In Miami, Ballet’s Climbing Everest: ‘Swan Lake’

MIAMI – “Will this bird ever land?” Lourdes Lopez, artistic director of the Miami City Ballet, said in January.

The bird she was referring to was “Swan Lake”. For years, the Miami City Ballet performed a one-act version of George Balanchine, but back in 2016, Lopez decided it was time for the company she’s led since 2012, to join the full-length ballet. enough, with all the decorations.

But she’ll have to wait six years – and weather the pandemic – before bringing her “Swan” to the stage. The production, the largest and most expensive in the history of the Miami City Ballet, is finally slated to have its premiere on February 11, at the Arsht Center here.

Looking for the right production, Lopez reviewed versions made around the world, each reflecting a different choreographer’s preferences. One night, she clicked on a YouTube video about a The production was recently premiered in Zurich.

“At one point, I remember the prince reached out and his hand grazed Odette’s coat, and I started to cry,” she said during breaks between rehearsals at the company’s Miami Beach studio. in November. Odette, the heroine of the ballet, is a woman who has been turned into a swan by an evil magician. “This is not about a bird,” said Lopez, “it is about a woman and the tragedy of the human experience.”

The choreographer is Alexei Ratmansky, but his roots are in ballet notation written down just a decade after Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov’s “Swan Lake” premiered in St.Petersburg, 1895. That brand is like a bridge to the origins of ballet before it was changed by generations of choreographers and dancers.

Not long after seeing the video, Lopez approached Ratmansky, who agreed to perform the ballet for her in Miami. A launch was planned for 2019, but it had to be postponed due to lack of finance.

The reopening has been rescheduled for 2021 – but Covid has gotten in the way. This week’s premiere, too, feels like a gamble at times. During the winter holidays, the Omicron variant spread rapidly and several dancers tested positive for the virus. The troupe’s return to the studio had to be delayed and rehearsal schedules were adjusted to account for the dancers’ various periods of isolation. For weeks, regular, sometimes daily, inspections at the company and rehearsals were covered up.

“It was like the ballerina was looking at me and saying, ‘How much do you really want me?’,” Lopez said when we spoke in January.

The answer, it seems, is, very, very much. Miami City Ballet, founded in 1985 by former New York City Ballet star Edward Villella and philanthropist Toby Ansin, is not known for story ballets, especially those made in the 19th century. Instead, it specializes in the works of Balanchine (New’s founding choreographer). York City Ballet), incorporating ballets, mostly abstract, by Jerome Robbins, Twyla Tharp, Justin Peck, and others.

This is not to say that this isn’t the first time these dancers have performed a 19th-century classic. The company danced “Giselle” and “Don Quixote,” although they were not staples in the show. company shows. (A 1951 play “Swan” by Balanchine, centered on the ballet’s lakeside actions, presented the story.)

“It was really the greatest ballet, nothing at all,” Lopez said of why she wanted to be in a full-length version. “I think it’s really going to inform the dancers, and help them grow. It’s something they can come back to over and over again.”

It was a stretch of road for a dance troupe of 54 dancers. To fill its ranks, the company had to strengthen its corps with more than a dozen upper-class students from the school. Fifty-seven dancers participate in each show.

Originally produced by Zurich Ballet and La Scala, with atmospheric choreography and period-appropriate guidance by Jérôme Kaplan, this “Swan Lake” is also a throwback to the dance style of an earlier era. Ratmansky and his wife, Tatiana Ratmansky, who are supporting him, studied a form of dance notation developed in the late 19th century to understand how it was performed in the years close to the premiere. of ballet.

They discovered many differences between “Swan Lake” performed today – the versions are evolving – and what is written. The notations, recorded in 1905, reveal faster tempos, more pantomime, different patterns for the ballet troupe, forgotten poses. Perhaps most surprising to contemporary audiences, the famous lakeside pas de deux for heroine Odette and her suitor, Prince Siegfried, included a third, Siegfried’s best friend Benno .

In the previous version of this ballet, Benno supported the collaboration at key moments. He lifts Odette off Siegfried, giving the impression that she is gliding through the air, and acts as a platform she can step on, so she appears to be floating in front of Siegfried’s eyes. These moments add a bit of anti-gravity magic to the scene.

Benno was present in pas de deux in a number of productions in Russia until the late 1950s and in Europe and the United States until the early 60s, when the arrival of stars like Nureyev made the presence of he seems to be superfluous. “They wanted to focus on Siegfried,” Russian historian Sergey Konaev said in an email. “Soviet ballet did not appreciate supporting roles.”

“He didn’t seem like he was there,” Nathalia Arja, one of the dancers scheduled to perform the role of Odette, said of Siegfried on a Zoom call after a rehearsal. “His friend is there to help him capture this mystical creature,” added Renan Cerdeiro, who will play Siegfried for Arja’s Odette.

Arja and Cerdeiro, who will be performing in the opening night cast (if all goes to plan) have shared the stage for many years, and attended the same school in Brazil, the Escola de Dança Alice Arja in Rio de Janeiro, run by her mother. . “Renan was my first partner,” Arja said.

The two performed a piece of Balanchine’s “Swan Lake” and the so-called “Black Swan Pas de Deux” as independent works. But this feels different. “It brings up a lot of stories,” Arja said. “You are telling the story in every moment. An arabesque dish is never just an arabesque dish. “

Much drama is conveyed through mime, a systematized system of gestures that mimic speech. The points of plot can be explained more clearly than they can through abstract movement. But pantomime is considered old-fashioned, and is often cut from old ballets. Ratmansky feels that it adds to the texture of the story.

“I love that the characters are talking to each other and you can tell who is saying what,” he said.

This was illustrated during a rehearsal last November at the company’s headquarters. As the final act by the lake began, Odette’s rehearsal dancer Katia Carranza – four roles – staggered in. Pointing to her destination, she “tells” her swan fairies that the man she loves (she holds her hand in her lap) has pushed her aside (she swings her arms as if throw something in the trash) and that here, in this place, she will die (she plunges her arms down until her wrists are crossed in front of her).

Then, when the prince paired up with her, her arms and neck softened, as if she had lost her will to live. This soft, less formal way of keeping the body, says Ratmansky, can be seen in period photographs, as well as in the early films of the great British ballerina Margot Fonteyn: “Without tension, There are no protruding veins in the neck, and the arms are human. and soft. ”

This softness contrasts with the dynamism of the Balanchine, with which the dancers are very familiar. “They need to learn to sing more with their bodies,” says Ratmansky. “It’s about having a soft back, a soft neck. They have to sing when they stand up straight, with their back, spine and hands.”

Achieving that is not an easy process for dancers. “It’s a timeless approach,” says Arja of this move, which she describes Ratmansky as much as his intentions. Petipa and Ivanov. “The combination of technique with freedom, clarity and power at the same time, it’s very Ratmansky.”

He promotes this quality in practice with a running commentary that depicts the movement in each moment: “Maintain, resist a little here.” “Get up on your own and sustain the pain.” “Relax your upper body.” “Move more smoothly.”

Meanwhile, Tatiana Ratmansky devoted her attention to the ballet troupe, creating a more expansive, lyrical style. “We worked a lot to be lighter,” she said after a rehearsal. “I teach them to trust their bodies more, letting the hips go one way and the upper body the other, with contrapposto,” a term from the visual arts that describes the distribution of weight across the upper body. body and create curves.

As Ratmansky told the dancers at the end of a long, sweaty rehearsal: “‘Swan Lake’ is like Everest. It takes a collective effort to reach the top.”

With all this effort, the Ballet dancers of the City of Miami deliver their signature energy and powerful musical dynamics. Big groups, performed in a vibrant clip, reveal the upsetting rhythms that are often lost in other companies’ productions. There is no static moment.

But the challenges are real. “Rehearsing with a mask is hard,” says Arja, “because you can only see your partner’s eyes, and you can’t get that full hug.” And the worry is that, every day, one test could come back positive, forcing them to stay home for a few days, losing precious prep time, or even having a show cancelled. .

Even so, two weeks before the premiere, Arja was feeling more confident. “With Ratmansky’s help, and just practicing over and over, I discovered so many layers of emotion in my character,” she said. “It was something that I had to overcome on my own. And I know it won’t all come out on opening night. It will be a trip of discovery. “

A few weeks before the premiere, there was a feeling that the bird might finally land. “You can’t understand what it means to bring this incredible masterpiece to South Florida,” said Lopez. “This is what we do – we rise with opportunity.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/03/arts/dance/alexei-ratmanksy-swan-lake-miami-city-ballet.html In Miami, Ballet’s Climbing Everest: ‘Swan Lake’

Fry Electronics Team

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