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Spring 2020 New York Season


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45 minutes ago, volcanohunter said:

Perhaps relevant among critics and "ballet nerds" (among whom I count myself), but we have to be honest and admit that most of Ratmansky's projects peter out quickly at the box office, and not only at ABT. I think of how unceremoniously his Paquita was dumped when leadership changed at the Bavarian State Ballet, or how La Scala, which co-produced his Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake, pretty quickly reverted to Nureyev's productions of those ballets. (And Manuel Legris' arrival will only cement their presence.) Ratmansky seems to produce hits consistently only for City Ballet, which is no help to ABT.

As I know you know, the Ratmansky landscape has a little more variety than that suggests (productions that continue to be performed at the Bolshoi, ballets that have been taken into the repertory of more than one company--even the Shostakovich Trilogy, which was created for ABT, was reported by fans on this site, to be a box office success when danced by the San Francisco Ballet... But in any case, "visionary leadership" partly means supporting things that may not have immediate box office appeal or things that divide opinion or piss people off....I think ABT's leadership, criticized for so much (perhaps rightly at times) should get credit for its support of Ratmansky. Also for maintaining some kind of limited connection to the Ashton repertory which otherwise would scarcely be seen in New York at all--except for the occasional visit by Sarasota or (even rarer) the Royal. Ashton, too, has not always been good box office for ABT--Fille, for example, doesn't seem to draw audiences. And Ashton is one of ballet's greatest choreographers. (Project plié should get a mention here as well...though one could wish it had happened sooner.)

Like most ballet fans I can find plenty to criticize in my favorite companies including ABT....and, in fact, it's been a couple of years since I made a special trip just to see them, so take that as a strong criticism in itself--but they have done some things that to my mind qualify as artistically substantive. That's really all I wanted to say.

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I can't argue with anything you've written. But I actually feel for McKenzie on this, because ABT is paying Ratmansky's regular salary, while it's the neighbors across the plaza who seem to get Ratmansky's strongest work.

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2 hours ago, Drew said:

Do they have --or have they had- access to anything comparable to NYCB's media suite when they dance at the Met?  (I had been assuming not...)

Re ABT's leadership. I have always thought that hiring Ratmansky, at any rate, and giving him support for a wide variety of projects was an example of serious artistic leadership and has kept ABT 'relevant' to the ballet world at large. 

Not at the Met, perhaps. They also dance two weeks every year at the Koch, where that media suite is housed. And quite regularly at Segerstrom and Kennedy Center (and many other places). Surely somewhere in Southern California, say, there is a team that could be brought in to film some performances. I'd be willing to trade the ballet world's having had the opportunity to see Ratmansky's lavish and expensive Golden Cockerel, for instance, in order to have some fuller record of the last 30 years of ABT's best artists. (And yes, I know, cherry-picking an obvious dud isn't really fair.)

4 minutes ago, Drew said:

But in any case, "visionary leadership" partly means supporting things that may not have immediate box office appeal or things that divide opinion or piss people off....I think ABT's leadership, criticized for so much (perhaps rightly at times) should get credit for its support of Ratmansky...

...

...but they have done some things that to my mind qualify as artistically substantive. That's really all I wanted to say.

I do agree about Ratmansky — and of course, yes, the company has done artistically substantive work. I should clarify that when I used the term "visionary leadership" I was primarily referring to matters related to what I had identified as the topic I was addressing: the need to come to grips with modern technological realities. And again, I don't just mean recorded performances.

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20 minutes ago, volcanohunter said:

I can't argue with anything you've written. But I actually feel for McKenzie on this, because ABT is paying Ratmansky's regular salary, while it's the neighbors across the plaza who seem to get Ratmansky's strongest work.

Yes--part of the 'cost' of getting Ratmansky was giving him complete freedom -- including letting him continue to choreograph for NYCB even if less frequently. I'd be surprised they didn't do something to limit that in his contract, but my memory is that he opted for ABT over NYCB precisely because they would let him choreograph where he liked as long as he fulfilled his obligations to them.

I'm also a bit of an outlier in some of my admiration for Ratmansky's ABT ballets. I loved Seven Sonatas (which I saw danced by Atlanta Ballet); I loved Whipped Cream (even after attending three performances in two days); I was intrigued enough by  Serenade After Plato's Symposium to want to see it again and actually know of two people who argue IT is actually his strongest work. And...extreme outlier opinion here...I prefer the ballet he created at ABT for Shostakovitch's Piano Concerto no. 1 to Concerto DSCH. But I realize the consensus is that he does his best work for NYCB and I do think several of those ballets--I haven't seen all of them--are absolutely wonderful.

Edited by Drew
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1 hour ago, volcanohunter said:

Perhaps relevant among critics and "ballet nerds" (among whom I count myself), but we have to be honest and admit that most of Ratmansky's projects peter out quickly at the box office, and not only at ABT. I think of how unceremoniously his Paquita was dumped when leadership changed at the Bavarian State Ballet, or how La Scala, which co-produced his Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake, pretty quickly reverted to Nureyev's productions of those ballets. (And Manuel Legris' arrival will only cement their presence.) Ratmansky seems to produce hits consistently only for City Ballet, which is no help to ABT.

I see the problem a bit differently: serious balletomanes love to see the historic reconstructions, but those don't sell tickets over the long haul to broader audiences. I loved seeing the Swan Lake reconstruction and had been thinking (pre-COVID-19) that it might be worth a trip to Miami to see it again. But in truth, things we expect in contemporary productions are missing as aesthetic standards have evolved. Today, most in the ticket-buying audience love seeing the super-athletic interpolations. They're thrilling, even if they're not historically accurate. I saw a few performances of the Sleeping Beauty reconstruction the first season but haven't been back. I find all those gigantic wigs, demi-pointe, long tutus, etc. boring and would rather see a contemporary version with more flash and pizzaz. For Golden Cockerel, once was enough for me. Ditto for Harlequinade. Glad I saw them but I'm not going back. (Meanwhile, I would happily buy tickets repeatedly for Trilogy.)

The Giselle reconstructions seem to fare better at the box office (PNB and Bolshoi), as elements we love about contemporary productions are mostly there, along with some interesting reconstruction elements (the Wilis fugue, e.g.). But Ratmansky's other reconstructions are mainly of historic interest.

So the dilemma: if we want to see these very expensive historic reconstructions, are we willing to support them with ticket purchases and perhaps donations? If not, then we need to understand why companies revert to more contemporary versions that sell tickets.  Joffrey did some historically important reconstructions in the 70s/80s, but they disappeared from the theater. Oakland Ballet performed historically important work by Bronislava Nijinska in the 80s, but those apparently didn't sell either. At least the Joffrey reconstructions survive from PBS recordings. 

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13 minutes ago, nanushka said:

 

I do agree about Ratmansky — and of course, yes, the company has done artistically substantive work. I should clarify that when I used the term "visionary leadership" I was primarily referring to matters related to what I had identified as the topic I was addressing: the need to come to grips with modern technological realities. And again, I don't just mean recorded performances.

Aaahh...This makes sense...I see Mckenzie heavily criticized so often (and in ways that I, personally, find unbalanced) that I took your comment more generally...

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Posted (edited)

I've only been regularly attending ABT since 2017 but have been closely observing the company's decisions since then. Agree with the previously mentioned anecdotes. Among other problems the company has shown an especially poor understanding of audience in recent years, which is puzzling given that it has an executive director who is supposed to understand the business of performing arts, plus a whole marketing team that sends out surveys after every show. 

While I like Ratmansky's Sleeping Beauty, even I, as a "ballet nerd," wish it had more mainstream-friendly elements. Desiré should have more than one solo! The wigs and costumes in Act 1 are truly an eyesore. The demi-pointe chainés, the long mime scenes, etc. Why would anyone think that letting Ratmansky recreate ballets EXACTLY how they were danced in the 19th century, when technique wasn't as developed as it is today, would be a good financial decision in the 2010s when public interest in the classical performing arts has noticeably declined, and people naturally expect to see whiz-bang tricks when they buy a ticket to a full-length ballet? I didn't even bother seeing Harlequinade because I read that there was too much mime. So with productions like that, the company is not only deterring occasional or new ballet goers, but some regular ballet goers as well. (And the box office last year and the year before certainly showed that).

I think Ratmansky has made some truly brilliant work, but cutting-edge originality needs to be balanced with commercial appeal, especially when a company is in a precarious financial situation. Isn't it management's job to help guide that process if the choreographer himself lacks the "big picture" vision? This problem isn't unique to ABT, of course -- I didn't see Voices at NYCB (was supposed to see it this spring), but how could anyone think that a musical score like that would bring much of an audience? Based on reports on this site, it didn't. One of the many depressing factors of  ABT's present situation is that "Of Love and Rage" sounds like it really hit the right mark and could be a hit in NYC, but now we don't get to see it for a long time. 

Other problems with ABT have been talked to death about here, but I'll summarize a few. For one, programming decisions outside of Ratmansky reconstructions have also been glaringly bad. Whipped Cream, though a decent and fairly popular ballet, sold hardly any tickets last year. Why did they think it was a good idea to program it three years in a row? For me, and I think a lot of people, it isn't a ballet that merits repeat viewings year after year. Some of the fall programs have been such wasted opportunities, on paper and in reality. The "Women's Movement," while well intentioned, has largely been a failure -- not a single good new ballet has come out of it. Jessica Lang is not a choreographer worth pushing. What's REALLY sad is that the 2020 Met season seemed totally designed for maximum box-office appeal to make up for past losses, and now it's been cancelled. 

And then there's the casting and the Copeland problem. Copeland draws a big crowd of people who are mostly just there to see her, but for others she really cheapens the ABT brand. Of course, the company has done nothing little to nothing to elevate some of its best talents, especially Sarah Lane. IMO Christine Shevchenko, who does get casted a lot, should be an international star on the level of Bolshoi, Mariinsky, and Royal Ballet ballerinas, but the company hasn't really promoted her. 

Despite its problems I do love attending ABT shows. I want the company to be around for years. I gave a generous donation to their relief fund and am letting them keep my Met subscription money until I use it for a future season. But if ABT does, in fact, go into "dissolution" after this pandemic, it's safe to say the company has been digging its own grave for awhile now. 

Edited by JuliaJ
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6 hours ago, California said:

The Giselle reconstructions seem to fare better at the box office (PNB and Bolshoi), as elements we love about contemporary productions are mostly there, along with some interesting reconstruction elements (the Wilis fugue, e.g.). But Ratmansky's other reconstructions are mainly of historic interest.

Perhaps I am the outlier here, but I detested Ratmansky's production of Giselle unequivocally. For the first time in 35+ years I had no interest in watching the second act. But for the most part it does seem to have been embraced by Moscow audiences. Since I have some experience of watching Giselles in Russia, including the Grigorovich production at the Bolshoi, I am very aware that audiences there seem to view the ballet differently. Whereas everything in my upbringing taught me to approach it as something poetic and atmospheric, to be viewed in rapt silence, Russian audiences do not, to put it mildly. For them it's perfectly normal to applaud stage tricks, lifts and demonstrations of bravura. So while Ratmansky's Giselle looked worse than a Nureyev production to me: fussy, pedestrian and prosaic, and Albrecht's continual entrechats made me want to scream inwardly, Bolshoi audiences ate it up.

I am neither a fan nor a detractor of Ratmansky. I enjoy some of his ballets, and don't enjoy others. Some I like, and some I hate. That's not really surprising, because his "batting average" is, well, average?

Edited by volcanohunter
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22 minutes ago, JuliaJ said:

One of the many depressing factors of  ABT's present situation is that "Of Love and Rage" sounds like it really hit the right mark and could be a hit in NYC, but now we don't get to see it for a long time. 

You know, I think we'd have to wait and see. The Bright Stream was declared a hit when ABT acquired it, and then it played to half-empty houses the following season and hasn't reappeared since. 

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1 minute ago, volcanohunter said:

You know, I think we'd have to wait and see. The Bright Stream was declared a hit when ABT acquired it, and then it played to half-empty houses the following season and hasn't reappeared since. 

ABT has a habit of bringing back new acquisitions for a second Met season in a row (or even a third, as in the case of Whipped Cream), which I'm not sure is always wise. After a good first showing, I think there's something to be said for letting a work rest, letting interest in seeing it again build back up, etc. Two-years-on/one-year-off makes a lot of sense for the classics, especially for the dancers. But it may not always be the best approach for a new (or new-to-NYC) work.

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I suspect this has a lot to do with how performing rights are negotiated, which tends to be for three-year terms. I agree with you, though, and wonder why management hasn't caught on.

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15 hours ago, cobweb said:

Somehow the description of "ABT: Together Tonight" doesn't appeal to me either. It sounds like it will be a lot of puffy short pieces and probably speeches (no thanks). Also the tone of it sounds out of touch, is this really a time to celebrate ABT's history and look forward to a bright future? I think it would be better to frame it honestly as a response to the current situation, with an entire season and many performances cancelled, Stella's farewell missed, etc, and maybe working in references to ABT's history and future but grounding it in the current reality. Just MHO. 

Well said as I also felt like there was something "off" about the tone of this event. It just seems like a gimmicky attempted cash grab. Other companies have been demonstrating the artistic value that they bring to the world and subtly letting people know how they can support the future of those institutions. I wish ABT would do something similar.

 

18 hours ago, Drew said:

It still wouldn't look like the high quality streams being put out by other top companies, and I think that's a problem for them in terms of the image it conveys etc.

I feel for ABT--over the years they have done such wonderful things with substantially fewer resources than NYCB and I worry about whether they can make it through the storm....

Did the company not record some of their performances? I would think that they would have in order to have content for advertisements and have archival footage for future reference.

Also, although they are not as well-funded as NYCB, I would think that ABT would be able to survive since they have significantly cut their costs by not paying their dancers. Although that's not a decision that I agree with, since they own their rehearsal studios and won't be paying rent for the Met and Koch while not performing, the only significant fixed cost I can think of is their administrative staff. I can't imagine that the staff costs even over an extended period would be more than their endowment and other sources of funds. Perhaps I am not seeing the whole picture, however, and I'm not a financial expert, particularly in the arts and non-profits.

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Other arts organizations have announced that their top people are either taking no salary or that their executives are taking steep pay cuts during the pandemic. For example, Peter Gelb announced back in March that he is taking no salary until Met Opera can resume performances, and that all of the executives at the Met Opera are taking pay cuts.  Does anyone know if McKenzie has  similarly offered up his salary to take care of the dancers?  I recognize that McKenie's earnings are nothing close to Gelb's.

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PNB went from Francia Russell telling Q&A audiences that PNB was in desperate need of $10K to replace the camera they used to record performances for their archives to getting a significant-enough grant to enhance social media presence.  They are amart and lucky to have Lindsay Thomas, whose video work we now see, or at least we did until stay-at-home orders.  But it took the initiative to apply for the grant to further the cause.

I don't know the inner workings of ABT, but, from the outside, they look to be insular and not terribly forward-thinking.  

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9 hours ago, volcanohunter said:

The Bright Stream was declared a hit when ABT acquired it, and then it played to half-empty houses the following season and hasn't reappeared since. 

I watched the Bolshoi stream this morning and remembered why I didn't bother with it after the first season -- it was an interesting novelty to see major dancers in drag at the Met (Simkin, Hallberg) + curiosity about Shostakovich, ballets in the Stalinist 30s. But nothing particularly interesting enough to want to go back the next year.

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55 minutes ago, volcanohunter said:

Rehearsal video posted by ABT

Rehearsal video posted by Staatsballett Berlin

In case anyone was still wondering why Daniil Simkin traded New York for Berlin.

Yes. I was so looking forward to seeing him partner Sarah Lane in Giselle in the now-cancelled season. Will we ever see those two together again? Will we be able to travel to Berlin to see Simkin in the coming years, or will we have to self-quarantine for two weeks first? He posts a lot of clips, which are great fun. (And I think he grew up in Berlin, didn't he?)

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On 5/1/2020 at 8:13 AM, California said:

Perhaps they're going in alphabetical order or perhaps starting on the east coast and moving west? Mine hasn't arrived as of two minutes ago.

Better late than never -- the refund for my ABT subscription finally posted this morning on my credit card statement. I have no idea why it took so long.

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21 minutes ago, ABT Fan said:

Abrera gave a recent interview to DanceMagazine about her retirement, and it sounds like she won’t get a rescheduled farewell. Maybe I’m reading into it, but if her farewell was going to happen at some point (but when?) I’d think she’d mention it. 
 

https://www.dancemagazine.com/stella-abrera-2646009112.html?rebelltitem=3#rebelltitem3

I wouldn't assume that is what it means really, although the question of whether she would have delayed her retirement does suggest it.

No one knows what the fall will bring. I suspect that it is quite likely that season will also be cancelled, so it would be foolhardy to plan on a retirement show then, only to have the repeated disappointment of that being cancelled too.

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Posted (edited)

I read the interview the same way as ABT Fan - that Abrera does not intend to return for a farewell after the pandemic.  Hopefully McKenzie will convince her to do a farewell once ABT can resume performances.   I guess we will know in the fall, when they update the roster of dancers.  What a shame. 

Edited by abatt
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On 5/21/2020 at 11:43 AM, abatt said:

I read the interview the same way as ABT Fan - that Abrera does not intend to return for a farewell after the pandemic.  Hopefully McKenzie will convince her to do a farewell once ABT can resume performances...

Was Abrera last onstage at the Kennedy Center in Giselle with James Whiteside?  Great performance. 

Edited by maps
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2 minutes ago, maps said:

Was Abrera last onstage at the Kennedy Center in Giselle with James Whiteside?  Great performance.

 

 

Yes, that was her final performance.  Mr. Abatt wanted to go, but I voted no because we would be seeing it at the Met in the spring so it didn't pay to spend the money to go to DC.  Obviously, that  decision backfired. 

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Abrera discusses that DC Giselle, which ended up being her final peformance, in this NYT article. She was the first ballerina whose artistry I fell in love with, I believe because of a performance of Symphonic Variations in which she and Marcelo Gomes were the leads, if I remember correctly. In addition to her incredible Giselle debut, I'll always remember the warmth and beauty she brought to the role of Lilac Fairy; the way her arms and hands spoke was incredible. Benevolence personified.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/10/arts/dance/alvin-ailey-retirements-coronavirus.html

I've been pretty out of the loop regarding goings-on in ballet these past couple months, so my apologies if these details of Stella's retirement have already been discussed elsewhere.

Edited by fondoffouettes
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13 hours ago, fondoffouettes said:

Abrera discusses that DC Giselle, which ended up being her final peformance, in this NYT article. She was the first ballerina whose artistry I fell in love with, I believe because of a performance of Symphonic Variations in which she and Marcelo Gomes were the leads, if I remember correctly. In addition to her incredible Giselle debut, I'll always remember the warmth and beauty she brought to the role of Lilac Fairy; the way her arms and hands spoke was incredible. Benevolence personified.

The first time I noticed Abrera was at a performance of Sleeping Beauty in which Diana Vishneva was supposed to dance Aurora. When we got to the Met we learned that Vishneva was ill and Herrera was replacing her. I wanted to leave, but in the end we decided to stay. When Abrera came onstage as Lilac Fairy, I was so taken with her exquisite performance that I thought "Who is that?" I saw in the program that it was Stella Abrera, whom I didn't know before, and at intermission I raced to the Grand Tier and bought a pair of her pointe shoes. "She's going to be a principal next year," I said. Sure enough, the next year she was cast at the Wednesday matinee Giselle, which was a stepping stone towards principal. Alas, she was injured, couldn't perform, and the rest is more recent history. I'm thrilled to learn that you also found her port de bras exquisite, not to mention her graciousness in the role.

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