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2014 Nutcracker BAM Season


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What surprises me the most is that Ratmansky made virtually no revisions (at least to my eyes) over the years. I feel like the first act is pretty good, with the Snowflakes being a big highlight, and I really like many of Ratmansky's storytelling decisions (e.g., having adult dancers in the Nutcracker and Clara roles.) However, the second act feels decidedly unmagical -- from the spare sets to the bland character dances. And it seems like pretty much no one is a fan of adult Clara's peek-a-boo moment or her Vegas wedding bridal veil. The production has so much potential, and I just wish Ratmantsky would have reinvested some creative energy into tweaking the second act.

As for the poor ticket sales this year, I suspect most locals who wanted to see this production have already seen it. And if you're not a balletomane, you probably see no need to go back year after year. And I certainly agree with others that Lincoln Center has more of a tri-state draw than BAM does.

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[quote name="Waelsung" post="346214" timestamp="1417146741"

BTW, what exactly has he done in NY that was really successful in the long run?

A lot depends on how you are thinking the word "successful" --praised by a range of critics? Acquired by other companies? Major breakthrough for some of its cast? Box office? What fans think? What fans on Ballet Alert think? One's own judgment? (I am also not sure how to think "the long run" when talking about a choreographer who has been working in NY for no more than a decade...rather less actually.)

I have not seen Ratmansky's Nutcracker and, though I would like to, I can think of many other things by Ratmansky I would prefer to see first. But by almost any criterion I can imagine, I think he has had a lot of success making dances in NY. Both at ABT and NYCB, though my own favorite of those I have seen, Namouna, was created for NYCB.

From his collaboration w. ABT and, restricting myself to works I have seen, liked/admired, and of which I have read positive reviews, professional and amateur, I will just mention the closing ballet of the Shostakovich trilogy (Piano Concerto No. 1) and Seven Sonatas...

But another question for ABT "in the long run" is what kind of company it would be in the absence of new works and all the risks that go along with new works. New works may not at present time be as central to ABT as to NYCB, and I am happy to see ABT be a different kind of company, but new works should not entirely fall off the radar. In the years just preceding Ratmansky's involvement with the company, the company's new acquisitions certainly had less (much less) success than his works have had--by any criterion.

But Ratmansky's works also do not come close to dominating the repertory at ABT...they can be largely avoided. His Nutcracker did replace Mckenzie's which was not particularly well-received critically. I am reading here that Ratmansky's Nutcracker has been a box office bust this season--was Mckenzie's Nutcracker ever in the running as a steady company moneymaker in the NY area?

For myself, ABT is infinitely more interesting with Ratmansky than it would or even could be without him.

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Thank you, Drew! Of course, everything is very subjective and I must take 'the long run" criterion back, as Ratmansky clearly has not been with the ABT long enough (even though for me he's overstayed his welcome already).

I know critics adore and universally praise him, this is exactly why I posed my question about what he has really done to become a 'sacred cow' of such proportions.

And I am not talking about his NYCB ballets, as I think he would be much more suited to be house choreographer there than at the ABT where his track record is somewhat less impressive for my money.

I agree about the need to add new works to the ABT repertoire, but where are they exactly? What has Ratmansky created for the ABT that is likely to be performed on a regular basis to generate so much needed income for the theater?

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What surprises me the most is that Ratmansky made virtually no revisions (at least to my eyes) over the years. I feel like the first act is pretty good, with the Snowflakes being a big highlight, and I really like many of Ratmansky's storytelling decisions (e.g., having adult dancers in the Nutcracker and Clara roles.) However, the second act feels decidedly unmagical -- from the spare sets to the bland character dances. And it seems like pretty much no one is a fan of adult Clara's peek-a-boo moment or her Vegas wedding bridal veil. The production has so much potential, and I just wish Ratmantsky would have reinvested some creative energy into tweaking the second act.

As for the poor ticket sales this year, I suspect most locals who wanted to see this production have already seen it. And if you're not a balletomane, you probably see no need to go back year after year. And I certainly agree with others that Lincoln Center has more of a tri-state draw than BAM does.

I think you hit the nail on the head re ticket sales, fondoffouttes. I happen to like this Nutcracker very much but even I have not attended every year. I think I went 2 years in a row then took a break then went back last year. I would have probably taken a break this year too had it not been their final season. I know this may be heresy but I'd grown a bit bored with the Balanchine Nutcracker and haven't attended in years, although I do have a recording that I'll watch just to see Bouder as Dewdrop. And I whole heartedly admit that a holiday trip to Lincoln Center for Nutcracker is much more magical than a trip to BAM.

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I think the Trilogy was his best work for ABT, but it evidently didn't sell because ABT has not brought it back.

At San Francisco Ballet the Trilogy (co-produced with ABT) is being brought back for a second year – "due to critical and audience acclaim." It wasn't originally scheduled when the 2015 season was announced, only Concerto #1, so everything was reshuffled to make way for it.

Here's a reheasal clip (with 10 lovely seconds of Simone Messmer at :52).

https://www.sfballet.org/tickets/production/overview/program-5-2014

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ABT hasn't produced many long lasting hit ballets in recent years no matter who the choreographer is. James Kudelka's Cinderella was junked and replaced with the tried and true Ashton version. The Sleeping Beauty ... Never could iron out its problems and now it's being replaced by Ratmamsky. I honestly think the lack of hits beyond the dependable classics has a lot to do with the artistic decisions of Kevin McKenzie. There's turnover in the corps, a very rigid casting policy, and, judging from exit interviews, low morale. You can't make miserable, unhappy dancers look like a great company and I think that's what a lot of it is.

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I think the Trilogy was his best work for ABT, but it evidently didn't sell because ABT has not brought it back.

At San Francisco Ballet the Trilogy (co-produced with ABT) is being brought back for a second year – "due to critical and audience acclaim." It wasn't originally scheduled when the 2015 season was announced, only Concerto #1, so everything was reshuffled to make way for it.

Here's a reheasal clip (with 10 lovely seconds of Simone Messmer at :52).

https://www.sfballet.org/tickets/production/overview/program-5-2014

I'm really hoping to get down to SF to see this in the spring.

I think that's part of the fascination with Ratmansky is his fidelity to ballet, both to reviving older works and to creating new material within that discipline. Over the last several years we've seen a great deal of crossover or hybrid work, combining ballet with other dance disciplines. Ratmansky seems to be one of the choreographers who is more interested in finding out what ballet itself can do.

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I think that's part of the fascination with Ratmansky is his fidelity to ballet, both to reviving older works and to creating new material within that discipline. Over the last several years we've seen a great deal of crossover or hybrid work, combining ballet with other dance disciplines. Ratmansky seems to be one of the choreographers who is more interested in finding out what ballet itself can do.

Yes...That has been absolutely crucial to me.

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I think the Trilogy was his best work for ABT, but it evidently didn't sell because ABT has not brought it back.

At San Francisco Ballet the Trilogy (co-produced with ABT) is being brought back for a second year – "due to critical and audience acclaim." It wasn't originally scheduled when the 2015 season was announced, only Concerto #1, so everything was reshuffled to make way for it.

Here's a reheasal clip (with 10 lovely seconds of Simone Messmer at :52).

https://www.sfballet.org/tickets/production/overview/program-5-2014

I saw the SFB's production of The Trilogy last Spring. Stunning! Huge audience success! Well danced in every aspect. Never once did I miss or long for the ABT production. Well worth bringing back for a second year. Haven't a clue why it doesn't sell here.

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So basically, we have established that in all these years with ABT Ratmansky had created The Trilogy that some people like but that doesn't sell, and The Nutcracker that is even less liked by the public and sells even worse, which, come to think of it, is quite an accomplishment all by itself. Nevertheless, Ratmansky is still universally praised to high heaven by the critics and his contract has been extended to what feels like forever.

The only reasonable explanation that I've seen: everybody at the ABT is even worse and no choreohrapher is creating anything of value anyway.

I must be missing some crucial pieces of the puzzle here.

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So basically, we have established that in all these years with ABT Ratmansky had created The Trilogy that some people like but that doesn't sell, and The Nutcracker that is even less liked by the public and sells even worse, which, come to think of it, is quite an accomplishment all by itself. Nevertheless, Ratmansky is still universally praised to high heaven by the critics and his contract has been extended to what feels like forever.

The only reasonable explanation that I've seen: everybody at the ABT is even worse and no choreohrapher is creating anything of value anyway.

I must be missing some crucial pieces of the puzzle here.

Yes, you're missing the the good ballets he's made for other companies. He's pretty much batting a thousand for NYCB (Russian Seasons, Concerto DSCH, Namouna, and Pictures at an Exhibition).

Personally, I think he'd be more successful across the Plaza, but, as he pointed out in an interview somewhere, he has a family to feed and ABT offered him a better contract. He's hit-or-miss when it comes to actual storytelling.

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Personally, I think he'd be more successful across the Plaza, but, as he pointed out in an interview somewhere, he has a family to feed and ABT offered him a better contract. He's hit-or-miss when it comes to actual storytelling.

I agree 100% that he should've been working for the NYCB and of course, my heart bleeds for his starving family smile.png

On a more serious note, am I correct in my understanding that ABT pays Ratmansky top $$$$ because he creates a lot of innovative, popular and financially profitable ballets for other companies?

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Personally, I think he'd be more successful across the Plaza, but, as he pointed out in an interview somewhere, he has a family to feed and ABT offered him a better contract. He's hit-or-miss when it comes to actual storytelling.

I agree 100% that he should've been working for the NYCB and of course, my heart bleeds for his starving family smile.png

On a more serious note, am I correct in my understanding that ABT pays Ratmansky top $$$$ because he creates a lot of innovative, popular and financially profitable ballets for other companies?

Yes of course you are. Ha ha ha.

I actually like the ABT Nutcracker a lot. I am happy to see it every year, whereas at this point I don't need to see NYCBs for a long time.

Of course I actually *gasp* live in Brooklyn, so getting to BAM doesn't strike me as the horror it apparently does many on this forum.

I liked trilogy as well. It wasn't a terribly unusual opinion. This board gets so snarky of late though, that at times it feels a bit pointless to voice opinions other than the loudest and most oft repeated.

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Well to be fair he staged the well received "Bright Stream" and has taken risks with "Firebird" and "The Tempest". He will do a new "Sleeping Beauty" to debut next spring. If his "Nutcracker" does well in Orange County, then I think it will be considered a success.

Do we judge Balanchine on his full length "Midsummer Night's Dream" or "Coppelia" alone? I don't think so. "Apollo", "Agon" and "The Four Temperments" are considered seminal works, but not box office "hits" on the same level as a full length story such as "Swan Lake". Ironically, NYCB has the Martins staging of "Swan Lake" and it is a big box office success....but would you judge the quality of Martins' choreography based on his "Swan Lake"?

For Ratmansky, "On the Dnieper" seems to be very well received, and from what I've seen on Youtube, I've liked.

My new year's resolution for 2015 is to get out of town more often to see more ballet. Since I'm on the west coast, that will probably mean seeing the Ratmansky SB in Orange County, and the Shostakovich Trilogy in San Francisco. Of course, much will depend on finances and airfare. But I will keep you apprised. smile.png

You ballet-alerters inspire me with all your travel to NY, St Petersburg, Vienna, London, Miami and all ports in between. I feel like I need to up my game.

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I liked trilogy as well. It wasn't a terribly unusual opinion. This board gets so snarky of late though, that at times it feels a bit pointless to voice opinions other than the loudest and most oft repeated.

Of course I actually *gasp* live in Brooklyn, so getting to BAM doesn't strike me as the horror it apparently does many on this forum.

I live in Brooklyn too. I've seen The Nutcracker and with my beloved Vero Part to boot. I probably wouldn't go see it again even if it played down the block from my house, so I am afraid we have to dismiss the notion that Ratmansky is not fully successful because he creates location-specific ballets that appeal to dwellers of certain NY boroughs only.

I also saw On the Dniepr and Bright Stream after which I've made a resolution never to spend another nickel on anything AR does. Of course, the upcoming Spring season will be a huge test for my resolve, as I don't think I can miss SB. We'll see. After all, if nobody knows about my self-imposed vow to stay away from AR ballets, I won't really be breaking it, right? :)

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I liked trilogy as well. It wasn't a terribly unusual opinion. This board gets so snarky of late though, that at times it feels a bit pointless to voice opinions other than the loudest and most oft repeated.

Of course I actually *gasp* live in Brooklyn, so getting to BAM doesn't strike me as the horror it apparently does many on this forum.

I live in Brooklyn too. I've seen The Nutcracker and with my beloved Vero Part to boot. I probably wouldn't go see it again even if it played down the block from my house, so I am afraid we have to dismiss the notion that Ratmansky is not fully successful because he creates location-specific ballets that appeal to dwellers of certain NY boroughs only.

Waelsung, to clarify--That part of my response wasn't directed at what you said. Indeed you never made Brooklyn part of your equation. Others did that! :D

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I liked trilogy as well. It wasn't a terribly unusual opinion. This board gets so snarky of late though, that at times it feels a bit pointless to voice opinions other than the loudest and most oft repeated.

Of course I actually *gasp* live in Brooklyn, so getting to BAM doesn't strike me as the horror it apparently does many on this forum.

I live in Brooklyn too. I've seen The Nutcracker and with my beloved Vero Part to boot. I probably wouldn't go see it again even if it played down the block from my house, so I am afraid we have to dismiss the notion that Ratmansky is not fully successful because he creates location-specific ballets that appeal to dwellers of certain NY boroughs only.

Waelsung, to clarify--That part of my response wasn't directed at what you said. Indeed you never made Brooklyn part of your equation. Others did that! biggrin.png

Aurora, no offense taken - we Brooklynites have to stick together and look out for each other :)

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So basically, we have established that in all these years with ABT Ratmansky had created The Trilogy that some people like but that doesn't sell, and The Nutcracker that is even less liked by the public and sells even worse, which, come to think of it, is quite an accomplishment all by itself. Nevertheless, Ratmansky is still universally praised to high heaven by the critics and his contract has been extended to what feels like forever.

The only reasonable explanation that I've seen: everybody at the ABT is even worse and no choreohrapher is creating anything of value anyway.

I must be missing some crucial pieces of the puzzle here.

I mentioned Seven Sonatas as well -- which has been danced successfully by other companies not just ABT. But actually I was careful only to mention works about which I had read both critical praise from professionals and a lot of praise online from fans. Not just works I liked. For myself I thought the Firebird was pretty remarkable--but I recognize there is not as much consensus about that ballet!

But I have to add that I think that art isn't a consensus affair: for years John Martin was ripping up Balanchine to take a relatively notorious example...Over time Ratmansky's ballets will either prove themselves or be consigned to the dustbin of ballet history. I'm a Ratmansky admirer, but I haven't had the chance to see any of his full length works more than once and I am plenty curious how they will hold up when I see them (if I have the chance to see them) repeatedly.

Still, in my book it's not a mark against a choreographer that not everyone likes him/her. Though it's certainly something ABT has to take into account. And indeed it's not as if the company has been handed over to Ratmansky works/stagings. That's one reason he can create so much for other companies. He's a piece of the ABT picture, but only a piece. (I also don't hold it against a choreographer that he doesn't produce a hit a year as long as I feel he is a serious artist...I do occasionally wonder about Ratmansky spreading himself too thin.)

God knows ABT needs some 'hits'...and must have been hoping for one with Nutcracker. I don't doubt that failing to make a go of it at BAM is a disappointment to them. If it turns into a west coast moneymaker then I guess that will be some compensation.

But when it comes to box office and ballet...As I remember ABT did not have box office success with Ashton's La FIlle Mal Gardee which is a both a great and a very audience-friendly ballet. And sometimes it seems that at the Met they have given up even trying to make their mixed bill programs sell. I guess that can't be literally true, but by scheduling so few of them it's almost as if they are advertising them as being relatively unimportant. By the time the Shostakovich trilogy was reviewed it was no longer possible to buy tickets, because it wasn't being danced anymore.

I also don't see how one can sell even the greatest and most loved full-length ballets season after season after season at the Met without high powered principal dancers. Ratmansky at least has seemed interested in developing dancers like the much lamented--by me certainly--Simone Messmer. Copeland's Firebird has been her most widely and warmly praised major role so far. And Ratmansky has given Hallberg distinctively different kinds of roles as well--developing a kind of character dimension to him. These things also matter to the life of a ballet company and are one reason new works are important.

It will be interesting to see if the company can make the Ratmansky/Petipa Sleeping Beauty a "hit"--but whatever the staging it's a ballet that needs ballerinas. Right now, I think the paucity of major ballerinas at the height of their career is much more likely to be damaging ABT and its box office--even its Nutcracker Box Office--than Ratmansky per se even if he's as bad as his detractors believe. Whether that's because the company does not have those dancers in its ranks or because it has failed to cast/develop them properly is a different matter.

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David Koch is a big supporter of Ratmansky, and I think that must explain a lot about how he ended up at ABT as artist in residence.

I thought for sure ABT would bring in Ratmansky's Flames of Paris, but that has not happened.

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I saw the SFB's production of The Trilogy last Spring. Stunning! Huge audience success! Well danced in every aspect. Never once did I miss or long for the ABT production. Well worth bringing back for a second year. Haven't a clue why it doesn't sell here.

Perhaps there was no audience for it in the general ABT audience?

I feel like ABT is trying to push water up a hill with new work in general and Ratmansky in particular. I know I'm a broken record (skipping CD?) on this subject but I think the average ABT viewer goes to ABT to see stars and not new "edgy" work from the latest "hot" choreographer. I'm not exactly sure how things got to this pass. Did ABT's gradual move away from mixed bills over the last 45 years condition its audience to view multi-act story ballets as the only legitimate form of expression at ABT? Did Baryshnikov's mixed bill programming in the 80s sour the core audience on the whole notion of the mixed bill and new work? Certainly 20 years of Kevin McKenzie's commissions may have left many audience members feeling burned by the whole concept of new work.

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I feel like ABT is trying to push water up a hill with new work in general and Ratmansky in particular. I know I'm a broken record (skipping CD?)

I keep looking for a substitute for this figure of speech, since I'm afraid it's going to go the way of "dialing" a phone number soon!

... I think the average ABT viewer goes to ABT to see stars and not new "edgy" work from the latest "hot" choreographer. I'm not exactly sure how things got to this pass. Did ABT's gradual move away from mixed bills over the last 45 years condition its audience to view multi-act story ballets as the only legitimate form of expression at ABT? Did Baryshnikov's mixed bill programming in the 80s sour the core audience on the whole notion of the mixed bill and new work? Certainly 20 years of Kevin McKenzie's commissions may have left many audience members feeling burned by the whole concept of new work.

When ABT was founded, the mixed bill was perceived as the standard structure for ballet performance. It wasn't really that well-established -- Diaghilev had made it a feature of his early programming in Europe, and so the companies that were descended from his Ballet Russe kept that format when they took off in their various directions. For a number of reasons both aesthetic and financial that model was the default by the time Mordkin and Chase teamed up with Pleasant to start Ballet Theater. A program-length project was a resource-heavy investment, and so was the exception rather than the rule for quite some time (I think we forget occasionally that Balanchine's Nutcracker was considered a risk at the beginning) As I recall, ABT really began to commit their powers to the big classics in the 1960s, as we began to see more companies touring with those works in their repertories. Now, they're in the tricky position of having to present the works they have in production while cultivating their artists and adding to their repertory. To get 'value' out of presenting something like Swan Lake or Don Q, you've got to commit to a number of performances -- they eat up rehearsal time and resources. And if you're performing at the Met, a large stage with a large reputation, the stakes are pretty high. ABT worked hard to sell their audiences on the 19th c program-length classics, and now they are reaping the consequences of their success.

When Baryshnikov commissioned new work (primarily shorter ballets) he took advantage of his own connections and skills, alongside the general zeitgeist interest in hybrid works. The NEA established a specific funding category for new pairings (the gist was to commission a dance from someone you otherwise might not work with) -- the general push was to break stylistic boundaries. A few of these works have lasted, many have not, but that's really no different than any other period in the history of the company. If you go back and look at the rep lists from the 40s and 50s you'll see a lot of titles that didn't last past their premiere year.

I was really hoping that the company would take advantage of their autumn seasons at City Center to delve into their mixed rep catalog, and continue to add to that part of their standing rep. The mixed bill is still a vital part of the NYCB identity, but ABT seems to have backed away -- we are all a bit poorer because of it.

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David Koch is a big supporter of Ratmansky, and I think that must explain a lot about how he ended up at ABT as artist in residence.

I thought for sure ABT would bring in Ratmansky's Flames of Paris, but that has not happened.

Flames of Paris seems to me as peculiar a choice for ABT (even in the Ratmansky version) as Bright Stream. Those ballets have a reason for being in Russian companies; much less so in an American one. The full-length Ratmansky that I thought might be imported by ABT was Lost Illusions.

I agree at least to a large extent with Miliosr and Sandik, too, that it feels as if a large portion of ABT's audience--certainly of their Met audience--has been, over the decades, increasingly brought to expect and admire familiar full-length works with well-known principal dancers.

I personally like the fact that ABT maintains the major classics in repertory regularly--which is the only way to maintain quality in dancing those ballets. I could wish they had better productions of many of them. I'm more dubious about some of their 20th-century full length works--by which I mean Macmillan--but am resigned to their popularity. I also am okay with--even enthusiastic about--'stars' who are artists, as long as the company develops some of those dancers from within (eg Murphy, Cornejo, Hallberg) and has relations with others that are dancing with the company regularly not just dropping in for one performance. I certainly make no apologies for believing a great ballet company needs great ballerinas. ABT is obviously going through a tricky transition right now on that particular front.

But even so, I would like to see more attention to repertory programs at the long and repetitive Met seasons. Something that I think would also bring out strengths in the company as a company that we seem likeliest to get a glimpse of during the much shorter Koch theater season.

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