American Ballet Theatre
"Symphony in C," "The Moor's Pavane," "Symphony #9"
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
April 9-10, 2013
by Alexandra Tomalonis
copyright 2013 by Alexandra Tomalonis
Watching Alexei Ratmansky’s “Symphony #9,” to the Dmitri Shostakovich work of that name, one can understand why Soviet authorities were so upset by its brilliant, rebel composer. The music is simply not predictable. There are quick changes in structure, tone and mood that would have been quite new in 1945. Today, it doesn't sound so rebellious, of course, but Ratmansky somehow captures that aura, and that era, and his choreography rides the music as though it is a big, beautiful wave.
A couple in black enters (Veronika Part and Roberto Bolle) and the tone changes. The choreography and mood are both tender and somber now. Are the two a stark reminder of the war? People in mourning? The only people who remember the horrors they endured and dare show it? Part is especially beautiful in this segment – mysterious, intelligent, and very vulnerable – and, as he has before, Ratmansky knows how to show her gifts.
When the group returns (there are eight corps couples in all), the dancing builds until it is almost wild. There’s a segment where couples dance to different counts that’s so fast it makes your eyes spin as you try to pull it together. And then, in a stunning theatrical moment, thanks to Jennifer Tipton’s lighting, there’s a quick black out that ends everything. The wildness stops, everything stops for just a few seconds. When the dancing starts again, the dancers form neat rows and march/dance, suddenly tamed (there’s a military flavor to the score throughout). Matthews breaks away from them and dances a solo that’s somehow both desperate and triumphant and the ballet ends. A last attempt to be free? Hope for the future? I don’t think the 1945 Politburo would have liked this one.
The second performance, with a different cast, seemed less dramatic, with more emphasis on the dancing, but the ballet still worked. Ratmansky’s choreographic imagination is always intriguing, as is the deft way he mixes concrete images with subtle dramatic and historical undertones. The ballet has so many possible meanings and themes it will stand up to many viewings. It’s so musical that at times it seemed as though the dancers were creating the music, that the music was pouring out of their bodies. It’s always a pleasure to watch dancers in a piece created on them, and they did not disappoint.
“Symphony #9” will be the first work of a three-part ballet by Ratmansky, each to a Shostakovich symphony, that ABT will present in about a month at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House.
The program opened with Balanchine’s “Symphony in C,” also a post-War ballet, created in 1947 for Paris Opera Ballet (as “Le Palais de Cristal”) at a time when choreographers were either rejecting beauty because it seemed irrelevant after years of terror and mass destruction, or, as here and in works by Ashton, Lifar and Lander, reviving neoclassicism to celebrate the goodness in humanity and inspire a better future. “Symphony in C” is not quite as new to ABT as Ratmansky’s ballet, but it still hasn’t quite settled into the dancers’ bones. Opening night was danced as happily, and as squarely, as the musical key for which Bizet’s symphony is named. The women’s costumes – bright white, short tutus with big waists that make the dancers look heavy – added to the squareness. There were a lot of raised eyebrows at intermission, and comments that the ballet didn’t look like New York City Ballet’s version, which is true – but does it have to be a copy? NYCB Petipa doesn’t look like Mariinsky Petipa, but that doesn’t seem to bother people. (At Wednesday night’s performance, there were more sharp edges, as though the ballet masters had been cleaning things up to get ready for New York.)
Opening night, the principals were uneven. Except for Daniil Simkin, who led the third movement’s scherzo with absolutely brilliant dancing, the men were very strong, but not very individual. And, of course, it’s the ballerinas’ ballet. Paloma Herrera, who has been working to soften her arms her whole career, had beautiful soft, sylphlike port de bras in the first, most classical, movement. She does have ballerina authority, though, and that carried the dancing. Hee Seo, newly promoted to principal rank, danced the second movement, showing her elegant long lines in the pas de deux, but she hasn’t yet come completely out of her shell. Sarah Lane led the fourth movement finale and made it as important a segment as the others, which I’ve not often seen.
The second performance seemed undercast, except for Veronika Part and Marcelo Gomes, gorgeous as always in the second movement. The other leads certainly could dance the steps, but not fill the variations, something one often sees in ballet today. This ballet needs stars, no matter what Balanchine was supposed to have said about them.
The centerpiece of this oddly structured program (“Symphony in C” is the closer of all closers) was José Limón’s “The Moor’s Pavane,” (a retelling of Shakespeare’s “Othello”) which had been a staple of ballet galas in the ‘70s and ‘80s. This performance was much more than a gala number, which I remember as competing pliés, grimaces and an incessantly waving handkerchief. Especially on opening night, the work – one of modern dance’s great classics – looked very lovingly prepared, and the dancers had the requisite weight, despite the fact that weight is antithetical to their training. It also looked like a pavane!
Marcelo Gomes danced The Moor with his usual power and dramatic fervor. Gomes made The Moor a very straightforward character, not a weak or evil one, but a good man goaded and led astray by His Friend (Cory Stearns, who could have been meaner). Stella Abrera made quite a bit out of His Friend’s Wife, desperate to keep her husband interested and willing to do his bidding, watching what was going on but not knowing what her actions would cause. Julie Kent, usually an excellent actress, was a rather pallid Moor’s Wife, but this is a very difficult part, as the character is so passive. The second cast Wednesday night made a very good stab at an unfamiliar style, but was not as strong dramatically, and rather light.
“Le Corsaire” is up next and the company will show several casts through the weekend.
Veronika Part and Roberto Bolle in "Symphony #9," both photos by Rosalie O'Connor
Julie Kent and Marcelo Gomes in "The Moor's Pavane." Photo: Gene Schiavone