A pair of one act ballets at ABT left us wishing we had slipped out during the intermission. Not enough good things could be said about Frederick Ashton's "The Dream" from 1964; no encomium could do justice to Herman Cornejo's portrayal of Puck. Wait... portrayal is not the right word. Mr. Cornejo inhabited the role; one could easily say that he owns it, endowing the character with great joie de vivre, mischievousness, jaw-dropping athleticism, and consummate artistry.
We all know the story and this is just another case in which a master choreographer can tell the story so that it makes sense; it delights the child in us at the same time as it awakens the adult in us to the vagaries of romantic love. As Oberon, Cory Stearns was as regal as any King of the Fairies could be. As Titania, Xiomara Reyes was adorable, if not quite convincing as a Queen. (She was far more convincing last week as Juliet). Alexei Agoudine was hilarious as Bottom. The complicated romantic tribulations of the four Athenians were made crystal clear by Maria Riccetto, Stella Abrera, Sascha Radetsky and Jared Matthews. Ormsby Wilkins conducted Mendelssohn's delightful score and the Young People's Chorus of New York City sang beautifully.
But oh, that Firebird! Alexei Ratmansky, Artist in Residence at ABT, can be faulted for trashing a ballet some of us know and love. Over a century ago, artist/designer Alexandre Benois collaborated with choreographer Michel Fokine and wedded together two Russian folktales, that of the Firebird and that of Katshchei the Immortal. Diaghilev's Ballets Russes gave the premiere in Paris where it was an enormous success. Balanchine also choreographed the work for New York City Ballet and updated the costumes and the sets over the years, eventually settling on Marc Chagall's. Mr. Ratmansky shows himself to be a pipsqueak in the shadow of giants. It is sad that in today's audience, there are many who have nothing with which to compare this version and who may leave the theater totally perplexed by this violation of a classic.
The stage is filled with firebirds, all dressed alike, with nothing to distinguish THE Firebird except the outstanding dancing of Natalia Osipova. Poor Ivan, splendidly danced by Marcelo Gomes, is introduced wandering through bare rooms with doors. WTF! The maidens are hideously garbed in green, looking like they wandered over from "Wicked"; worse still, they are given some kind of post-modern witchy-twitchy-itchy movements that make them look spastic, rather than entranced by Katshchei, powerfully danced by David Hallberg, whose makeup makes him look like he could slice bread with his face. It is hard to believe that Ivan would choose any one of these green ghouls as his beloved. But he does, he chooses Simone Messmer who did not make much of an impression with her dancing, probably because of the choreography. After Katshchei is destroyed (Ivan breaks the egg containing his soul), off come the green wigs and horrid dresses revealing unbecoming blond wigs and white shifts. These are attributed to Galina Solovyeva and the weird sci-fi scenery to Simon Pastukh.
There is a puzzling pas de quatre for the Firebird, Ivan, the Maiden and Katshchei that conveys nothing about their respective characters, intentions or relationships. All in all, there are profound deficits in storytelling and, with few exceptions, a lack of beauty and grace. And isn't that what we want when we go to the ballet? Otherwise, we may as well go see post-modern dance.
The score by Stravinsky was commissioned for the ballet when he was but a youth and it brought him great success. Charles Barker conducted it with spirit. It could best be enjoyed by closing ones eyes.
(c) meche kroop