"Bach Partita," "Gong," "The Tempest"
American Ballet Theatre
David H. Koch Theater
New York, NY
November 3, 2013
By Carol Pardo
Copyright ©2013 by Carol Pardo
Alexei Ratmansky’s "The Tempest" is billed as both "a fragmented narrative as well as a meditation on some themes of Shakespeare’s play," a tale to tell and a theme to explore. The Bard has a proven track record as a ballet librettist ("Romeo and Juliet" everyone?). The power of intertwined themes of the play, vengeance, forgiveness and the power of your love has been proven at every performance of Petipa’s "Sleeping Beauty" since 1890.
But unlike "Romeo and Juliet" or "Sleeping Beauty", "The Tempest" is not hard wired in our DNA. Tybalt or the sleeping princess need no introduction; the same cannot be said of Antonio or Sebastian. Ratmansky is stuck trying to tell a less familiar story while simultaneously extracting its perfume. It’s a tough balancing act that doesn’t come off. The result is a "Cliff Notes" in costume, all but leached of poetry.
Only at the beginning and end did the two come together, first in the duet for Prospero and his daughter Miranda (Cory Stearns and Yuriko Kajiya), then in the pas de deux for Miranda and her betrothed (Jared Matthews). Stearns was a protective paternal presence, sheltering his daughter—literally at one point—and a very proficient partner. Kajiya conveyed her love for her father and her need for his protection but also the spark of rebellion in a dutiful daughter. The final duet with Ferdinand showed a girl well on her way to adulthood, reveling in both love and independence. The ease and naturalness of Matthews’ placement glowed, confirming that Ferdinand was a prize worth winning. The pas de deux also harked back to Ratmansky’s dancing days at the Royal Danish Ballet. In its joy, its fleet-footed jumps and mirror image steps, he borrowed gracefully from Bournonville’s vocabulary while also evoking the latter’s constant theme: a world, not torn asunder but tipped off its axis, is righted with everyone taking their intended place in the given order.
The difference between Ariel and Caliban is in their first entrances: the former leaps on, the latter rolls on as if in basic training. Gabe Stone Shayer was not a darting Ariel but a bounding one, more a bee than a dragonfly. James Whiteside caught the pathos of Caliban’s condition but not the rage.
The dancers were better served by the score, Sibelius’ "The Tempest", than I expected. Ratmansky has done what a great choreographer can do: find the dance impulse in music which does not immediately reveal one. They are less well served by Santo Loquasto’s sets and costumes. Prospero’s island is a land of men and glitter. The landlubbers would not be out of place in Regency England while Prospero, in tatters and an open shirt, long hair and a headband has not recovered from Woodstock. Ariel and the corps, in shiny fabrics and spiky headdresses took a wrong turn from Studio 54 sometime in the 1980’s. No wonder Miranda falls for Ferdinand. In a simple shirt (buttoned) and pedal pushers, he’s the most restrained dresser she’s ever seen. Yes, each society should be identified by its dress, but differentiation shouldn’t be distracting. The set, bands of blues, grays and browns breaks the background into horizontal bands that weigh on the stage picture. Ratmansky is not above tinkering with his work. We’ll see what "The Tempest" looks like next spring at the Met.
"The Tempest" was preceded by Twyla Tharp’s "Bach Partita" and Mark Morris’ "Gong" neither of which, happily, required a libretto or a dramaturge. "Bach Partita," back after 30 years out of repertory, initially looks chaotic. But it’s as chaotic as Brownian motion taking place in a stable molecular structure. The connections, an outstretched arm, bodies at mirror angles, are steadfast. Marcelo Gomes paired with Gillian Murphy and Craig Salstein with Misty Copeland looked particularly at home in Tharp’s world and with each other. "Gong" with its bright colors and golden glow is a beautifully designed (costumes by Isaac Mizrahi) valentine to Colin McPhee’s gamelan inflected score.