ABT Live from City Center: A Ratmansky Celebration

March 23, 2021

David Mead

The programme title is something of a misnomer: the streaming was actually filmed in February, but ABT Live at City Center does represent the company’s return to the theatre where it first danced in 1947 (the opening programme included the premiere of Balanchine’s Theme and Variations), shortly after both institutions were founded. It’s performances at the theatre have since included 30 world Premieres, 30 company premieres, and in recent years, numerous seasons. The evening is also most definitely a celebration of the choreography of Artist-in-Residence Alexei Ratmansky, the streaming including three excerpts and the world premiere of Bernstein in a Bubble.

Set to the composer’s lesser-known Divertimento for Orchestra, composed to celebrate the centennial of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1980, Bernstein in a Bubble is a 15-minute delight. A series of eight bagatelles with only the closing March longer than a couple of minutes, the music and dance are rich in contrast and mood.

Tyler Maloney and ensemble in Bernstein in a BubblePhoto Christopher Duggan
Tyler Maloney in the Waltz from Bernstein in a Bubble
Photo Christopher Duggan

There’s a bit of a suggestion of West Side Story (the music is littered with borrowings and references) as it bursts into joyful life with Sennets and Tuckets (the stage direction terms used by Shakespeare to denote fanfares). Having a prime number of dancers means there are always unequal groups, or one left over, which Ratmansky uses to good effect here, one man always dancing solo around the changing couples.

We are back to summer again in the Waltz (in unusual 7/8 rather than 3/4 time), which hints at friends gathering, in Central Park, perhaps. It starts unusually with three of the men, the choreography mixing what one would normally consider female lightness with male posing. It all looks rather like a collection of in-jokes from the creation process; and they do bring smiles. When the other dancers join them, things get more conventionally classical, although the merriment continues here and there.

Things turn more thoughtful in the darkly lit and somewhat plaintive Mazurka, a male duet for Aran Bell and Patrick Frenette, which hints a relationship beyond just friendship. In the following Samba, Cassandra Trenary and Blaine Hoven bring the energy of the street and a Latin feel to the stage.

Patrick Frenette, Skylar Brandt, and Tyler Maloney in Turkey Trot from Bernstein in a BubblePhoto Christopher Duggan
Patrick Frenette, Skylar Brandt, and Tyler Maloney
in Turkey Trot from Bernstein in a Bubble
Photo Christopher Duggan

The jokiness returns in the Turkey Trot, where Frenette, Skylar Brandt and Tyler Maloney have as much fun as its title suggests they should. As the man lark around, including tossing her repeatedly from one to the other, Brandt more than once gives them a gem of a ‘What are you doing?’ look. I wondered the same when, having stopped her making her escape, Maloney crawls around Brandt on his hands and knees as she promenades in arabesque. It is funny, though.

Sphinks [sic] serves merely as an introduction to Blues, a sensual, jazz-infused, slinky pas de deux for Catherine Hurlin and Bell. The closing March has a split personality. It opens almost meditatively with Trenary, joined subsequently by Brandt and Hurlin, dancing in darkness as if floating in the black emptiness of deep space. When the tempo quickens and the men join them, the light brightens and things get giddy as Ratmansky speeds towards a final snapshot.

Devon Teuscher in Seven SonatasPhoto Christopher Duggan
Devon Teuscher in Seven Sonatas
Photo Christopher Duggan

The programme opens brightly with the Rose Adagio from Ratmansky’s The Sleeping Beauty. Brandt oozes youthful charm as Princess Aurora although there are a few tremors on the terrifying first set of balances on pointe, which must be scary at the best of times, but when coming on cold as here are probably extra so.

Seven Sonatas was Ratmansky’s second ballet as Artist-in-Residence. The four solos from the second movement danced here each show dancers Herman Cornejo, Luciana Paris, Carlos Gonzalez and Devon Teuscher not only as individuals but as characters. Even stripped of the surrounding pas de deux and other sections that illustrate their relationships, one very much sense that each has a back story.

The choreography has breath, each dancer flowing like being blown on a gentle summer breeze (Holly Hynes’ light, white dresses for the two women help a lot). The movement feels very natural and light, although there is maybe just a hint of something deeper, more yearning from Gonzalez and Teuscher.

Ratmansky’s The Seasons (to Glazunov not Vivaldi) marked another anniversary, this time ten years in post at ABT. The summer pas de deux between the Spirit of the Corn and Zephyr is one of its highlights and Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside do not disappoint. It has the air of a warm summer evening, the pair easy in each other’s company. Boylston repeatedly dives into Whiteside’s arms with incredible lightness, and when he lifts her above his head, it’s as though she’s being carried effortlessly on a thermal. It has invention too, not least towards the end, where she supports him as he turns in a reversal of the usual roles.

Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside in The SeasonsPhoto Christopher Duggan
Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside in The Seasons
Photo Christopher Duggan

The programme is hosted warmly by author and Co-Chair of the ABT Trustees Emeriti Susan Fales-Hill, and also features a series of photographic memories of the company at the City Center (although unfortunate that details are only hidden away in the closing credits rather than being given at the time), and an intermission conversation between Ratmansky and curator of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division at the New York Public Library, Linda Murray. My only complaint is that, at just 52 minutes in total, it is all too brief.

ABT Live at City Center: A Ratmansky Celebration is available on demand until April 18, 2021. Visit www.abt.org for details and to purchase access.