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Face to Watch in 2010: Dance

December 24, 2009 |  2:30 pm

Alexei Ratmansky, Choreographer 

Ratmanksy American Ballet Theatre pulled off a coup in late 2008 — and beat out New York City Ballet — when it wooed St. Petersburg, Russia-born choreographer Alexei Ratmansky into its studios with a job and title created especially for him: artist in residence. Ratmansky has critics, audiences and dancers enthralled with the exceptional depth, musicality and narrative skill of his ballets. He delights in taking long-forgotten works, such as the Bolshoi’s socialist Shostakovich ballet “The Bright Stream” and the recent ABT premiere “On the Dnieper” and making them over, brilliantly. These are not staid regurgitations but engaging and complex ballets.

At 41, he proves his intellectual heft subtly, without shouting. The man wants audiences to understand and like what he does.

A graduate of the Bolshoi’s Moscow Ballet School, Ratmansky left his homeland for the West at 24, realizing he would be forever cast in the same roles, in the same ballets. As a principal dancer with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and then the Royal Danish Ballet, he was introduced to the masterpieces of George Balanchine and August Bournonville, and experienced a slew of contemporary dance-makers, including Sweden’s Mats Ek, and Americans Kevin O’Day and Mark Godden. While still dancing, his own early ballets won him notice and awards. The Kirov, San Francisco Ballet and other prominent companies came knocking with offers. Despite initial hesitation, he gave up performing to lead the Bolshoi Ballet in 2004-08.

In addition to “The Bright Stream” (seen at the Orange County Performing Arts Center), local audiences have had two tastes of Ratmansky: the romantic “Bizet Variations” for State Ballet of Georgia (at UCLA) and the more challenging “Pierrot Lunaire” made for Kirov superstar Diana Vishneva (also at the Orange County Performing Arts Center).

At least two big projects await in 2010: a new $5-million production of “The Nutcracker” for ABT, which will inaugurate a groundbreaking partnership between that company and the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and a commission for New York City Ballet’s spring season. Even on the occasions when Ratmansky’s melding of old and new, East and West, fails to hit the mark, the reaction tends to mirror what the Washington Post’s Sarah Kaufman wrote in her review of his controversial “Cinderella”: “I left the theater wishing to see more of Ratmansky’s work.”

—Laura Bleiberg

More Faces:

Faces to Watch in 2010: Architecture

Faces to Watch in 2010: Theater

Faces to Watch in 2010: Music

Photo credit: Fabrizio Ferri/American Ballet Theatre