American Ballet Theatre has presented an unusual program lineup for their June/July 2009 season by giving the same ballet throughout the week with different casts. "Le Corsaire," "Giselle," "La Sylphide," "Swan Lake," "Sylvia," and "Romeo and Juliet," with known and upcoming stars, a difficult casting task for any artistic director, with only a few misfits.
Entire evenings of Balanchine: "Allegro Brilliant," "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux," "Mozartiana," and "Theme and Variations," his more transportable style for a company other than his own, were sufficiently represented.
But it was the Prokofiev season and the production by ABT's new Artist in Residence, Alexei Ratmansky, that was eagerly awaited. Composed by Sergei Prokofiev in 1932 as "On the Dnieper" a Ukrainian river, for the Paris Opera Ballet with libretto by Prokofiev and Serge Lifar (then Artistic Director of the Paris company), it enjoyed little success. Ratmansky's current world premiere, June 1, 2009, was far more successful that the original version created for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes.
Ratmansky, although born in St. Petersburg, attended the Bolshoi Ballet School in Moscow, became a principal dancer with the Ukrainian National Ballet, the Royal Winnipeg and Royal Danish Ballets. Every bit of his schooling, talent, and choreographic experience was incorporated in "On the Dnieper," The vocabulary was directly from the Russian legacy and included two steps, rivoltade (similar to "falling off a log, but much higher in jumping over one leg) and the renversé from Spanish dance, but you would have to have had a quick eye to see it.
*Ratmansky is incredibly musical and clearly defines his characters: a soldier, Sergei, returns home to his village after service; only to realize he no longer loves Natalia, his fiancée, but is attracted to a village beauty, Olga, who becomes charmed by Sergei and doubts her feelings for her intended, strongly and forcefully played by a corps dancer (but not for long in the corps) Alexandre Hammoudi, who challenges Sergei to a knock-down fight. (Can this scenario be taking place during the return of our own troops today?)
The plot is resolved with the soldier and his new love aided by Natalia, escape and leaving her alone, heartbroken. The role is beautifully played by Hee Seo.
All of this, including the village dances, the bewildered parents, and scenery with cherry blossom trees and a large moon, represent Russian folklore as we know it.
Because audiences are attracted to a story ballet, with young characters in conflict, the ballet is sure to be a success on the ABT tours as well. *Ratmansky is preparing another work for ABT for October, in Avery Fischer Hall.
More riches were on the same program with Daniil Simkin in the title role of "The Prodigal Son" based on the Biblical story of a father's forgiveness for his son's wanton behavior.
Simkin surprised an ABT matinée audience last season causing much conjecture about the source of his training….it was in his Russian mother's American school. He is a fine actor, has a boyish appearance, with a big and easy jump, but a short stature hard to cast with taller partners. He was confident and a good actor.
This ballet is an early Balanchine work choreographed for the same past Diaghilev company, now enjoying a centennial. Since Prokofiev early on had little use for choreographers, he refused Balanchine royalties and Mr. B never used his music again.