Monday, November 4, 2013

ABT premieres Ratmansky's The Tempest

Marcelo Gomes holding Daniil Simkin in The Tempest. Photo: Marty Sohl
Another major story ballet makes its New York premiere, the third in quick succession—this time, Alex Ratmansky's The Tempest for ABT, this fall at the spacious Koch Theater. The choreographer seems equally comfortable in both plotless and story forms, and here takes on the latter, which is framed in the program as "a fragmented narrative as well as a meditation on some of the themes of Shakespeare's play." The 40-minute ballet is set to selections from Sibelius' sometimes spare, often enchanting music from 1925-26, played live in the pit, with assists from the New York Choral Society and mezzo Shirin Eskandadi. 

The ballet is ideal for lead-casting many of ABT's charismatic men (and one! woman): Gomes as the conflicted Prospero, Herman Cornejo as Caliban, Daniil Simkin as the flighty Ariel, and Sarah Lane (Prospero's daughter) and Joseph Gorak as the young lovers. The latter three have the richest dance passages. In the prologue, Gomes partners Simkin, who is spun so quickly that his legs fly out parallel to the ground; in one scene, he enters with a chain of very high jetés with his legs at a narrow angle, another clever solution by Ratmansky to show off Simkin's buoyancy without having him eat up the stage. We are familiar with Lane's delicacy and precision; Gorak, a more recent, burgeoning revelation, is astonishingly crisp in line and attack, and fills out each movement impressively. They ballotté (a sort of skip and foot brush) in a circle to a particularly sweet musical passage. When Prospero tries to separate them, the three weave through an intense, intricate, curlicue section.

and Joseph Gorak holds Sarah Lane. Photo: Marty Sohl
Gomes' physical and dramatic power is muffled under a scraggly wig and a drab everyman outfit of a fraying, unbuttoned shirt and khaki clamdiggers. But the predominantly slow, grave movements he is given (often to a harp theme) feel subtly revolutionary: they come across as a language of their own, familiar ballet shapes imbued with meaning but not, per se, descriptive. He repeats a pirouette and a slow leg extension into an arabesque, deepening it to its zenith; relevés in basic positions are held for long moments; he inflates his arms into luminous curves. All of these moves convey control and stability in the face of a shipwreck and power-grabbing by his brother (Sascha Radetsky). Certainly this has been done in previous ballets, but it feels different here; it helps that Gomes has until now typically danced the virile princely role, and not a solemn, more elderly role. 

Santo Loquasto's ornate sets and costumes lend a cursory Disney theme park feel. A fragment of the wrecked ship's prow is the primary set piece, but its zig zag stairs prove awkward for the dancers to navigate gracefully. Caliban's cave is an odd pile of dark stuff that is wheeled around. Four trees reverse to show some, um… sea critters? I'm really not sure, and it didn't help that one nearly tipped over. A set of horizontal silken, wash-painted drops, and a glittery black one lower down, shift vertically to evoke a stormy sky or an angry sea. There is a lot going on, and the dancers do not look all that comfortable. It's so easy to second guess, but a simplified design approach might have benefited this jam-packed production.

Daniil Simkin, in white unitard and a flame-like wig, standing precariously atop the all-purpose edifice, gets to wave large, fluttering red sails like demonic wings. He fares much better than Cornejo, scruffy and maned, keeping low to the ground like the shunned creature that he is. (He would fit easily into the role of Ariel, which would show off his gifts; maybe next time around.) The two most comedically gifted company members, Julio Bragado-Young and Craig Salstein, play amusing servants, freed from decorum. The corps members, elaborately costumed in blue, form and reform as water elements, effectively swirling and arcing. 

Filling out the program: 

  • Balanchine's Theme and Variations, to Tchaikovsky, led by Polina Semionova and Cory Stearns.
  • From 1947, a prime example of Mr. B's classical oeuvre, with the infectious musicality of its opening section
  • New warm-hued costumes by Zack Brown in yellows and apricots
  • Semionova's archetypal ballerina physique—very long limbs and high-arched feet—serve the line brilliantly
  • Stearns could use more polish and crispness in this very technical ballet, as well as more accentuated rhythm in his turns

  • Stanton Welch's Clear (2001) to Bach
  • Sascha Radetsky, brandishing his tattooed torso, finds an ideal role in the sharp, rhythmic opening 
  • The six additional men showed the depth of ABT's soloists and corps
  • Paloma Herrera, the sole woman, is always fun to watch in contemporary stuff 
  • This fun ballet is an example of why Welch drew many commissions around then

The season runs through this week with works by Tharp, Limon, Morris, Ratmansky, and more.

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