Ratmansky/Wheeldon, American Ballet Theatre, New York

On Tuesday, world premieres by Alexei Ratmansky and Christopher Wheeldon that bookended a cutesy macho trio by Benjamin Millepied and a revival of Antony Tudor’s long-buried Shadowplay – imagine Siddhartha by way of The Hobbit – reminded us why the Russian and the Englishman are so sought after.

Ratmansky’s Dumbarton, for eight dancers, is bumpy, buoyant and crowded. Wheeldon’s Thirteen Diversions – for eight soloists and a corps of 16 – is architecturally pristine and emotionally achy. But both choreographers respond keenly to company style and to individual dancers’ latent powers: unusual in this age of the freelance, peripatetic dancemaker.

Ratmansky often sets multiple worlds on stage at once – like the split screen of a film or multiple storylines in a novel. With Dumbarton, he takes this to new extremes. Clusters of dancers face every which way as they do their own jaunty or flouncy moves. Then something happens – someone falls to the floor, say – to bring them together. The scene is one of modern fragmentation and flux.

And yet the choreographer hears in the chugging Stravinsky score the populism of another era, when people rode trains and worked at machines, and the cut of their clothes defined their station in life. Ratmansky only adds to this old-fashioned vision of solidarity a romantic lushness in the women’s arms and backs that says: “Just because we are in this together doesn’t mean we don’t have our secrets.”

Wheeldon also keys in to the ABT women’s vibrant, flexible spines. Thirteen Diversions, to a score by Britten, begins with the women suspended over the men’s shoulders, as if in flight: a delicate, near-impossible state to maintain, the ballet suggests.

To the composer’s shimmery rubato variation and cloudy chorale, Gillian Murphy and David Hallberg mirror each other’s pinwheeling arms as they round the stage. Their love duet breathes hope and ease. To the adagio, in contrast, Isabella Boylston – this season’s “It girl”, full of bounce, pluck and girlish grace – forces Marcelo Gomes’s face towards hers: “Notice me”. She takes flight only to collapse; she moves with him, then lets him manipulate her like a puppet.

Wheeldon has always been drawn to the vulnerability in intimacy—laying oneself open to hurt. Here he shows with chilling ambiguity the damage being done.


American Ballet Theatre

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