A Deeper Angle

by Martha Sherman

The real show at Works & Process usually isn’t the show. Miami City Ballet offered a sneak preview of Alexei Ratmansky’s new production of “The Fairy’s Kiss,” but his reasoning, inspiration, and the workings of his choreographic eye were the best performance of an excellent evening. As he worked with the cast, each shoulder angle, flicking wrist, and leg position became a target for development.

The world premiere of “Kiss” was scheduled in less than two weeks from this workshop, on February 10 in Miami. Usually the opening of the work is further in the future, or the piece is a recreation or revision of an existing dance. To see Ratmansky and the dancers still in development of the final movements, and forging the links with the set and projection design (by designer Wendall K. Harrington, who was also a panelist) was an insider’s view of the best promise of the series, a unique window into the creative collaboration. The imminent premiere made this outing unusually lively – we were in on the last push toward the delivery of a new work.

This ballet is Ratmansky’s third pass at telling the Hans Christian Andersen story that was the basis of Stravinsky’s 1928 score. The story and the music served as inspiration for Nijinska in 1928, and later for Frederick Ashton, George Balanchine, and now an ongoing inspiration for Ratmansky. He first took on this work as a student, and later principal dancer, in Russia at the Bolshoi Ballet and the National Ballet of Ukraine in Kiev. Stravinsky was inspired by Tchaikovsky, and wrote the piece in honor of the anniversary of Tchaikovsky’s death.

This version of “Kiss” was a commission by Lourdes Lopez, former principal dancer of New York City Ballet, and currently the Artistic Director of MCB. In the panel discussion (moderated by Doug Fullington, a dance historian working with Pacific Northwest Ballet.) Lopez noted that Ratmansky had choreographed for MCB before, and had a particular sensibility and willingness to create movement highlighting the individual strengths of the dancers.

Three fragments of the work were presented. Two used a chorus of eight: attendants of the Fairy who swooped and played behind the principal dancers while frothing with motion, as fairies in ballet often do. These four couples slipped in and out of pairs, and shifted from folk dance lines to balletic leaps and turns. In one especially charming image, half the couples slipped to the floor in a long diagonal, heads perched on their elbows and their feet in the air, as the other half stood between. The pattern of attention created a wave as their gaze went to the Fairy who danced in front. Some of the group scenes were laced with pantomime, such as the opening tableau with the infant being cradled and kissed. Here, the story was simple and transparent and the choreography less sophisticated. It was a reminder that Ratmansky started this work when he was a boy himself; the graphic representations seemed like brief reminders about the development of artists.

The middle fragment included two solos: the Boy’s dance before what he believed to be his wedding, and the Fairy’s solo as a gypsy, telling the Boy his future. Ratmansky coached here, but not for show. He was using this as another opportunity between now and the premiere to clarify and perfect his vision of these characters.

Alexei Ratmansky and Renan Cerdeiro rehearse “The Fairy’s Kiss.” Photo © Jacklyn Meduga.

Cerdeiro moved his elegant shoulders into deep angles, or swept his legs in a wide rond de jambe to float across the stage. Yet for Ratmansky, his shoulders didn’t melt forward far enough, and the leg sweep had some space to lower and widen. Simone Messmer, a dancer Ratmansky worked with often during her tenure at American Ballet Theatre, swelled her arms wide around her body, framing the world in the future she predicted for the Boy; but Ratmansky’s instruction to Messmer that “your hips will keep turning, but you’ll stop yourself with your shoulders” showed just how integral Ratmansky made the shoulders into the shape and direction of this scene.

It wasn’t until he made the corrections that the audience could see that the first offerings were not as expressive as the second. In these small shifts, the characterizations moved from adequate to inspiring. The dancers struggled to find another inch, a deeper angle, a sharper contrast; each change was satisfyingly visible.

It is not often that we watch with such detail, or that the inner workings of the creative process is offered with such clarity. In “The Fairy’s Kiss,” the boy who thought he would be happy in a simple marriage was spirited away to a “land beyond time and space,” Stravinksy’s metaphor for the world of the artist – not necessarily the happy normal life he expected, but a different kind of fulfillment. On many layers – about Ratmansky’s development as a choreographer as well as the countless elements in the development of a work of art – this work in process was a treat, and an education.

Update 2/10/17 – here’s video footage

copyright © 2017 by Martha Sherman

“The Fairy’s Kiss” – Miami City Ballet
Works & Process, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY
January 29, 2017

Cover: (L to R) Callie Manning, Renato Penteado, Renan Cerdeiro, Emily Bromberg and chase Swatosh (Jennifer Lauren behind) rehearse “The Fairy’s Kiss.” Photo © Jacklyn Meduga.

“The Fairy’s Kiss” opens on February 10 as part of Miami City Ballet’s Program Three.  Performances through March 12 are in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

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