Ratmansky's Odd Man Out
By Miami City Ballet’s Leigh-Ann Esty
Spending the last two weeks dancing for Alexei Ratmansky has been an absolute joy. The first movement of his new 35-minute ballet, Symphonic Dances–with music by Sergei Rachmaninoff–is finished. Even though it lasts only about 10 minutes, a number of events happen. The plot, however, is still unclear, even to Alexei himself. He is leaving it up for interpretation.
The guidelines given to us were as follows: maintain a dramatic and tense presence, and demonstrate suspense and emotion through the music. Thanks to Mr. Ratmansky’s passionate and helpful advice, this has not been difficult for us to feel.
I’m usually very skeptical when it comes to learning new works. I wonder what the audience’s reaction will be, if I will like performing the piece, and so on. But I’m pretty sure that whoever watches this ballet will be drawn in the second the curtain goes up.
The moment the ballet begins, all eyes onstage are focused on one principal man. This is a continuous pattern that repeats throughout the whole first movement. It seems that everyone knows something that our leading man doesn’t, and it intimidates him. After duets, trios, and quartets bombard him with their intense looks, another male figure emerges with a very controlling presence. He taunts our leading man, following him wherever he goes and tests his limits. The principal man is pulled, pushed, and partnered until he can’t take it anymore, and exits the stage with fatigue.
Until this moment, the ballet has been up-tempo, with a lot going on onstage. Now, the pace seems to slow down dramatically, leading us into a section of women searching for the leading man. They do a series of waving movements, calling for him. When he appears, one leading lady has an emotional pas de deux with him. Each of the remaining women mimic a part of the pas, showing their longing to be the one who dances with him. When the principal woman exits, the group of girls turn on the man, showing anger towards him for not dancing with them.
We return to the tense, intimidating feel of the beginning of the ballet, ending dramatically with men chasing women. The leading man is pushed and shoved by onlookers, and finally haunted again by the second leading man. The last moment of the first movement is a staredown between the two men, full of tension and suspense.
The rehearsal process has been hard but thrilling. I am honored to witness this whole experience, and to actually perform Mr. Ratmansky’s choreography. It is extremely musical and expressive, and feels so different from anything I’ve ever danced. I can’t wait to see how the rest of the piece turns out.
Miami City Ballet’s Sara and Leigh-Ann Esty are guest-blogging about their rehearsal experience with Alexei Ratmansky, who’s setting a new ballet, Symphonic Dances, on the company. Read their first blog post here, and stay tuned for more entries and photos!