Ratmansky's Sleeping Beauty Closes Out ABT's Spring Season

Sarah Lane as Aurora, photo @ Rosalie O'Connor
ABT's spring season ended with a week of Ratmansky's new/old Sleeping Beauty. I attended two performances. The Cassandra Trenay/Joseph Gorak/Stella Abrera performance I reviewed for bachtrack here. The other cast I saw (Sarah Lane/Herman Cornejo/Christine Shevchenko) were stellar although Ratmansky's insistence on recreating what he thinks is Imperial Ballet style gives the whole ballet a very staid, mumsy feel.

This year Ratmansky has made even more changes. The Lilac Fairies can no longer do the simpler "Marie Petipa" variation but have to do the difficult pirouettes in arabesque. Here is a video of Stella Abrera doing the variation. Also gone are the fish dives that Serge Diaghilev added to the famous 1921 production. In its place is an extreme sideways slant for Aurora.

Here is the new pose:

Trenary as Aurora
Lane and Trenary were both great Auroras. Lane is more serious and mature, Trenary is a burst of joy. When I first saw Lane's Aurora four years ago she was nervous and small scale. This time despite a wonky balance on the final promenade in the Rose Adagio she was confident, authoritative, elegant. Lane has such a buoyant jump and beautiful extension -- one wishes Ratmansky would let her use those skills in his Sleeping Beauty. I have seen Lane and Trenary in other roles and they have gorgeous (if not tasteless) extension, lovely jumps, and great skill in par terre footwork. But in Sleeping Beauty it seemed as if they were holding back in fear of breaking one of the Reconstruction Rules.

Shevchenko as Lilac Fairy
Overall Ratmansky assembled excellent casts. Christine Shevchenko was the most technically solid Lilac Fairy, Stella Abrera the warmest. Shevchenko executed that series of pirouettes in arabeque with no visible strain. Both Herman Cornejo and Joseph Gorak were fine Princes who showed courtesy in their partnering and managed that solo with speed and accuracy. Some other standouts: Joo Won Ahn and Catherine Hurlin as Bluebird and Florine, Luciana Paris and Devon Teuscher as the Diamond Fairy, Alexei Agoudine as Catalabutte.

Here is Abrera doing the difficult Lilac Fairy Variation:

But in the end both casts were hampered by Ratmansky Reconstruction Rules. Here is what I wrote for bachtrack (note: I have edited this to clarify what I meant):
Jumps are very low to the ground, pirouettes and passĂ©s are low and prepared by free leg going only up to the ankle, legs in arabesque and attitude are never raised over 90 degrees, chaine and piquĂ© turns are done on demi-pointe, and the modern press overhead lifts are banned. Some of these changes make sense because of the standards of modesty in 1890. 
However other changes are actually unmusical. For instance, at the end of Aurora's variation at her birthday party, she does a manÚge of coupé jetés. The coupé jetés signify Aurora's growing independence -- she's ready to explore the world. It's this independent streak that leads to her playing recklessly with the spindle. However with Ratmansky's version the coupé jetés are very slow, controlled, with no attack. This contradicts not only the spirit of Aurora, but Tchaikovsky's music, which accelerates during this section.
Here is the Wedding kiss with Ratmansky's version
Ratmansky's rules made the Wedding pas de deux awkward. Fishdives are gone, and so is the famous move where Aurora bends down to kiss her Prince who is on his knees. In this version the Prince is standing. It doesn't look as romantic. I also miss the fishdives. I prefer their snap --the sideways slant just doesn't fill up the music the way the fish dives do. But Ratmansky is after authenticity, not popularity.

Other things seem to be Ratmansky's own preference -- both the Prologue Fairies and some of the Wedding divertissements like White Cat and Puss n Boots are danced in a very cutesy, twee way. The music for the White Cat actually supports a much feistier approach -- the "scratching" motif is very vivid and one thinks "cat fight." Not cutesy and flirty.

There are many things to love about Ratmansky's Sleeping Beauty. I love the relative completeness of his version. I love the care with which he's restored and coached the mime. I love the retro look of the costumes for the most part (although the powdery wigs can be too much). And I love the obvious dedication to which he's devoted to his Sleeping Beauty. If he kept all the notation but was not as dogmatic about dancing stye I wonder how much better this Sleeping Beauty could be. Because right now despite some lovely unearthed moments (Aurora balancing on a clamshell in the Vision Scene is one such moment) and excellent casts Ratmansky's Sleeping Beauty never really wakes up.

Shevchenko's Odette/Odile, photo @ Gene Schiavone
Overall this has been an outstanding season for both Sarah Lane and Christine Shevchenko. Shevchenko is the opposite of Lane: tall, commanding, with a technique that dazzles. She was just about the only thing that redeemed an otherwise dreary revival of Kevin McKenzie's tacky, unpoetic production of Swan Lake. I reviewed here Odette/Odile for bachtrack:
Shevchenko had a great success as Odette/Odile. She is working with several inborn advantages; she has long arms, a pliant back, hyperextended legs with extremely arched insteps. In other words, you look at her, and think Swan Lake. Shevchenko combines those physical attributes with total technical security. This was more impressive when she was Odile where her long-held balances, showy flexibility and confidence in her body language made one understand why Siegfried would be attracted to this new shiny thing. In the coda, she alternated single fouettĂ©s with doubles with fouettĂ©s a la seconde. Shevchenko's naturally cool demeanor was also a bonus – she didn't resort to over the top vamping. This was a woman who knew she was desirable.

Sarah Lane as Manon, from her IG
As for Sarah Lane, she went from strength to strength this season. She was wonderful in the smallest roles -- the housekeeper in Jane Eyre, one of the soloists in Tharp's Brahms-Haydn Variations.

Lane elevated the material of lesser works. Who knew she could make such a convincing Manon? But there she was, using her small size and doe-eyes to her advantage. This Manon was a real Lolita. Lane has an intensity that serves her well. As Gulnare she also was the only slave girl to look distressed at her bondage in an otherwise over-the-top Corsaire. I'm kicking myself that I didn't get a chance to see her one time only (!!!) Black Swan where she and Misty Copeland split the role of Odette/Odile. Another time (hopefully).

Hurlin and Ahn, from Cate Hurlin's IG
Another dancer having a standout season was Catherine Hurlin. Whenever she's onstage she stands out with her shock of red hair and her energy. Her soulful but feisty "young Jane" was just about the only thing that redeemed Cathy Marston's dreadful Jane Eyre. She was a tireless stomper in Twyla Tharp's In the Upper Room. And her Florine (along with Joo Won Ahn's Bluebird) really lit up the stage in Ratmansky's rather constipated Sleeping Beauty. It seems just yesterday that Hurling was the child Clara in Ratmansky's Nutcracker. Hurlin, Skylar Brandt, and Cassandra Trenary (who was so radiant as Aurora) are definitely on the fast-track to become principal. They certainly excite me more than the competent but dull Devon Teuscher, the limited Misty Copeland, and the incompetent and dull Hee Seo.

As for the men I enjoyed Herman Cornejo (although he gets injured so often), Thomas Forster, Calvin Royal, Brooklyn Mack (who guested as Conrad in Le Corsaire),  James Whiteside, and the spectacular Daniil Simkin. I didn't actually see wunderkind Aran Bell dance in that much. Cory Stearns is like his off-stage partner Devon Teuscher: competent but dull. Roberto Bolle retired and will be missed. And David Hallberg? Does he still dance for ABT?

Cassandra Trenary in The Seasons
ABT's uneven repertory has always been a problem. Its spring season relies heavily on the "classics" to sell tickets. This means a lot of revivals of tired old warhorses like Le Corsaire, Swan Lake, and the yearly MacMillan three-act (either Romeo and Juliet or Manon -- this year it was Manon).

In recent years ABT but recently has also become Ratmansky Ballet Theater. This season started off with his reconstruction of Harlequinade, then went to his triple bill (including his premiere of The Seasons), did a run of his Whipped Cream, and ended with Sleeping Beauty.

But Ratmansky does inconsistent work for ABT. Whipped Cream remains a ballet of empty calories, his Harlequinade reconstruction is charming but too slight of a ballet to play well at the Met, his Nutcracker has an overkill of the cutes, and his Sleeping Beauty is an honorable but constipated attempt to recreate Petipa's choreography. His one-act ballets are better -- The Seasons had almost too much going on but bears repeated viewing, as does the Shostakovich Trilogy and Serenade Afte Plato's Symposium is delightful. But the less said about The Tempest and On the Dnieper the better. But why can't Ratmansky create works for ABT at the caliber of, say, Bright Stream (Bolshoi), Little Humpbacked Horse (Mariinsky) as well as his five works for NYCB?

In the Upper Room brings out the best in ABT, photo @ Julia Cervantes
And so another season of ABT is over. It's actually been very instructional to review things for bachtrack that I normally would not have bought a ticket to see. One gets to see the company in a wide variety of rep over the entire season. And I could see where they excelled (the Tharp trio, the Ratmansky) and where they struggled (the British three-act story ballets -- Jane Eyre and Manon both needed casts with more charisma and more well-versed in the melodramatic, overwrought style). All the press tickets have also saved me ... a lot of money. That always helps.


  1. The word you want is manÚge, not ménage. Very different meanings.


    Alexei Ratmansky Ivy Lin I don't usually comment on critics, but since it's posted here and I am part of Ballets Russes group, I will. Unfortunately, there is a lot of false information in your review. How did you miss 3 overhead lifts in the Vision scene (you say “overhead lifts are banned”). Every arabesque penchee is at least 140-150 degrees, a la seconde and efface poses are 110-120 degrees (you say “legs are never raised over 90 degrees”). It’s not that I “believe” the low coupes are “truer to the style”, I know it is original Petipa’s, because it is notated that way (there are high passes in certain places though). Chaines are mostly notated on demi-point, it’s not my choice. However Aurora is given chaines on point in her act III variation, which is symbolic. Did you not see it? And contrary to what you say, pique turns are always done on point. Now, the jumps: pity you missed Boylston’s Aurora, she was flying. But you saw Ahn as Blue Bird. Are you saying I allowed him to jump higher, but asked the others to jump lower? Seriously? As for the tempos – many dances in our production are performed faster than usual (not talking about NYCB extreme version), including Aurora’s entrance, Wedding pas, Blue Bird pas, Fleur de Farine, Canari and Violente variations in the Prologue among others. Have you compared our tempos to Mariinsky, Bolshoi, Royal, Paris? I bet you haven’t. Aurora’s manege of jetes en tournant could not be done as fast as manege of pique turns, that’s the nature of the step (notated version includes pas de bourre en tournant after each jete, like in Bournonville). I’ve never seen that particular step done faster. Have you? You might like fish dives and also the Prince on his knee supporting Aurora’s full split penchee, but it’s not Petipa’s choreography, that’s why it’s not part of our production. We don’t do full splits regardless of the "beautiful extensions" of certain ballerinas. Like they don’t do full splits in Bournonville or in Les Sylphides for example. I explained why fish dives were done in the previous run. We keep digging through the archives, unearth new materials, incorporate it. It’s endless because we want to get it right. Thank you for pointing out where we didn’t succeed. But please be more accurate in your descriptions – I don’t want people to think that the “Ratmansky Reconstruction Rules” you invented are actually true.

  3. The audience members of Mr. Ratmansky's "Sleeping Beauty" must simply surrender to the fact that he has thoroughly researched the choreography of Petipa's 1890 production and accept that, once upon a time, this was the way it was danced. That may not be something that genuinely interests everyone. And to do such a production takes tremendous courage and the willingness to let people misunderstand the project. I personally think a documentary in which Mr. Ratmansky explains all of the ins and outs of the piece and prepares the audience to enjoy the ballet--presented beforehand in the afternoon--would be a helpful and informative aid that would enable audiences to get even more pleasure out of the production than they already do. I also think the evening should begin at 6:00 p.m. and that refreshments should be served during Intermission, which should be at least 30 minutes. If I go to a museum, I always read about the exhibit beforehand, research it and, it's an exhibition of painting, try to look at a maximum of 10-15 things. I do the "labor" before I show up and that way I get a great deal more out of it than people who just show up and walk through it as fast as they can. Mr. Ratmansky's Sleeping Beauty is labor intensive--but there has to be a way of filling the audience in on the background and details of the research before hand--in depth--so that they really get the full enjoyment out of it. I am interested in the process by which the end result was arrived. It is not necessary for the production to be defended; I trust that the piece has been beautifully curated. But it is a long ballet, and I would eat it up if there were explanations in advance of many of the things that I am looking at (with film footage to accompany them). I see nothing wrong with making this a feature of the performance. The Met has talks on opera in the opera house before operas begin. Why shouldn't there be a lecture on Sleeping Beauty with clippings and film footage given in advance to help the audience appreciate and get the most out of a scholarly production. I would eat it up. But I am a perpetual student. At any rate, if Ivy Lin's review of Mr. Ratmansky's Sleeping Beauty has drawn Mr. Ratmansky out, and gave him a "platform" from which to elaborate about the production, then it must be a good thing. The audience wants to love and appreciate this production and needs help--the way people need all kinds of reference books when they try to appreciate Shakespeare. There's nothing wrong with need Cliff Notes!

    1. Lincoln Center Theater for its production of My Fair Lady had a long souvenir book in which it explained the history behind Pygmalion, the performance history for My Fair Lady, and other details that really helped a newbie understand the musical better. I wish ABT would do the same with Ratmansky's reconstructions. A souvenir book that explains the choices, the notations, the style, what he put in, etc.

      Actually NYCB often has special talks about specific ballets that are very informative. I wonder why ABT does not do the same.


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