Q & A with Ratmansky

With the Bolshoi Ballet’s season in Australia to open tomorrow, I spoke a week ago on the phone to Alexei Ratmansky in New York where he is artist-in-residence at American Ballet Theatre.

The company is bringing to Brisbane two of his productions created for the Bolshoi, Le Corsaire and The Bright Stream.

You’re contracted to American Ballet Theatre for another decade. Do you sometimes feel the weight of that long term commitment?

It gives me a great sense of support. To feel that the company believes in me, that’s a great help, it’s a luxury. Not many choreographers can have that, to experiment and plan a few years ahead, I don’t take it for granted.

You’ve choreographed your own interpretations of many great classics, among them The Nutcracker. Would you ever tackle the two pinnacles of the classical repertoire, Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty?

At the beginning I would say I never wanted to touch these, but now I feel that I would actually do that. There are plans yes, but it’s too early to talk about it.

What about La Bayadere?

If anyone offers this opportunity I would probably take it because I like producing the choreographies of the old masters. You can learn a lot from doing it. It’s like the best school for choreography.

You’ve soon got American Ballet Theatre’s premiere of your Shostakovich’s trilogy of ballets [Symphony No.9, Piano Concerto No.1 and Chamber Symphony for Strings.] What else is on the horizon?

For ABT’s autumn season, a new production of The Tempest.

What’s the background to your production of The Bright Stream?

I got an offer from the Bolshoi to choreograph a full length ballet. I got my leave of absence from Denmark [where he was a principal] and I had this recording [of Shostakovich’s original score]. I loved this recording so I asked the Bolshoi administration if I could do that [The Bright Stream as a ballet] and they were quite sceptical because they thought its communist past shouldn’t be touched.

[When it was staged in Moscow in 1936, Stalin condemning the work, sending the librettist, Adrian Piotrovsky, to a gulag and with an editorial in Pravda dismissing it a “balletic fraud”, with its depiction of socialist peasants as “sugary paysans from a pre-revolutionary chocolate box”.]

I was working on it in the studios and the work went quite smoothly and one day I was called to the office of the general director, Mr Iksanov and he said would I consider taking over the company.

I was in quite a shock and said ‘don’t you want to wait for the premiere?’

And he said ‘we already know we want you to take it over’.

That was amazing. I said ‘yes’. It was a complete change in my life and the life of my family. I don’t regret it at all, it was such a challenge for me.

And the idea to produce Le Corsaire for the Bolshoi?

I thought the Bolshoi needed a new production…If I was not a director of the company I would probably never do it but I knew the Bolshoi needed it.

For me it was the first experience to stage a classic…I thought we should really dig into the archives and find all the materials available…I knew there was a lot of material like the notation and some things at the Bolshoi archive and I also used some materials from the Paris Opera museum.

The notation was at Harvard?

Yes. There was a lot of stuff we could look at it but of course we didn’t call it reconstruction because I don’t think its possible at all to reconstruct something that was performed more than a hundred years ago.

Le Jardin animé is a wonderful centrepiece but there is a lot of great stuff besides that. I thought that this ballet would give the Bolshoi a lot of opportunities to shine because there are character roles and many, many solo roles, mime and character dancing, and comedy and drama so it was a good big production for the big company.

Tell me about the new Cinderella for the Australian Ballet.

When David [McAllister, artistic director] asked me to do Cinderella I agreed with happiness because for me it’s great chance to re-work what I’ve done before with Cinderella.

It was one of my first full length ballets. First of all, I want to fix everything that didn’t work for me then.

It will be a new production but I will definitely use some ideas from my old production. There are also new designs by Jerome Kaplan.

[Kaplan created the sets and costumes for Ratmansky’s production of Don Quixote for Het Nationale Ballet in Amsterdam.}

It is a difficult score, its much more dramatic than the story needs.

It talks about something else…it’s just to find the balance between the music and story, and the timing of the action, where you place it. It’s an old fashioned fairy tale but the music is not that.

I will definitely use mime because I think it’s a beautiful side of ballet story. It’s good to use different genres, classical dance, modern dance and mime.

When are you coming to Australia?

The third week of July.

Have you been in touch with Sergei Filin [artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet] after the acid attack on him in January and what do you think about it now?

It’s terrifying. He’s a very strong person I think he’ll be back.

Maybe this thing will shake the Bolshoi and they will make some changes within the work ethic and it will help the company to get stronger and better. It’s a big institution. It functions and it functions well even during this terrible accident

What is Sergei’s condition now?

I talked to him last week and he mentioned right now he is opening his eyes and he will have a few more surgeries and keep doing that. He sounded very optimistic.

These questions were part of an interview I did with Ratmansky for an article published in The Age on 25 May, 2013.