BWW Review: ABT's 'The Golden Cockerel' Is More of a Grandiose Theatrical Production Than a Ballet
ABT's Resident Choreographer Alexei Ratmansky, who created the version of "The Golden Cockerel" that had its company premiere on June 6th 2016, is quoted in a Playbill article by Caroline Hamilton as saying, "This production is overwhelmingly theatrical". Ah, so that explains why there is virtually no dancing in the entire first act and very little in the second act! A little research reveals that Ratmansky reportedly added more dancing after getting less than laudatory reviews in 2012 when his "Cockerel" opened in Copenhagen. Yet mime still predominates, which is the legacy of the unwieldy and heavy original costume designs by avant-garde artist Natalia Goncharova for the 1914 and 1937 Ballet Russes opera ballet productions of "Le Coq d'Or" with choreography by Fokine. (In 1914, "baby ballerina" Tamara Karsavina danced the role of the Queen of Shemakhan with Enrico Cecchetti as the Astrologer. The Cockerel was a stage prop.)
Beyond that, "Cockerel" has a long history dating back to the Alexander Pushkin poem that was based on parts of "The Tales of the Alhambra" by Washington Irving. Also of note, the music by Rimsky-Korsakov was a deliberate political satire. As such, it is not very danceable. In addition, the piece was at one point a 45-minute long comedy for children.
Ratmansky's decision to add more music from the Rimsky-Korsakov opera in order to stretch the proceedings to two acts is questionable. Much of the time the goings-on are more soporific than scintillating, in spite of - or perhaps because of - the riotously colorful sets and costumes that compete with the mime and movements for the attention of the audience.
Even so, there were commendable aspects of the production. Not the least of these was the sharp and shapely dancing by rising soloist Skylar Brandt in the title role. A cockerel is actually a young rooster. However, when the Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo revived Fokine's opera ballet in 1937, the choreographer switched the role to one for a ballerina on pointe. The Cockerel, all in gold and sporting whimsical head and tail plumage, is a magical creature conjured up with great flare by Cory Stearns. He was uncharacteristically cast in a character role as the Astrologer and did a commanding job. The story line, which involves Tsarist tomfoolery, is too convoluted to recant here in detail. Suffice it to say that this is a ballet libretto that tops even "Le Corsaire" when it comes to bizarre plot twists.
Other than Brandt as the Cockerel, the only dancer on pointe is the Queen of Shemakhan. On opening night, Veronika Part was in her element as the elusive object of Gary Chryst's doddering Tsar Dodon's affections. Unfortunately, blousy harem pants -- albeit authentic in terms of time and place -- concealed her lusciously long legs and flapped as she moved. The Russian character dances, which were few and far between, also suffered from the costume choices in that the garb was liberally splashed with large designs and gaudy colors that obscured the movements and ensemble patterns.
"The Golden Cockerel" runs through June 11th at the Metropolitan Opera House in Lincoln Center. Do I recommend seeing it if you're in town? Yes, simply because this is one ballet bird who is not familiar to audiences on our shores. If you're a balletomane, you owe it to yourself to experience this piece of ballet history.