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Alexei Ratmansky’s On the Dnieper

The first time I saw Alexei Ratmansky’s work was at New York City Ballet when he did Russian Seasons for NYCB’s Diamond Project. I was blown away by his choreography and felt true excitement in the audience after seeing the premiere; we all knew we had witnessed something quite special and different.

I was so excited when Ratmansky joined American Ballet Theatre and wrote an article for Dance International magazine about the event: http://www.danceinternational.org/webexclusive.html. As a reward, I bought tickets for me and my sister to the premiere of On the Dnieper, Ratmansky’s first ballet for ABT, and miracle of miracles, we ended up in row B, second from the stage. I’ve never been so close that I could see the dancers’ expressions and sweat, hear their toe shoes against the stage.

The program had been switched around so Balanchine’s Prodigal Son came first and Ratmansky’s world premiere of On the Dnieper played last. This is a smart choice, I think, emphasizing the transition between Russian choreographers.

On the Dnieper takes place in the Ukraine along the banks of the Dnieper River and the set is a rickrack of fences and cherry trees that shifted off and on the stage, not to mention loads of flower petals. Ratmansky is a native of Ukraine and the choice seems appropriate for a Russian stuck in New York.

The ballet is a story of star-crossed lovers. The soldier Sergei (danced by Marcelo Gomes on Monday evening) comes back to his village to be reunited with his love Natalia (Veronika Part), but he finds himself attracted to another woman, Olga (Paloma Herrera), who is herself betrothed to someone else (David Hallberg).

Kristi and I are fans of Gomes and Herrera and their competitive partnering. Watching them perform their solos, I always get a sense of “Anything you can do, I can do better.” We even have nicknames for the two, calling Gomes “Rock-Star Ballerina” (because of the arrogant poses he strikes) and Herrera “Catherine Zeta-Jones Ballerina” (because, well, she looks like Catherine Zeta-Jones). I did not like Gomes and Herrera so much in this ballet, though, and I think that’s because I didn’t care for their characters.

My heart lay with the two spurned lovers. I found Natalia’s movements sincere but tragic as she danced off-center, leaning one way and then another, trying to shepherd her lover back to her arms. Equally impressive is Olga’s fiance. The only time I found the flower petals effective was with Hallberg’s stormy solo, where he moves like a knife, slicing through the petals onstage. The rest of the time I found the petals and sometimes the dancing overripe. There is a dance-off between Gomes and Hallberg that I would have liked to have seen more clearly. The movement is tightly confined in the center of the stage, and I couldn’t really see the action going on behind the circling villagers. When the ladies compete against one another, however, there are no distractions. All eyes are on them.

At the end of the ballet, Ratmansky was given a standing ovation, but I think this is too soon. There are moments of brilliance in On the Dnieper, but I expect much better to come.

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