BWW Reviews: American Ballet Theatre Presents New Ratmansky Ballet
First the good news. Alexei Ratmansky's Piano Concerto #1, set to the Shostakovich piece of the same name, is as bracing as ever. Now, the bad news. Ratmansky's The Tempest, set to a Sibelius score, is in a state of choreographic disorder. It sets out to tell a Shakespearean play in 45 minutes, and even with the input of dramaturg Mark Lamos, the ballet can't dance, let alone move.
Not being a scholar, academician, psychiatrist or bartender, I can't imagine what made the play an attractive vehicle for Ratmansky's talent. What was he thinking when he decided to choreograph the ballet? Another prestigious assignment, or one that was owed to ABT and had to be executed quickly. I decided not to read the play before attending the performance, as I wanted to be able to decide for myself just what was transpiring. The program notes describe the ballet as a "...once fragmented narrative as well as a meditation on some of the themes of Shakespeare's play. " This is fine. But if all you are left with is a ballet without coherence, structure, or even logic, you know that you have not achieved the desired effect.
Here's what I saw, and forget the program notes and the original play. There is a man named Prospero who lives on an island with a flying creature dressed in Kabuki makeup and a small monster. There is a woman who seems to be his daughter. There's another man who's a prince, but he doesn't wear a crown. Then more people come on stage and there seems to be a great deal of confusion. Then the prince and the woman dance a pas de deux and Prospero sails home to Milan. The last piece of information I got from the playbill notes.
If I didn't have the synopsis in front of me, I would be hard pressed to figure out what was happening. In the old Broadway days, a show doctor such as Jerome Robbins would come in and fix things up. But I ask: wasn't anyone looking in?. Couldn't someone say that the piece was beyond comprehension? Meditation or not, what was the ballet about? It didn't matter if you were familiar with the play. A piece of work stands on its own, and should never be compared to another source. Think of Carmen or even The Sound of Music.
Unlike Limon's Moor's Pavane or Ashton's Dream, which slimmed the Shakespearean plays to only a few characters, or even Balanchine's Midsummer Night's Dream, which is also something of a muddle in the first act, but then dispenses with the story entirely in the second act, The Tempest wants to have it both ways. Overloaded with a story, introducing characters for short stays only to have them disappear quickly, the ballet has no reason for being on the stage. And I blame this on Ratmansky, Did he read the libretto on which Mark Lamos worked? He's a smart man; couldn't he see that he was given even less than a skeleton to work with.