BWW Review: ABT's THE GOLDEN COCKEREL
I was very excited to see ABT's "The Golden Cockerel "on June 2, 2017. Having heard so much about it, and having read extensively about the Fokine ballet production from 1937, not to mention watching the enticing video on YouTube, I was looking forward to a very magical evening. I can't say that this promise was fulfilled, even if it did offer intermittent pleasures. But after leaving the theater following this two act extravaganza, I began to wonder what exactly it was that ABT had to offer and why they are presenting this piece, as it does not seem destined for a long life in the repertoire-or if it's just waiting to be taped for "Great Performances" on Channel 13. Or perhaps there is nothing that could be mined from the ballet at all!
The best part of the evening was the settings and costumes by Richard Hudson, inspired by Natalia Goncharova, who designed the 1914 Diaghilev opera-ballet and the 1937 ballet production, both by Fokine. A dazzling display of every hue known to mankind, the costumes offer such a proliferation of sensual pleasure that it's easy to bask in their glow and forget about the ballet. But when you come away from a ballet talking about the scenery and costumes, you know something is wrong.
The Fokine 1937 adaptation was originally in one act, but here Alexei Ratmansky has extended the narrative, bringing in extended folk dances and mime that do not progress the ballet- rather, it just bogs it down in detail. Just what is this golden cockerel? What is its symbolism, allegorical meaning? We wait in our seat, wondering. Is this ballet about anything? It's called "The Golden Cockerel," so shouldn't there be something on which to hang our interest?
The scenario is interesting enough, concerning an astrologer and the golden cockerel he brings to a doddering emperor with two warring sons; and the Queen of Shemakhan, a character who is somehow always out of reach, even when her presence is felt . Even when the Emperor has her in his grasp she remains unattainable. She is a creature of air, she has a wall around her, and like the firebird, she will never be captured.
But besides that, what else arrests our interest? We never get a real sense of who these characters are, possibly with the exception of the cockerel herself, who is given some lovely choreography by Ratmansky and danced brilliantly on the night I saw her by Skylar Brandt. With her quick staccato legs, long arched neck and symmetrical face, she represents the essence of a spirit, although one who can be brutal when the situation arises that calls her to attack and kill. It is a problem that she is not the central character, rather the mysterious Queen of Shemakhan, danced by Misty Copeland, in what looks like a discarded harem costume from "Scheherazade." Copeland is a star, no doubt about it, but there is little she can do with a rather trite and unrewarding role. It's not her; it's the steps she's assigned. They do not further the story nor are they especially enticing. The Queen doesn't enthrall; she's too static.
I was glad to have seen this production once, but I don't see it as a lasting testament to Ratmansky's work or to the ABT repertoire. Ratmansky is an adventurous, talented choreographer, there is no doubt about that, but this does him no credit. Yes, it looks like a million dollars, but in the name of ballet art, serious or comic, it should never have been given the green light. We hear so much about arts cutting, funding, education. So why this? I applaud choreographers who sweep in with a view so cataclysmic that it alters our vision of ballet forever. At the same time, I welcome those choreographers who can bring fresh insights into the past and show us just what brought us to where we are today. Unfortunately "The Golden Cockerel" doe not provide us with any new revelations. So why mount the ballet at all?
Photo: Rosalie O'Connor