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Ratmansky is brave to venture into a crowded field which includes such great choreographers as Frederick Ashton, john Cranko and Kenneth Macmillan. How did he fare? Fortunately, I am able to show some film from the other choreographers of Prokofiev’s beautiful music which captures the truth that Romeo and Juliet are in the spring of their lives.
More recently, the Royal Ballet performed Ratmansky’s ’24 Preludes’ to the music of Fryderyk Chopin (14 march 2013). Ratmansky was born in St. Petersburg and trained at the Bolshoi Ballet School in Moscow. He became artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet in January 2004.
His choreographic career took off from there. In 2005 he was awarded the Benois de la danse prize for his choreography of ‘Anna Karenina’ for the Royal Danish Ballet. He had been knighted by Queen Margrethe II of Denmark in 2001. Ratmansky became Artist in Residence of the American Ballet Theatre in 2009 and resides in New York with his wife and son.
Ratmansky is firmly rooted in the classical tradition, and his choreography demonstrates that the classical tradition has not yet been fully explored. You think, what more can that tradition yield before it has to borrow from contemporary dance. Ratmansky demonstrates the answer. It is inspiring to see Chopin’s preludes taken on with such freshness and bravado. One critic even described his choreography as ‘dangerous’. I thought that was apt. The tempo was often very fast and the dancers anticipated the beat. The dances tended to move to every beat, creating dances that were a tour de force to perform. Men danced pas de deux with one another , and there were pas de trios, each dancer had picking up the beat as in a canon or a round.
There were some exciting explorations of classical tradition in ‘Romeo and Juliet’. I saw steps I had not seen for a long time. It was a bit like searching in the attic and finding an old trunk filled with delights. I will come to this in a minute. As the ballet is relatively new, there was only a film of it in rehearsal:
Below you will find some breathtakingly beautiful versions. By comparison, which the reader will be able to make, I found the Ratmansky ‘Romeo and Juliet’ less elegant and emotional than interpretations by Ashton, Cranko and Macmillan. The National Ballet of Canada has some wonderful dancers; it was not that. The orchestra was exceptionally good, and the production was meticulously rehearsed. I was excited that old vocabulary was being rediscovered, for example, the full range of ‘pas de chat’ or ‘ grand jete ‘ to front leg while ‘developpe derriere ‘ with back leg or ‘petit sissonne en croix’ or ‘temps leves’ with the full soles of feet touching or complicated foot work and change of direction, in the style of Bournonville, which is possibly an influence he brought from the Royal Danish Ballet, the original home of Bournonville (1805-1879).
Elana Lobsanova as Juliet and Guillaume Cote as Romeo, whom I saw in dress rehearsal, had particularly lovely line and danced with technical assurance. They presented the exhilaration and impetuosity of young love. I felt that the arms were neglected in the choreography, as they are such an expressive part of the body.
In the Globe Theatre in Shakespeare’s day (1598) , swords were the most numerous prop. I could have done with fewer swords here, although Mercutio, danced by Piotr Stanczyk, had great élan, spirit and precision in his performance. I notice that dancers’ pointe shoes have become more dainty, having a ‘hardly there’ effect. We are returning to a Taglioni look which is floating. There were many lifts en tournament which added to the airiness.
In 1962 John Cranko’s choreography of Romeo and Juliet for the Stuttgart Ballet helped the company achieve a worldwide reputation. It had its American premiere in 1969.
Marcia Haydee and Richard Cragun danced originally in Cranko’s creation. Here they are in the Balcony Scene by Cranko.
Friedemann Vogel and Polina Semionova dance for the Stuttgart in what must be Cranko’s choreography.
In 1965 choreographer Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s production for the Royal Ballet premiered at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev brought new life to the characters, as did the set and costume designs by Nicholas Georgiadis; Fonteyn, considered to be near retirement, embarked upon a rejuvenated career with a partnership with Nureyev.
My favourite performances of Macmillan’s choreography are these two:
First we have Alessandra Ferri and Angel Corella in the Balcony Scene:
Here the two are in the Bedroom Scene:
In 1971, John Neumeier, partly inspired by John Cranko, created another version of the ballet in Frankfurt. In 1974 Neumeier’s Romeo and Juliet premiered in Hamburg as his first full-length ballet with the company.
In 1977, Rudolf Nureyev created a new version of Romeo and Juliet for the London Festival Ballet, today’s English National Ballet. He performed the lead role of Romeo, with British ballerina Patricia Ruanne creating the role of Juliet.
Here Monique Loudiers and Manuel Legris dance Rudolph Nureyev’s choreography for the Balcony Scene:
Frederick Ashton had been the first to create a ‘Romeo and Juliet ‘ in 1955. Here is the Schaufuss
Ballet performing Ashton’s version which is seen less often: Michelle Larsen dances Juliet:
As one would expect from Ashton, the arms are very emotional and youthful. They are an object lesson in not forgetting arms.
There are other versions, but I would like to close with the Balcony Scene danced by Nureyev and Fonteyn. It is a testament to a real love.
You were born in Fairfax, Oklahoma in January 1925, to a father who was a Native American chief of the Osage Nation and a mother who was Scotch- Irish. What are the chances that you will study ballet with Bronislava Nijinska for five years in Los Angeles, audition in New York at the age of 17 and join the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, become an inspiration for George Balanchine’s choreography and marry him in 1946, become first prima ballerina of the New York City Ballet from 1947-1960?
“The Osage Nation is a Native American Siouan-speaking tribe in the United States that originated in the Ohio River valley in present-day Kentucky. After years of war with invading Iroquois, the Osage migrated west of the Missippi River to their historic lands in present-day Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma by the mid-17th century.
The 19-century painter George Caitlin described the Osage as
the tallest race of men in North America, either red or white skins; there being few indeed of the men at their full growth, who are less than six feet in stature, and very many of them six and a half, and others seven feet.
The missionary Isaac McCoy described the Osage as an “uncommonly fierce, courageous, warlike nation” and Washington Irving said they were the “finest looking Indians I have ever seen in the West.”
Nijinska and Balanchine both danced for Diaghilev and had been reared in a world of the senses very different from the Kansas plains. Tallchief said of her childhood in Oklahoma ,’ I was a typical Indian girl- shy, docile, introverted. I loved being outdoors […] I’d also ramble around the grounds of our summer cottage hunting for arrowheads in the grass. Finding one made me shiver with excitement.’
The first performance of Balanchine’s ‘Firebird’ in 1949, created especially for Maria, and their earlier collaboration at the Paris Opera, gave Tallchief world recognition. She had a younger sister, Marjorie Tallchief, born in 1927, who also became a ballerina. Majorie and she founded the Chicago City Ballet in 1961,and Maria served as its artistic director until 1987.
I saw both of them dance. Maria was strong and commanding onstage. I remember Majorie in a sleep-walking sequence in which she appeared quite thin and delicate.
I am sorry that some of the film from the 1950’s is of poor quality. We are fortunate to have it at all, because it was not customary to film dance. Some of the film is around 60 years old.
Maria in film of Pavlova 1952:
Maria Tallchief in Act II,Swan Lake in 1954:
She was quite a beauty.
La Sylphide in black and white film:
Scotch Symphony 1959:
‘Flower Festival in Gezano’, Maria Tallchief and Rudolph Nureyev in his American debut 1962
Bruhn’s choreography after Bournonville , with intricate foot work