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New article on Alexei Ratmansky (by Marina Harss)

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Has anyone read this article in The Nation? I read it yesterday in one gulp. I think Harss is a wonderfully vivid writer, and although this is a complex piece -- weaving her observations at rehearsals of Ratmansky's Shostakovich trilogy, with its roots in Russian history, and lots of fascinating information about Shostakovich WITH some very interesting comments by Ratmansky and those he's worked with -- it flows.


Here's a quote:

Ratmansky is politely pushing the dancers, and ballet technique, to a new level. He tends to complicate the movement, speeding it up, taking it off-balance and introducing multiple shadings into each step. “His ballets are so hard; you do so many steps,” says Isabella Boylston, a soloist at American Ballet Theatre, where Ratmansky is the artist in residence. “But you can also have a sense of abandon, and I think he likes that.” Ratmansky likes the unexpected. Each day, he comes into the studio with a few ideas, which he has developed early in the morning before rehearsal, and a black notebook full of musical cues, but without a firm plan. His rehearsals are remarkably tension-free, even when the dancers look wan and spent and he asks them to repeat everything just one more time. They ask questions and make suggestions; he listens and takes their input. But he is also implacable in his desire for them to exhibit certain nuances, and he demands they use their imagination: “Run like you’re shadows, with no weight.” Though Ratmansky’s choreography is almost exclusively built out of the usual ballet vocabulary—steps developed in the French court, with names like coupé, passé and brisé—under his direction they look less formal, more free, almost newly minted.

Read more: Running Like Shadows | The Nation http://www.thenation.com/article/17511/running.shadows#ixzz2ZyGyU6wK
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Thanks, Alexandra. The paper edition hasn't arrived yet, and I'll wait for that. (Much better for marking and underlining, for those of us with dodgy memories. smile.png ) I like the paradox near the beginning of the paragraph -- with Isabella Boylston commenting that "His ballets are so heard; you do so many steps," and following that up with: "But you can also have a sense of abandon ...."

The Nation has always impressed me with its commitment to progressive political analysis combined with its willingness to devote a lot of space to serious articles about the higher arts.

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I did read this--twitter alerted me to it of all things--I found it very interesting. Although Ratmansky works all over the world including Russia it remains rather intriguing to me that the work which, he says, reflects "all my knowledge about what has happened in twentieth-century Russia" (that is, the Shostakovich trilogy) find its birthplace at ABT.

(Perhaps because, as he also says, he doesn't want the audience "to look" for that knowledge, but I don't think that's the only reason...)

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I finally got tto read this. Its rich and dense, and is especially impressive in the way in which it integrates a close analysis of Ratmansky's manner of working in the studio, the elements that make his ballets look the way they do onstage, and a serious discussion of the music that he works with.

Ratmansky at work in the studio --:

“Let’s listen to it,” he says calmly at a session two days later. The pianist plays a few bars. Then Ratmansky shows the dancers a short sequence of steps. “You don’t need to count here,” he advises, singing the melody as he travels from one step to the next. His movements are accented, stretched and tilted, with a juicy, three-dimensional quality. His arms complete the lines of the body, extending them or pulling his torso around with a powerful twist. The dancers stare at him in slight disbelief. They do their best to imitate him, but at first their versions are timid and comparatively square. At one point a dancer slips slightly, skittering across the floor and into another dancer arms. Ratmansky’s eyes widen with a mischievous spark. “Can we keep that?”

Looking at Ratmansky's work on stage --

One of the great joys of Balanchine, even in his most modernist works, is the absolute legibility of every moment. Not so with Ratmansky, whose ballets tend toward extremes of complexity. In any given tableau, there are often three or four hives of activity humming simultaneously; at times, it can be overwhelming. His ballets invite second and third viewings, and they force the eye to see more. Afterward, other ballets can look too simple, too neat, with all those straight lines, crisp steps and symmetrical patterns. At a point during a rehearsal of the Chamber Symphony, I saw a group of dancers jumping, several couples engaged in complicated traveling lifts, and a few free agents zooming through the remaining space. Another ensemble repeated an earlier phrase, but in reverse. At first, there were traffic jams, but the effect was startling: a complex moving figure had come to life. Nothingness had become chaos and now this, a kind of crazy machine with pistons flying.

Her long discussion of what happens in the Chamber Symphony (middle) movement of the Shostakovich is superb example of this important skill. Her paragraph on The Bright Stream, though less descriptive, is just as good in its own way.

Ratmansky and music,in this case, Shostakovich --

Take the pas de deux in the recent Symphony No. 9. After a bright, snappy march led by flute, violin and snare drum, an enigmatic clarinet slithers downward in a minor key in the second movement as a man and woman curl around each other like two snakes, occasionally turning their heads sharply to peer through the surrounding darkness. Their movements are oblique and stretched, tango-like, echoing the clarinet’s plangent melody. A threat seems to loom beyond the wings. (The peering motif has already been introduced, in passing, in the first movement.)

Marina Harss is the kind of writer that ballet needs more of -- good eye, clear powers of description, good knowledge of ballet and music history. Count me an enthusiast.

If you haven't read the complete piece, please, please do.

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In a discussion of the history of ballet and music (pp.4-5 of my pdf version), Ratmansky incisively sums up what ballet can do, referring to Balanchine's Serenade as his model: " 'It's just dance, and at the same time it has narrative, which can be interpreted in very different ways. This, I think, is the specialty of ballet, more than story ballets or completely "abstract" works.' "

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