“The Fairy’s Kiss”
Miami City Ballet
Broward Center for the Performing Arts
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
March 11, 2017
by Gay Morris
copyright © 2017 by Gay Morris
“The Fairy’s Kiss,”(“Le Baiser de la Fée”) has had a checkered history in the ballet repertoire, despite a lushly melodic score by Igor Stravinsky. The work was commissioned by Ida Rubenstein and choreo- graphed by Bronislava Nijinska in 1928. Nijinska’s choreography disappeared after she last revived the ballet in 1936. George Balanchine created new choreography in 1937 for the short-lived American Ballet. He revived it in 1950 for New York City Ballet, and although it met with general critical approval, Balanchine himself was not satisfied. When he took it up again for the Stravinsky Festival in 1972, he dispensed with the narrative and used some of the music to make a plotless “Divertimento from ‘The Fairy’s Kiss.’” Alexei Ratmansky has now created a new, full-length version for Miami City Ballet. It is his third iteration of the work and, it is to be hoped, his final one, because this production is both beautiful and moving.
Photo: Simone Messmer and Miami City Ballet dancers in "The Fairy’s Kiss." Choreography by Alexei Ratmansky. Photo © Gene Schiavone.
Following Stravinsky’s four scenes, the first opens in a forest where a mother and her infant are lost in a snow storm. They are met by minions of the fairy kingdom and by the Fairy, who plants the fateful kiss as the mother dies. Found by villagers, the child grows to manhood and falls in love. But shortly before his wedding he is met by the Fairy disguised as a gypsy, who, to his horror, reveals his past and tells his future. On his wedding day the Fairy, veiled, steals the place of the bride and the young man’s fate is sealed. But for Ratmansky, this is not the end. The Fairy, after being revealed, pays obeisance to the Young Man. She prostrates herself before him and, taking on the role of muse, gestures ahead toward the future. And gradually he is transformed. Like a movement choir, a corps of dancers enters, building and surging around him. As he conducts their movement with increasing confidence they move into ever changing patterns.
Throughout the ballet, Ratmansky finds ways to interpret the narrative through novel choreographic means. Who would think there could be anything new to say about peasant dances? But in the village scenes, as the Young Man courts his Fiancée, the dances are full of unusual groupings and individual steps, like the small hopping backward jumps for the men, or the way the village girls lift the Fiancée in soft vertical risings that perfectly convey her joy.
The Fairy’s dances are strange and fascinating. When she has kissed the child she executes a series of fouetté turns that seem to go on forever. But rather than registering as a virtuosic feat, as fouettés usually do, they take on a sinister quality, as if inexorably nailing down the child’s destiny. Weirdest of all is the moment when, after cuddling the child and delivering the kiss, she tosses it away, as if it were simply an unwanted object and not a living being. The Fairy, though, is not human, and does not necessarily act in human ways.
The most moving part of the ballet, and the most inventive, is the last scene in which Ratmansky actually shows the Young Man becoming an artist, or in this case, a choreographer. As he sits dreaming, the corps slowly forms behind him, dressed in nude colored, diaphanous costumes. He rises and begins to mould them through sweeping gestures. As they shift in waves into briefly assembled forms, we catch occasional references to famous ballets, among them Nijinska’s “Les Noces,” and Balanchine’s “Apollo” – Ratmansky honoring his predecessors. In this scene I was reminded of the way Ratmansky seemed to make thought visible in “Serenade After Plato’s Symposium.” Here it is creativity that he makes visible. The ballet ends with the corps dancers encircling the Young Man and lifting him high above their heads as the Fairy, the Fiancée, and the Mother form a line at the front of the stage and, their backs to the audience, recline, gazing upward toward the artist that each has influenced. This last moment is one of generosity, in which all three women are brought back, united and acknowledged as helping to create the artist.
The Miami production is aided by Jérôme Kaplan’s attractive set and costume designs. The sets resemble Russian expressionist paintings, with cubist skies and buildings reduced to simple geometric shapes. However, it is the Miami City Ballet dancers who truly make the production come to life. I saw two casts, both different in style and approach, and both interesting. Simone Messmer was a glamorous, icy Fairy one night while Nathalia Arja was an intense and wayward one the next. Matching Messmer’s cooler interpretation, Renan Cerdeiro emphasized the Young Man’s naïveté, while Kleber Rebello, Arja’s Young Man, stressed the character’s emotional extremes. When, as the Young Man, he rips the veil from the woman he thinks is his bride and ardently kisses her, Rebello made it a stunning moment of realization that his life had irreversibly changed. Both Jeanette Delgado and Tricia Albertson were sweetly modest as the Fiancée, but they also showed pluck in their efforts to keep their chosen mate, unaware of the Fairy’s power.
“The Fairy’s Kiss” was not the only ballet on the program. It is only about forty-five minutes long and was accompanied by Balanchine’s “Walpurgisnacht” and Christopher Wheeldon’s “Polyphonia.” These, too, were given excellent performances, and it is a testimony to the company’s versatility that Jeanette Delgado could go from the innocence of the Fiancée one night, to the boldly virtuosic lead in “Walpugisnacht” at the next performance.
Miami City Ballet dancers in "The Fairy’s Kiss." Choreography by Alexei Ratmansky. Photo © Gene Schiavone.
Jeanette Delgado and Renan Cerdeiro with Miami City Ballet dancers in "The Fairy’s Kiss." Choreography by Alexei Ratmansky. Photo © Gene Schiavone.