an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me | Advertise | Follow me:


This article originally appeared in the Culture section of Bloomberg News on June 9, 2006.

June 9 (Bloomberg) — Finally, some glitter! New York City Ballet’s Diamond Project, intended to stimulate the company’s dancers and its audience through new creations, had been a glum affair until last night’s premiere of the sixth of seven commissioned works, “Russian Seasons.”

Choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky, artistic director of Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet, the piece is astute and appealing. Simple, yet sophisticated in construction, it’s infused with blithe humor and profound human feeling.

The score — by Leonid Desyatnikov, a contemporary Ukrainian composer — is based on traditional Russian songs, set here for string orchestra, solo violin and female voice. Its dozen songs are organized to reflect the turn of the seasons as well as the rituals of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Ratmansky, in turn, borrows familiar motifs from Russian national dancing, while the costumes, by Galina Solovyeva, provide a simple postmodern gloss on native dress.

Nevertheless, “Russian Seasons” is no mere ethnic exercise. Folk dance relies on symmetry. The stage patterns Ratmansky fashions with his dancers are examples of ever-shifting, yet flawlessly balanced, asymmetry.

Folk dance springs from rural camaraderie. Ratmansky’s choreography incorporates that — the communal friendships, the teasing, the playful roughhousing, the sense of generations mingling. But it goes much further.

Anger, Evil, Death

One scene depicts temper flaring out of control, another a malevolent haunting. The dance concludes with a wedding that may, after all, be a death — the white-clad “bride” a cousin to Romantic ballet’s doomed Sylphide.

In its most moving passage, a woman reveals a deep grief to an intimate ensemble of three couples — her near and dear. They draw back, then offer empathy and comfort, but eventually abandon her, reminding us that the keenest sorrow leaves one utterly alone.

The ballet uses a dozen dancers of all ranks, from corps to principal, and every one of them looks terrific — hand-picked and elated to be there.

Apart from Ratmansky’s contribution, the Diamond Project, the focus of the company’s current season, has offered little cause for rejoicing. That has been the case in its past five incarnations. One might well ask if the time, energy and money it consumes wouldn’t be better devoted to cultivating the Balanchine repertory, NYCB’s main treasure and first responsibility.

Of the most recent entries, by Mauro Bigonzetti and Jean- Pierre Bonnefoux, Bigonzetti’s “In Vento” was the more viable. The choreographer, who brought his Reggio Emilia-based Compagnia Aterballetto to New York last fall, aims chiefly for striking effects.

Twisted Poses

Set to an atmospheric score by Bruno Moretti, “In Vento” centers on a soul-searching fellow (I saw the grave Edwaard Liang in the role) in a fathomless dark space.

He conjures up four couples who twist their beautiful bodies into baroque poses. Do they represent his past or his dreams?

Another pair (Maria Kowroski, the company’s Queen of Adagio, and Jason Fowler) emerge as more important than the others, their duet a primal scene.

The prevailing mood is eerie as well as erotically charged. And the whole business is unquestionably gorgeous. But most of what’s happening is pure surface, no inside.

Bonnefoux’s “Two Birds With the Wings of One” attempts to evoke ancient China by means of classical ballet, a strategy destined for disaster.

To ear-catching cross-cultural music by Bright Sheng, the company’s composer in residence, Bonnefoux vaguely outlines the pathos-laden tale of a woman who chooses to join her warrior-mate in death.

Old Chestnuts

The choreography delivers every cliche that has adhered to this theme. Given Bonnefoux’s experience — principal dancer with the Paris Opera Ballet, then with New York City Ballet, now head of North Carolina Dance Theatre — you’d think he’d know better.

The vibrant Sofiane Sylve and her partner, Andrew Veyette, did their earnest best in the discouraging circumstances.

© 2006 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

an ArtsJournal blog