Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at The Music Center
Reviewed by Dany Margolies
The dancers of Serenade After Plato’s Symposium
Photo by Rosalie O’Connor
Alexei Ratmansky has been called the most gifted choreographer specializing in classical ballet today. The all-Ratmansky program of three of his works, danced by American Ballet Theatre this weekend at The Music Center, seemed to prove otherwise, except in one regard.
Ratmansky is the artist-in-residence with ABT. Formerly, he held the directorship of Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet, so he comes with expectations of the best of training and talent in his male dancers. And that, perhaps, is how he is “gifted” here.
ABT is stocked with a deep bench of male dancers, including members of the corps de ballet who would be principals in most other companies. But Ratmansky gives them the equivalent of awkward dialogue to speak. His vocabulary is more contemporary ballet than classical, creating movement that seems to have meaning. Then, distractingly, he pops in a recognizable classical-ballet turn, such as a pirouette or tour en l’air. Or, he’ll wedge in a Russian folk-dance step or insert a hand clap.
At the Music Center, ABT’s men were shown to spectacular effect, particularly in the evening’s middle slot, the West Coast premiere of Serenade After Plato’s Symposium, danced to Leonard Bernstein’s violin concerto (conducted crisply by Ormsby Wilkins, featuring tender violin passages by Benjamin Bowman).
Symposium is a conversation, via dance, among seven men in ancient Greece, each getting a dazzling solo. The work starts with one dancer’s statement. Another dancer offers a supporting argument. A counterargument is presented. So far all is clear. The piece then moves into another plane, perhaps revealing man’s emotional states, perhaps revealing the issues he confronts in relating to others. The audience starts to think and feel. And then pretty dance steps start to crop up, culminating in another pirouette into a tour en l’air.
But a series of bourees, steps traditionally done only by women, proves these men have the fluidity and fleetness of ballerinas in addition to the strength and stamina this piece demands.
The program began with Symphony #9, to the music of Dmitri Shostakovich. The men are playful, the women sassy in this mostly aerobic piece. Its style is free and loose-limbed, so the dancers, while not uniform, move in relaxed synchronization. Veronika Part and Alexandre Hammoudi danced the moderato movement, which juxtaposes humor with longing, Part infusing her beautiful technique with dramatic tension. Designer George Tsypin’s backdrop for the Largo movement seems to symbolize war and class, as do the dancers who seem to be waiting and then joining a political movement.
The evening’s last piece was Ratmansky’s overhaul of Firebird. He has retained the music of Igor Stravinsky and the basics of the Russian fairy tale about a magical bird and the man she helps in his search for true love.
Other than that, there’s no spotting Mikhail Fokine’s original ballet in here. Indeed, it’s less the dreamy, airy ballet than something that could pass for Seussical the Musical. The Firebird (Isabella Boylston) shakes her tail feathers, literally, for a laugh. The enchanted maidens, held captive by Kaschei the sorcerer (Roman Zhurbin), move as if the evil guy smote them with a bad case of the sillies, at one point doing the Bunny Hop.
Ivan (Hammoudi again) may be in search of love, but he can’t even find the door out of his room. Give Ratmansky this: At the top of the piece, he suggests all might be Ivan’s dream. When Ivan meets The Maiden (Cassandra Trenary), she’s far from ideal. But true love sees through the curse. The dancing is flawless, particularly by Trenary, who gives herself over to her character and dances with comedic and then romantic abandon.
As do the other two works, this Firebird has a happy, Hollywood ending. Yet, somewhat troublingly, each of the “beautiful maidens” is a pale blonde. Fortunately, the beautiful ballerinas dancing the roles are a more representative mix of the races and national heritages that form the “American” in ABT.
July 11, 2016
Republished with kind permission of Los Angeles Daily News
Photo of Isabella Boylston as the Firebird by Rosalie O’Connor