the body, although clearly choreographed to be that way. Other times, rather than the palms facing each other in classical mode, the arms were held with the palms facing outwards and the arms opened as if pushing the air away. Sometimes the arm and hand movements were just totally surprising. At one stage Julie Kent executed a set of turns with arms in fifth position. But a closer look revealed that her fists were clenched and her wrists crossed. But diversity and surprise were features across every aspect of the work, especially in the way steps were combined and conceived as part of the work’s structure.

This work also presented every one of the six dancers as individuals. Individuality extended beyond the choreography even to the women’s hairstyles—beautifully braided in some cases but always drawn well off the face showing the elegance of the neck. And mention should be made of Holly Hynes’ costumes. The women wore soft white dresses, reaching well below the knee and with bodices decorated with pinkish brown trimmings, each slightly different. The men were costumed in white tights and short white jackets, again each slightly different in cut and trimming.

Seven Sonatas is a ballet for all. If you want to see a delicious work, which is also somehow very calming, then this is it. You don’t have to work hard to be given a special experience. But if you want more then it’s all there too. It could be watched multiple times and would always keep giving. But perhaps best of all, Ratmansky has made a work that speaks of, and asks questions about life and love through movement. I can think of nothing better or more admirable.

Michelle Potter, 15 November 2011

And to the Australian Ballet: give us the real thing please!

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