I loved Ratmansky’s new Firebird at American Ballet Theatre. The controversy it has stirred up among critics and balletomanes–many are ambivalent, some downright despise it–also makes sense, given the local, Balanchine production’s regular outings.
The Firebird‘s music is alternately mystical and comically rambunctious. Stravinsky shimmers for romance and clangs for adventure. But the score has not inspired the dramatic ballets you might expect. From Fokine on, choreographers have not considered what the characters need from one another. Ivan – your average dolt of a Russian folktale hero – grabs at the Firebird for sport. He falls in love with the captive Maiden because she is there – in the monster Kaschei’s garden, where he has wandered. She is there because Kaschei has captured her. The plot goes round and round.
The genius of Alexei Ratmansky – American Ballet Theatre’s artist in residence, former Bolshoi director – is to turn the lack of dramatic imperative to his advantage. The pathos and delight of his Firebird lies in the fact that this Ivan and Maiden are not destined to fall in love; they decide to.
The ballet begins with Ivan (Marcelo Gomes) seeking romance in Simon Pastukh’s gorgeously disturbing forest of twisted metal trees. Why he thinks a post-industrial waste facility will prove a chick magnet is anyone’s guess, but it does attract firebirds, including stand-out Natalia Osipova. Gomes latches on to her.
Wary: Marcelo Gomes and Natalia Osipova. Photo courtesy of ABT by Gene Schiavone.
She surrenders like a bird in a cat’s jaws. She is lively only when pushing against him, cocking her head to get a better look. The pas de deux runs counter to many a ballet seduction, where the woman’s limpness is meant to signify her joy…..
Please click for the rest. Every click is a click for dance! If you hit a subscriber wall, you only have to register once, by giving them your email, and you receive 30 free articles per month–and no emails nagging you to subscribe.
Once the Maidens arrive, Ratmansky’s Firebird begins to soar–and keeps soaring until the curtain comes down. This choreographer is always great with groups of women–in Namouna and with The Nutcracker snowflakes, for example. He gets the pathos: the mix of camaraderie and individual invisibility. By the time the Maidens converge on the scene–with Simone Messmer’s endearing, comical Maiden in the lead–the ballet just gets funnier and funnier and more and more moving. At one point I began to laugh under my breath–like a feather were tickling my diaphragm–and didn’t stop for five minutes. Ratmansky makes you love these people–this Ivan, this Maiden and her clique, even Kaschei–and respect the forever mysterious bird, who is not, as she has never been, loveable–no more than fire is.