Aren’t we the lucky ones? Not only do we have Alexei Ratmansky creating a new Cinderella for us in the studios right now, but we have Emilia and Linda, the founders of one of our very favourite blogs The Ballet Bag, joining us today at Behind Ballet to tell us why they have a bad case of Ratmansky fever – and why he’s taken the world by storm.
Now one of the world’s most sought-after choreographers, Alexei Ratmansky started
experimenting with choreography at a young age, during his school days in
Russia. He began as a ballet dancer with Ukraine’s Kiev Ballet, but dancing soon took him out of Eastern Europe to various companies in the West, where he was exposed to different choreographers and styles. Absorbing all these works, he started developing his own choreographic language, a personal mix of influences such as Petipa, Bournonville, Ashton, Balanchine and Tudor, woven into narrative or abstract choreography.
Ratmansky’s ballets keep pulling you back for more. They are so creative and unique you end up wanting to “collect them all”. They are also a joy for audiences and dancers, who long for individual characters and ballets rooted in the classical language. Besides, how many choreographers can you find whose works are so colorful that they deserve their own Wes Anderson-style art print?
We’re always wondering what Ratmansky will do next and where (just in case we can make the trip!), so we were really thrilled when The Australian Ballet asked us to write this guest blog ahead of the premiere of a new Cinderella for the company. With big chookas to everyone out there, here are six reasons why we think Ratmansky rocks:
1. He is great at storytelling …
He put a fresh spin on the nonsensical Don Quixote (Dutch National Ballet), created a Romeo and Juliet that is full of style yet remains loyal to Shakespeare (National Ballet of Canada), went beyond fairytale formula in his 2002 Cinderella for the Mariinsky, added a dash of screwball comedy (think Billy Wilder) to Russian classics like The Bright Stream and The Little Humpbacked Horse and fleshed out big emotions and sumptuous sets in adaptations of Lost Illusions, The Golden Cockerel and Anna Karenina.
2. …but he also knows his “abstract”.
Even though Ratmansky has been celebrated for helping revive narrative
ballet, he has choreographed a range of very successful abstract or short works. Russian Seasons (created on New York City Ballet in 2007) is one of our desert-island ballets, a folk masterpiece to watch again and again, while works like Seven Sonatas, Concerto DSCH and his recent Shostakovich Trilogy for American Ballet Theatre have been celebrated as major achievements by critics and audiences.
3. He believes in the classical vocabulary
In the words of Mikhail Baryshnikov, Ratmansky is: “without doubt the top classical choreographer; Russia never had anybody better”. In the last 50 years most ballet choreographers have set about expanding the classical vocabulary with other forms of movement: William Forsythe deconstructed classical ballet and pushed its limits with high-flying extensions and vigorous new rhythms. Having mixed modern dance and theatricality, juxtaposing the fluid and the jerky in the same phrase, Jiří Kylián is a big influence on classically-rooted choreographers like Christopher Wheeldon. Ratmansky did not go down this route and you probably won’t see too many sculptural lifts, extreme angles or complex partnering in his ballets: he works with the classical vocabulary, albeit in less formal structures than we know from typical 19th-century works.
4. He gives great roles to guys
Balanchine is quoted as having said “Ballet is woman” but, for Ratmansky, men are important. They are central to the narrative and not just partnering accessories. They actually get great solos: the prince in Cinderella leaps at the chance of true love, Ivanuschka in The Little Humpbacked Horse searches for new adventures, while the central figure in his recent Chamber Symphony evokes the troubled composer Dmitry Shostakovich himself.
5. His ballets are full of personality
Many choreographers are so connected to a style or particular aesthetic that their works end up looking the same. Each of Ratmansky’s works look different in style and substance (choreographically and visually), and he seems happy to experiment. Because he knows his ballet history but is also a keen observer of pop culture, he can remix historical works and throw in “Easter eggs” to the audience, like the rock steps danced by the Tsar Maiden and Ivan in The Little Humpbacked Horse, or the bees fructifying the flowers in The Nutcracker (in homage to the 1892 premiere production of the ballet, which ended with a view of bees before a hive) or the ballet-within-a-ballet danced in the presence of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette in Flames of Paris.
6. He has great taste in music
Ratmansky understands Russian soul, drawing steps from the Soviet sounds of Prokofiev – whose score for Cinderella combines wonderful melodic qualities and somber undertones – and Shostakovich (one of Ratmansky’s favourite composers and the inspiration for the above-mentioned trilogy at American Ballet Theatre) as well as contemporary composers like Shchedrin (The Little Humpbacked Horse, Anna Karenina) and Desyatnikov (Russian Seasons, Lost Illusions), while occasionally flirting with such French Romantics as Chopin, Franck and Ravel.
Now, let’s share the lucky! Thanks to the ladies of The Ballet Bag, we have a limited-edition print of that Wes Anderson-inspired Ratmansky print to give away to the reader who leaves the best comment on this post. Share your thoughts with us! Have you seen any Ratmansky ballets? What are you most looking forward to about Cinderella?
The Ballet Bag is an online resource for the best of ballet around the web: performances, companies, dancers, interviews and other websites. With the aim to “Give Ballet a New Spin” and make it more accessible, editors Emilia and Linda write dance content, mashing it up with pop culture. They use social media to network with dance fans, companies, performers, writers, bloggers, etc., sharing what is good, fun and interesting in the balletsphere.
Appetite whetted for Ratmansky’s new Cinderella? Us too! You can get your tickets for the Melbourne and Sydney seasons here. Adelaide will see the ballet next year.