ABT’s Golden Cockerel: The Sublime and the Ridiculous
The American premiere of Alexei Ratmansky's Golden Cockerel for American Ballet Theatre opened Monday night at the Metropolitan Opera House. Based on a folk tale by Pushkin about a foolish tsar, it was first produced as an opera by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in 1914, but it was restaged as a ballet by the original choreographer, Michel Fokine in 1937. In Ratmansky’s hands, there is much flair in the movement and humor in the acting. Not surprisingly, the production is a mix of the sublime and the ridiculous.
Ratmansky leading Cassandra Trenary as the cockerel in rehearsal, photo by Susie Morgan Taylor
Sublime: Veronica Part’s dancing as the alluring, elusive Queen of Shemakhan. Using her length elegantly, whether vertical or lounging on the ground, she lends a seductive flair to Ratmansky’s twisty choreography. Her dancing is gloriously seamless throughout.
Ridiculous: A story in which a tsar cannot stay awake long enough to know when to go into battle. Guest artist Gary Chryst, former star of the Joffrey Ballet, brings style and precision to this cartoon character, but I’d rather see him as the conniving Charlatan in Petrouchka than the doddering Tsar Dodon.
Sublime: The way Cory Stearns creeps around, swishing his cape, as the Astrologer. He too is tall and uses his long limbs to dash across the space, all bent over. His hands mold empty space until magically the golden cockerel appears, as though it were clay being sculpted. (In the original 1914 opera, the bird was merely a prop.)
Ridiculous: Tsar Dodon is really dopy and sexist. To describe how much he’s attracted to the Queen, his hands indicate the shape of an hourglass figure. There’s got to be another way to express attraction other than that old reductive cliché.
Ridiculous: The tsar barely has time to absorb that both his sons have died in battle before he gets all wound up at the sight of the exotic Queen.
Sublime: The sets and costumes by Richard Hudson, after Natalia Goncharova, give off a bold, primitive/innocent whiff of the Russian avant-garde. The effusion of yellows, reds and greens dazzle the eye in every scene. The peasant women’s dresses all have different patterns and colors. (What a relief—I get tired of looking at a ballet corps that’s all dressed the same.) The ragged moon in the battlefield is blood red. (All costumes and sets are borrowed from the Royal Danish Ballet, which premiered Ratmansky’s version in 2012.)
Ridiculous: The opera, written in 1907, was banned at first because Tsar Nicholas II interpreted it as a protest against himself.
Skylar Brandt as the cockerel and Duncan Lyle as the Astrologer, photo by Fabrizio Ferri
Sublime: The music! Rimsky-Korsakov’s score is delicate, dreamy and mysterious, with Eastern-sounding strains. The plucked motif for the golden rooster sends him/her into a staccato rhythm—just right for a cuckoo clock that strikes when the Tsar needs to wake up and fight off enemies. Skylar Brandt infuses Ratmansky’s sharp angles—like a wind-up toy gone made—with an oblivious sort of power. This bird is the opposite of the languid Queen.
Ridiculous: The intermission. I mean, it’s always good to have a break, but in this particular intermission it was hard to muster any curiosity about what comes next.
Sublimely lethal: The only really dramatic moment is when the music builds to a crescendo as the crazy little cockerel mounts the Dodon’s shoulders and, with one swift peck, does away with him.
Sublime: Martine Van Hamel as Amelpha, the tsar’s housekeeper, has her Lady Capulet moment when the tsar dies. Although grief stricken, she drinks a bit too much and gets deliciously tipsy. (Anyone remember how hilarious Van Hamel’s drunken stepmother was in Kudelka’s Cinderella?)
Irina Baronova as the Queen in the 1937 version, photo Gordon Anthony
Not quite sublime: The ending, in which the Astrologer suggests that all the characters except himself and the Queen are figments of the imagination. It’s a bit reminiscent of Fokine's Petrouchka, which leaves us wondering whether the puppet has a human soul or not. But The Golden Cockerel is no Petrouchka, in either choreography or emotional impact.
The coming weeks see not one, but two companies that can best be described as French cultural mash-ups landing at New York City's Joyce Theater.
It was a Christmas Eve that The Lion King dancer India Bolds will never forget.
Exhausted from a long week of performances, Bolds was clueless when she saw her cast mates randomly dancing in Broadway's Minskoff Theater lobby, and even more confused when they morphed into a choreographed flash mob. But when her boyfriend of four years, Dale Browne, popped up in the mob wearing a beautiful blue suit, she realized what was coming.
Growing up in inner city Rochester, NY, Aesha Ash was just one of the neighborhood kids. She'd imagine people driving by, judging her by her black skin.
"They'd never know that I was dreaming of becoming a professional ballet dancer. No one would think, Some day she's going to make it into New York City Ballet," says Ash.
After an inspiring career at NYCB, Béjart's Ballet Lausanne and LINES, the January 2006 Dance Magazine cover star—one of our 25 to Watch that year—is no longer performing. But she's determined to use her dance background to change the stereotypes and misconceptions that people—including black people—have about women of color. "I want to show it's okay to embrace our softer side, and let the world know we're multidimensional," says Ash.
Aesha Ash in Richmond, CA. PC Renee Scott via swandreamsproject.org
In 2011, she launched the Swan Dreams Project to inspire kids in the community she grew up in. The original idea was to post images of herself in a tutu all over Rochester. "I remember growing up and in the bodega you'd see images of girls in bikinis on motorbikes," says Ash. "I wanted to replace those with photos that show women of color in a different light."
She knew the power imagery can have: She still remembers what it felt like as a student at the School of American Ballet to see a photo of black ballet dancer Andrea Long. "That image was everything on days when I was feeling disenchanted. I'd see that picture of her, and know that the struggles I was going through, she went through them, too."
Ash soon realized she didn't have the budget to fund her original plan ("I never realized how expensive a bus stop advertisement is!"). But she's made the images available through an online store, and often simply gives away prints at her own expense to schools and students in need of some inspiration.
Any proceeds she makes from the sales go directly to other organizations that are working to expand ballet in diverse communities. One large donation even led to a pointe shoe fund at dancer Robyn Gardenhire's City Ballet of Los Angeles school—and it helped one dancer who had quit ballet because of the expense come back to class.
Now a mother of two in San Jose, CA, Ash will also start teaching a free after-school ballet class at her daughter's public school next month. "I recently taught at Girls Inc. in Oakland, and one of the little black girls said, 'Are you the ballet teacher?' She just stood there, staring at me with her mouth open, like a unicorn had just walked into the room," Ash says. "You never know the impact you can have just by being a presence."
Ever find yourself lusting after that six o'clock penché, or a développé that will reach your nose? You're not alone. The eye is naturally drawn to the end points of a movement, and, in dance, that often translates to the highest extension.
But what if you're born without extreme, Instagram-worthy lines? It's a matter of developing a laser focus on alignment as well as strengthening and stretching with better body mechanics in mind.
Back in the 80s, Molissa Fenley introduced a luscious, almost Eastern-feeling torque in the body that made her work compelling to watch. Her sculptural shapes and fierce momentum showed a different kind of female strength than we had seen. Now, as part of The Kitchen's series on composer Julius Eastman, Fenley has remounted her 1986 Geologic Moments, the second half of which she had developed with Eastman. The result, which premiered at Brooklyn Academy of Music, is a richly textured piece in both music and dance. (The first half has music by Philip Glass.)
When Paul Taylor created Beloved Renegade on Laura Halzack in 2008, he gave unequivocal instructions. She was the figure, sometimes referred to as the angel of death, who circles dancer Michael Trusnovec in a compassionate, yet emphatic way.
"He choreographed every single step for me," she says. "He showed it to me—do this développé, reach here, turn here, a very specific idea," she says. His guidance was that she be cool and sweet. Then, she says, "he just let me become her. That's where I really earned Paul's trust."
From the minute my journey as a dancer began at age 4, there were no other options of what I might do with my life.
Sure, I tried other "after-school activities." I tried desperately to master The Phantom of the Opera with my squeaky violin rental—a headache for my parents who paid for private Suzuki method lessons at our house. Constantly attempting famous show tunes on my violin, the effort was completely futile. I actually remember thinking, 'Surely this sheet music is wrong, this sounds nothing like the Phantom of the Opera.'
I even tried my hand at gymnastics. But when my mom's brilliant bribery of $100 for my first mastery of a kip or a back handspring didn't produce any results, we quickly threw in the towel.
When Miami City Ballet artistic director Lourdes Lopez was a principal dancer at New York City Ballet, she missed her opportunity to honor Jerome Robbins onstage. "Every time there was a celebration for Jerry, I was either injured or had just retired," says Lopez. "I was never able to publicly thank him onstage for all that he taught us and the beauty he left us."
But when Lopez was planning MCB's Jerome Robbins Celebration for the 100th anniversary of the legend's birth, she saw an opportunity. She asked the Robbins Trust to allow her to perform the Ringmaster in Robbins' Circus Polka, a role the choreographer originated himself.
From coast to coast, choreographers have spent the first year of Donald Trump's presidency responding to the impact of his election and what it means for them as artists.
New York City's Dante Brown used rubber Trump masks in his work Package (revamped), which examines the monstrosities of power.
A video titled "Dancers vs. Trump Quotes" went viral last summer, showing dancers taking Trump's "locker-room" talk to task.
Alexis Convento, lead curator of the New York City–based Current Sessions, dedicated a whole program to the concept of resistance, while educator and interdisciplinary artist Jill Sigman has initiated a workshop called "Body Politic, Somatic Selves," as a space for movement research around questions of support, activism and solidarity.
In San Francisco, choreographer Margaret Jenkins facilitated a panel of artists about the role of activism within their work.
When London-based perfume company The Beautiful Mind Series was looking for a collaborator for their next scent, they skipped the usual celebrity set and brought in prima ballerina Polina Semionova instead. "I was fascinated by what goes on in the mind of a great dancer," perfumer Geza Schoen said in a press release. Semionova's ballet-inspired scent, Precision & Grace, celebrates the intelligence and beauty behind her craft.
Courtesy of The Beautiful Mind Series