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ABT Celebrates Ratmansky

Alexei Ratmansky works through Firebird with ABT dancers (photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy ABT)

American Ballet Theatre’s Ratmansky Festival is the centerpiece of the company’s spring season at Lincoln Center’s Metropolitan Opera House. Since festivals and celebrations usually come later in a choreographer’s career, it provides an unusual opportunity to see how ABT has adapted to and absorbed Alexei Ratmansky’s approach since he became artist in residence seven years ago. “The last seven years of Alexei’s creative process with us was an exploration of the company’s depth,” says ABT artistic director Kevin McKenzie. “I think it’s always good to take another look at what is, in fact, still new to us.”

The festival kicks off with two mixed bills: the three-part Shostakovich Trilogy, and a program featuring a world premiere to Leonard Bernstein’s “Serenade (After Plato’s Symposium)” as well as Seven Sonatas and Firebird. Later will come the American premiere of The Golden Cockerel, a two-act ballet that Ratmansky made for the Royal Danish Ballet in 2012. ABT will also bring back Ratmansky’s staging of The Sleeping Beauty, which the company unveiled last year.

McKenzie notes that Golden Cockerel shows a different facet of Ratmansky’s work. “It taps the humorous side of Alexei’s vision while adhering to his interest in historic works,” he says. Originally staged by Michel Fokine to a score by Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, the ballet takes its inspiration from a folktale by Pushkin. In it, the tsar of a distant land is given a magical golden cockerel that warns him when his kingdom is in danger.

“I can’t wait to embody my character and experiment with it,” says soloist Skylar Brandt, who dances the title role on opening night, and has watched videos and read the story to prepare for the role. Brandt looks forward to working again with Ratmansky in the studio. “I have observed that dancers who trust Alexei excel in his movement,” she says. “When he says, ‘Good,’ it’s a big compliment.” —Hanna Rubin

An American First

Sarasota Ballet artistic director Iain Webb approached Tony Dyson—owner of Sir Frederick Ashton’s Enigma Variations—about obtaining choreographic rights without knowing the historic 1968 ballet had only ever been performed by The Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Fortunately, the request occurred during the May 2014 Sir Frederick Ashton Festival in Sarasota, at which Dyson watched Webb’s dancers perform 14 Ashton works. “I think it gave him the trust to give the ballet to us,” Webb says. “He knew we’d respect it.” Webb was, in fact, a protégé of Ashton’s, and Sarasota Ballet is noted as the preeminent American expositor of the choreographer’s work.

Thus the April 8 premiere of Enigma, staged by British dance notator Patricia Tierney, will be the first time an American company performs the work, set to a score by Edward Elgar. —Carrie Seidman

Liam Scarlett Faces Frankenstein

Yuan Yuan Tan, Liam Scarlett and Carlo Di Lanno rehearse Scarlett's Fearful Symmetries
(photo by Erik Tomasson, courtesy SFB)

Royal Ballet artist in residence Liam Scarlett is noted for the psychological themes of his one-act ballets, like 2014’s The Age of Anxiety. On May 4, he’ll push those themes further with the premiere of Frankenstein—his first full-length work for The Royal Ballet’s main stage. Frankenstein marks a first-time collaboration between Scarlett and composer Lowell Liebermann, and is co-produced with San Francisco Ballet, which will give the U.S. premiere in 2017. Pointe spoke with the choreographer about his process and why he thinks Mary Shelley’s novel is “perfection in literature.”

Why were you drawn to Frankenstein?

I first read Frankenstein as a child. Now, it’s less a tale of gothic horror and more a story of love: innocent love, the lack of love for oneself, betrayed and jealous love, and the desperate need to be loved by another. Every great story ballet has love at its center.

How do you work in the studio?

I don’t like to impose preconceived ideas on the talent in front of me. I prefer to mold the dancers and listen to what they have to say. I’m very fortunate to have both The Royal Ballet and SFB on board.

Can you talk about the characters?

Victor (Frankenstein) and Elizabeth (Victor’s betrothed) provide a pivotal central couple. The Creature adds a third role into the love triangle, as he struggles to gain acceptance from Victor and eventually takes revenge on him. The story has sympathy for all three characters—incredible actors are key for this ballet.

Will the ballet hew closely to the format of the book?

Shelley wrote in a three-person narrative form and created a pyramid structure that sets up tension and suspense perfectly. There’s been some editing to make it suitable for performance, but I’ve tried to stay true to the relationships between characters. —Nicole Loeffler-Gladstone

 

Carolina Ballet Tackles Macbeth

To commemorate 400 years since Shakespeare’s death, Carolina Ballet will perform three ballets dedicated to the Bard, crowned by the April 14 premiere of artistic director Robert Weiss’ Macbeth. The ballet will have costumes by David Heuvel and scenery designs by Jeff A.R. Jones, while J. Mark Scearce will compose the commissioned score.

Despite Macbeth’s rarity in the classical canon, Weiss believes the story lends itself well to dance. “It’s about the psychological interdependence between a husband and wife,” he says, “which makes for great pas de deux and the heart of the ballet. And, of course, the witches are a great excuse for dancing.” —NLG

Atlanta Ballet’s Uncharted Territory

Atlanta Ballet has a diverse repertoire, but the company’s May 20 premiere by choreographer Andrea Miller—founder of Brooklyn-based Gallim Dance—marks a signifcant departure. Miller is a graduate of The Juilliard School and a former member of Batsheva’s Young Ensemble, which works in Gaga, Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin’s unpredictable movement language.

Miller’s choreography is rife with physicality so extreme it looks reckless. It’s hard to imagine her work transitioning into a ballet studio. Artistic director John McFall contacted Miller about creating a new work after seeing Gallim perform in Atlanta.

Miller has never choreographed on a classical ballet company and acknowledges her different approach. “I see dancers as individuals. We work together by talking and using imagery,” she says. She’s excited about dancers with such a different, and specific, background performing her work. “Figuring out how to communicate my values is the beauty of the process.” —NLG

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