If an Alexei Ratmansky ballet is something to look forward to; a new Ratmansky ballet is very good news indeed. Rather like a film with Meryl Streep, Ratmansky's presence is something of a guarantee – maybe it won't be the best ballet ever created, but it's never going to be a bummer.
In a couple of weeks time at Teatro della Scala, there will be a Ratmansky triple bill: something new, something borrowed, and something… well there's nothing blue, but there is a return. Concerto DSCH, created for New York City Ballet in 2008, was premièred at the Milanese theatre in 2012, and Svetlana Zakharova will be returning to reprise her role. Ratmansky chose Dmitri Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 2 for this plotless piece. Shostakovich is a composer he knows well having re-staged two of his 1930s ballets for the Bolshoi: The Bolt and The Bright Stream.
Zakharova will also dance in Russian Seasons, alongside Andrei Merkuriev – a production that has been borrowed from the Bolshoi, and that The Guardian newspaper hailed as, “A new Russian classic”.
The work was the first piece he choreographed for the NYCB, back in 2006. It is just over a decade that Ratmansky has been creating ballets, which makes Russian Seasons one of his earliest, a work that the New York Times subtitled, “Everything You Need to Know About Alexei Ratmansky in Roughly 39 Minutes.”
The ballet is set to Leonid Desyatnikov's score of the same name for string orchestra, solo violin and female voice, mixing themes of the seasons and the Russian Orthodox calendar together in twelve sections. Although there is no plot here either, there is a sense that something more than steps is going on between the dancers: it is witty, with moments of genuine humour, mixed with pathos and poignancy. This is typical Ratmansky: he's not afraid to make the audience laugh and, as Shakespeare proved over and over again, a little light comedy is a good primer before taking the audience somewhere darker.
Then comes the new ballet, commissioned by La Scala, Opera. Ratmansky has again chosen Desyatnikov to provide the music, and he's written a specially commissioned score with parts for soprano, mezzo and tenor, using texts by Pietro Metastasio and Carlo Goldoni. A classy artistic team includes Broadway video designer Wendall Harrington, New York City Ballet's lighting designer Mark Stanley, and costume designer Colleen Atwood who has won Oscars for Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha, and Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland.
Opera is bound to attract a lot of attention, and word has it that it won't disappoint, with Ratmansky's trademark elements based on the solid classical training he received at the Bolshoi School and as a principal with the Royal Danish Ballet. As he modestly said during an interview two years ago,
I feel as though I'm caught between two worlds. It feels wrong for me to be too western or edgy. I love the work of people like Wayne [McGregor] or Akram [Khan]. But when I see it, my own choreography feels not old-fashioned, but very different. They are pushing it, while I'm just trying to accumulate everything I know.
Serata Ratmansky – Concerto DSCH, Russian Seasons & Opera – runs from 17 December 2013 to 16 January 2014 at Teatro alla Scala, Milan.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.