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Bolshoi’s Ratmansky Would Bring Stardom, Heart to City Ballet

This article originally appeared in the Culture section of Bloomberg News on February 7, 2008.


Alexei Ratmansky, artistic director of the Moscow-based Bolshoi Ballet, performs in this undated handout image. Photographer: Vyacheslav Podorozhy/NYCBallet via Bloomberg News

Feb. 7 (Bloomberg) — Alexei Ratmansky, artistic director of the Moscow-based Bolshoi Ballet, is scheduled to meet this weekend with Peter Martins, his counterpart at the New York City Ballet. The tete-a-tete, confirmed by the City Ballet, is likely to determine whether Ratmansky will succeed Christopher Wheeldon as resident choreographer with the New York company.

The answer looks like yes. The offer was initially made in March 2007. Last month Ratmansky told an interviewer from the Russian newspaper Izvestia that he will resign from the Bolshoi when his contract expires at the end of this year, in order to devote himself to choreography.

Martins’s wise offer — Ratmansky is the strongest candidate — can also be read as ironic revenge on Wheeldon, for whom the post was created in 2001. Wheeldon leaves this season, preferring to focus his energies on his own new, chamber-size troupe, Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company. (The troupe made its New York debut in October, to mixed reviews.)

Ratmansky is far from a great choreographer, but he’s a gifted and warm-hearted one who expresses genuine feeling in his dances. His 2006 creation for City Ballet, “Russian Seasons,” was engaging, intelligent and filled with a sense of real human life.

By contrast, Wheeldon’s abstract ballets, while astutely crafted, tend to be emotionally frozen or distanced; his narrative pieces are washed with sentiments that don’t ring true.

Circuitous Route

Ratmansky’s career has taken a circuitous route. Born in St. Petersburg, he trained at the Bolshoi’s school but was rejected for the celebrated company. He then danced with the Ukrainian National Ballet, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and the Royal Danish Ballet. Along the way he choreographed and confirmed his dance-making talent with the joyous, entertaining “The Bright Stream” for the Bolshoi even before the company appointed him to the top post.

Now it looks as if Ratmansky will be the one every company wants to commission, as it was with predecessors Wheeldon and Jorma Elo, a specialist in the Frenetic School of choreography.

City Ballet will present another new Ratmansky piece during its 2008 spring season. Before that, his work will be seen in “Diana Vishneva: Beauty in Motion,” for which he has created a “Pierrot Lunaire” to the Schoenberg song cycle, for the versatile Kirov Ballet star. (The show runs Feb. 21-24 at City Center.)

Bolshoi ballerina Nina Ananiashvili’s State Ballet of Georgia will then offer two Ratmansky pieces, “Bizet Variations” and “Dreams About Japan,” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (Feb. 27-March 2).

Wheeldon offers a cautionary tale to the dance press, which built him up, exaggerating his gifts, desperate to discover and tout a successor to Balanchine. They turned on him when, inevitably, he disappointed, especially when he offered programs featuring his own pieces back-to-back.

Ratmansky deserves more restrained treatment. Choreographic genius is rare; if he does sign on with City Ballet, Ratmansky may prove that good can be good enough indeed.

© 2008 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

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