Alexei Ratmansky has been in ballet troupes in Kiev, Canada and Copenhagen. And while he says he is, “of course, Russian,” he also says he really does not feel like he has found his “ballet home” yet.
Russian ballet critics are hoping otherwise. Hailing Ratmansky as “the main hope of domestic ballet” for his successful staging of ballets at the Bolshoi and the Mariinsky Theaters, they cheered his return to Moscow this past June as someone who is pumping new life into Russian ballet.
The ballet Ratmansky brought with him to Moscow was his choreographed version of Tourandot’s Dream, performed at the Moscow Operetta Theater. It played to full houses and Ratmansky got a hero’s welcome. “Muscovites are always very warm, especially when you try your best,” Ratmansky said.
Despite the fact that he spent his childhood in Kiev, where his parents worked (his father is an engineer and his mother is a doctor), Ratmansky has a special place in his heart for Moscow, for this is where his ballet education started. He entered the Moscow Choreography School (MAKhU) at 10, living in the capital with his aunt, Liya Fisenko.
“He danced from the age of four,” Fisenko recalled. “And it all came from the music—he always moved to the music in a very gracious, rhythmic fashion.”
Graduation from MAKhU meant leaving Moscow, because Ratmansky did not have the all-important Moscow propiska (registration permit). So he returned to Kiev, passing his auditions for that city’s Shevchenko Theater on the day of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
“I am actually glad I did not stay in Moscow,” Ratmansky said. “For in Kiev I began dancing classic solo parts from the very beginning.” It was also in Kiev that he met his wife Tatyana, a soloist dancing at the same theater. Meanwhile, he continued his studies with a correspondence course in choreography.
In 1989, Ratmansky won the Ukrainian Contest of Ballet Artists, and, three years later, the Moscow International Ballet Contest named for Djagiliev. Ratmansky then took a position in Canada (“not the most ballet-oriented country, but they do have several very good ballet troupes”). For three years he danced with the Winnipeg Royal Ballet, and was heavily influenced by the outstanding Canadian ballerina Evelyn Heart, who was his partner in such ballets as Giselle and Esmeralda. “She completely changed my views on ballet,” Ratmansky said, “turning me onto the course that I am moving on now.”
Brought up as a dancer in the Soviet school of ballet, Ratmansky was only exposed to classic Soviet ballet, with its standard bearer the Bolshoi Theater’s Yuri Grigorovich. “It was all great,” Ratmansky said, “but then we were totally separated from the whole 20th century of ballet in the West. When I arrived there it was a whole new world. Evelyn Heart taught me that one can dance classic ballets in a modern way.”
Ratmansky returned to Kiev in 1995 and began work as a choreographer, including many performance tours to Russia. But after he had exhausted the repertoire he had prepared in Canada, he and his wife felt a need to work in a quiet place—to prepare the next stage of their careers. They settled at Copenhagen’s Royal Danish Ballet, which Alexei described as “a great place for classic ballet, where the ballets of August Bournonville, a 19th century choreographer, are still performed.”
At 32, Ratmansky reluctantly admits that it is time for him to do less dancing and more choreography. “When I am staging, my dancing technique declines a bit,” he said, “and when I am dancing, my choreographer’s brain is not in the right form … then [at this age] you begin struggling with your physical capacities, which are gradually diminishing. However, as a choreographer, I can work non-stop.”
His 1997 Bolshoi Theater staging of Capriccio, to the music of Igor Stravinsky, won wide acclaim. The Bolshoi’s prima ballerina, Nina Ananiashvili, asked him to stage a ballet for her—a heady stamp of approval. The resulting The Delights of Mannerism, accompanied by the music of Richard Strauss, was a great success. Ananiashvili then asked Ratmansky to stage Dreams about Japan, which was included in the Bolshoi’s repertoire, and which last year won Russia’s top theater prize, The Golden Mask. The staging of these two ballets in St. Petersburg led to an invitation from that city’s Mariinsky Theater to stage a ballet.
While Ratmansky refuses to be catalogued among the world’s top choreographers, his stock is clearly on the rise. At press time, he was entertaining as yet unspecified offers from the Bolshoi and other theaters around the world.
Clearly, his search for a home is far from over.
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