Neo by Alexei Ratmansky

Online by Joyce Theater, New York
May 19, 2021

Charlotte Kasner

Filmed on the Joyce Theater stage, American Ballet Theatre principals Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside dance Neo, a frenetic, ten-minute work by Alexei Ratmansky with Sumie Kaneko playing the shamisen upstage centre. This is eye-popping musicianship. No geisha every played the shamisen like this!

Ratmansky intersperses frenetic, sharp movement with languid ports de bras. Multiple pirouettes are executed with the working leg just off the ground. It seems a wonder that Boylston doesn’t drill down into the stage.

A seemingly everlasting balance in arabesque en pointe functions as a teaser into the slow(er) movement where Ratmansky introduces another balance with just connected palms providing support. Whiteside bounces on his knees then flips onto his feet and then Boylston demonstrates another promenade en pointe using her partner’s head as a support, as he drums his feet in a circle around her.

A series of foutteés and pirouettes in unison end the piece with Boylston of course en pointe, not quite backwards in high heels, but adding that extra layer of challenge nevertheless. One is almost left breathless just watching.

Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside
in Neo by Alexei Ratmansky,
Photo ioulex

The on-demand performance is followed by a 20-minute panel discussion in the Joyce’s Dancing Dialogues series, moderated by choreographer. Ratmansky reveals that he choreographed the work at the request of Boylston and Whiteside after they had worked on a Nutcracker pas de deux, the music having been suggested by Ratmansky’s musician son.

Neo took two weeks to create and was then re-rehearsed for a week on the Joyce stage, the first time since lockdown. Both dancers agreed that a great deal of stamina was required, not least because of the disruptions caused by Covid-19 restrictions.

So did Kaneko, who explained that she was daunted at the prospect of learning the virtuoso music in just eight weeks. It was written for a man and provides a physical challenge for a female musician as well as for the dancers. Ratmansky called it a pas de trios and he has a point.

All are looking forward to performing it in front of an audience, and so say all of us.

Neo is available on YouTube to June 16, 2021.