American Ballet Theatre Celebrates Alexei Ratmansky With Festival at the Met

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 kicked 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."

Ballet Careers
Sisters Isabella Shaker and Alexandra Pullen. Photo Courtesy Alexandra Pullen.

This is the second in a series of articles this month about ballet siblings.

My mom was in the corps de ballet at American Ballet Theatre. A generation later, so was I. As if that's not enough for one family, my younger sister Isabella Shaker dreams of following in our dancing footsteps. Her endeavor, and her status as somewhat of a child prodigy, stirs feelings of pride and apprehension within me, since I have lived through the ups and downs of this intense yet rewarding career.

Ballet will always be my first love and the thing that brings me the most joy, and my dance career has opened endless opportunities for me. However, it's a difficult career path that requires a lifelong dedication. It's super competitive and can lead to body image issues, physical injury and stress. Most dancers will face some of these problems; I definitely dealt with all three.

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Ballet Stars
Photo by Gabriel Davalos, Courtesy Valdés

For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.

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Ballet Stars
Photo by Jayme Thornton

It's National Bullying Prevention Month—and Houston Ballet breakout star Harper Watters is exactly the advocate young dancers facing bullying need. Watters is no novice when it comes to slaying on social media, but his Bullying Prevention Month collaboration with Teen Vogue and Instagram is him at his most raw, speaking about his own experiences with bullies, and how his love of dance helped him to overcome adversity. Watters even penned an incredible op-ed for Teen Vogue's website, where he talks candidly about growing up queer. Catch his amazing anti-bullying video here—and, as Watters says, "Stay fabulous, stay flawless, stay flexible, but most importantly, stay fearless."

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News
Alicia Alonso with Igor Youskevitch. Sedge Leblang, Courtesy Dance Magazine Archives.

Her Dying Swan was as fragile as her Juliet was rebellious; her Odile, scheming, her Swanilda, insouciant. Her Belle was joyous, and her Carmen, both brooding and full-blooded. But there was one role in particular that prompted dance critic Arnold Haskell to ask, "How do you interpret Giselle when you are Giselle?"

At eight, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle with Ballet Theatre, she staked her claim to that title role.

Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.

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