Two Premieres for Alexei Ratmansky
Choreographer Alexei Ratmansky will have world premieres on two coasts this winter. On February 10, Miami City Ballet will debut his new one-act version of The Fairy’s Kiss to Stravinsky’s celebrated score, a homage to Tchaikovsky. The following month, on March 15, at California’s Segerstrom Center for the Arts, American Ballet Theatre will premiere his Whipped Cream, a new full-length story ballet to a Richard Strauss libretto and score.
Ratmansky has often looked to ballet history for inspiration. Fairy’s Kiss, known as Le Baiser de la Fée when it was originally choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska in 1928, has been staged by Sir Frederick Ashton and Sir Kenneth MacMillan, and several times by Balanchine. Its story comes from The Ice-Maiden, a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, and Ratmansky has kept the narrative. A young man, about to be married, is bewitched by a fairy’s kiss and stolen away from the mortal world. “I asked Alexei for a narrative work, possibly one with a Russian flavor to it,” says MCB artistic director Lourdes Lopez. “Our dancers have a very strong dramatic quality and short narrative works are not a large part of our repertoire.” Ratmansky had created an earlier version during his tenure at the Bolshoi Ballet; this is a new production with new choreography.
Whipped Cream has not been staged since its Vienna premiere in 1924. In Strauss’ libretto, set in an ornate pastry shop, a young boy overindulges, and hallucinates that the sweets in the shop have come to life. “Whipped Cream has a fantastical quality,” says ABT artistic director Kevin McKenzie, comparing it to The Nutcracker and Léonide Massine’s La Boutique fantasque. “I think it will resonate with a non-balletomane the way Nutcracker does.”
When it debuted, critics derided Whipped Cream as superficial and expensive, and the full score wasn’t even recorded until the 1990s. “The score has overwhelming harmonies and texture—it’s very symphonic,” Ratmansky says. He made a short piece using a section of the music when he was a dancer at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. “I waited 23 years to complete it.”
Ratmansky requested that Mark Ryden, an artist known for his surreal fantasy images, design the production. It includes 200 costumes, a curlicued, ornate set design evoking a 1920s Viennese milieu, and a slide for the corps de ballet. “His work is creepy,” says Ratmansky. “You see the sinister under the saccharine.”
Desert Colors in the Pacific Northwest
Jessica Lang is equally comfortable creating work for high-profile ballet companies and her own contemporary troupe. Her latest work for Pacific Northwest Ballet, Her Door to the Sky, premiered at Jacob’s Pillow last August, but will have its West Coast run March 17–26. The ballet uses Georgia O’Keeffe’s patio-door series of paintings as its inspiration. “It took O’Keeffe 13 years to buy her home and fix it up, all because she saw that door,” Lang says. “I was attracted to its significance and the idea of home. I also wanted to choose a subject besides her flowers. She stopped painting them because she was offended by critics’ obsession with linking the images to her sexuality.”
Like much of Lang’s choreography, this work features a dramatic set piece. The drop is reminiscent of O’Keeffe’s doorways, with square cutouts through which the dancers sometimes appear. Lang chose to use Benjamin Britten’s Simple Symphony because of its “feeling of expansive space. I felt it was necessary to capture the inspiration of light and color in O’Keeffe’s work,” she says. The costumes, designed by Bradon McDonald, are also drenched in color, reflecting a Southwestern sunrise.
Lang won’t reveal whether Her Door to the Sky is about O’Keeffe in a biographical sense. “Maybe,” she says. “It has a female focus, but who that person is, what you see, is up to you.”
Pinocchio Comes to Life
On March 11, a beloved wooden puppet will become a real boy when National Ballet of Canada premieres Will Tuckett’s Pinocchio. “Pinocchio inhabits a world of movement,” says Tuckett, an independent choreographer and guest principal character artist with The Royal Ballet. NBoC first soloist Skylar Campbell, who is originating the role of Pinocchio, says that Tuckett has allowed the dancers to find quirkiness. “You have to move distinctly rather than robotically,” he says.
The ballet is designed by Colin Richmond, with a score by Paul Englishby and projection by Douglas O’Connell. The story hews close to the original 19th-century version by Italian writer Carlo Collodi. “There’s a darker element,” says Campbell. Questions of belonging will remain, though. “Geppetto is a single parent,” says Tuckett, “and I love that Pinocchio doesn’t need a conventional family to become real.” —NLG
BalletX Brings Jo Strømgren to Philly
Jo Strømgren may not be a household name for stateside balletomanes (yet), but his work has been performed by dozens of dance, theater and opera companies throughout Europe. He’s currently the associate choreographer at Norwegian National Ballet and directs his own dance-theater troupe, Jo Strømgren Kompani. Pointe spoke with this major force in European dance before his February 10 premiere at Philadelphia’s BalletX.
How would you characterize your work?
I like the term “cinematic” and the idea of taking people on a journey. You have to get the pitch and the main characters within the first few minutes. The audience has to understand, and once they get comfortable in their seats you can take them somewhere really strange.
How do you bring your ideas to life?
Early on in my career, I thought the art business meant saying something about life and death. But as I got older, I realized that I needed to simplify. I’ll take a small detail or an insignificant symbol that’s part of something larger. Then you can layer a story around it.
What are you like in the studio?
I never write anything down, and I don’t really take notes or use video. It’s not necessarily trendy right now to work without collaborators, but it allows you to twist and adjust as much as you’d like.
How do you work with new dancers?
I don’t use my own technique or any kind of codified body language. I’m not a perfectionist in that way. It means I end up lacking a little bit of a signature, but it’s nice to use as many tools as possible.
What’s interesting about classically trained dancers?
Classical technique looks fantastic from afar. When I rehearse classical dancers, I imagine how the choreography will look from the last row of the theater because they know how to project. —NLG
Tulsa Ballet Heads Over the Rainbow
Dorothy returns to the Emerald City in Tulsa Ballet’s new full-length adventure, tentatively titled Dorothy and the Prince of Oz, running February 10–12, at Tulsa Performing Arts Center. The million-dollar co-production with BalletMet is the centerpiece of Tulsa Ballet’s 60th-anniversary season.
The ballet is choreographed by BalletMet artistic director Edwaard Liang and is based, in part, on Glinda of Oz, the 14th and final book in L. Frank Baum’s Oz series. Liang says the ballet won’t follow the familiar tale of Dorothy, Toto and the gang from the popular movie. “Tulsa Ballet artistic director Marcello Angelini and I really wanted to have a dramatic storyline beyond flying monkeys and another witch,” Liang says. He and librettist/composer Oliver Peter Graber took creative license to fashion the ballet’s tale of romance between Dorothy and the Prince of Oz and create a fable in the Prince’s relationship with his fighting parents King Sapphire and Queen Diamond.
Some familiar characters will appear, including Glinda the Good Witch and the Scarecrow. Award-winning set designer and puppeteer Basil Twist, who has contributed to several ballets by Christopher Wheeldon, will create a host of fantastical characters. Dorothy and the Prince of Oz may very well convince Tulsa audiences that there’s no place like home for a unique new ballet. —Steve Sucato