On Friday night, a massive crowd came to the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance for tickets to New York City Ballet’s performance of Alexei Ratmansky’s Russian Seasons. For those who were able to secure a seat, the night proved achingly beautiful.
The performance, born out of a partnership between the dance department and the New York City Ballet, opened with a film by Keith Forman about the work of Adam Hendrickson, an alum of the New York City Ballet, in collaboration with students at the College. Prior to the three-hour session during which Hendrickson and his students conceptualized and choreographed a piece, Hendrickson had not met the performers with whom he collaborated. While the veteran dancer knew he would need to compose a piece using artists of different backgrounds, neither Hendrickson nor the students knew exactly what to expect. One such student, Tre Colbert ’14, entered the project with some doubts, but eventually found the collaborative process rewarding, while fellow performer Ayanna Smith ’13 thought the process was very “organic.” Overall, Hendrickson’s goal was to have fun and to let the dancers have fun. He joked in the film that, “if no one cries, then the presentation was a success.”
Following the screening of the short film, the featured dancers then appeared on the CenterStage. The group – which included Smith, Colbert, Brittany Baker-Brousseau ’11, Emily Cook ’13, Sierra McDonald ’16, Lillian Podlog ’15, Madison Weist ’15 and Kallan Wood ’10 – moved as a unit. The performers responded to the steady beat of Gary Rzab’s drum. Each dancer’s familiarity with ballet was reflected within their style of movement. Though not all of their movements were synchronized, the cohesion of “A New Work: A Choreographic Experiment” stemmed from the students’ combined effort to present a piece imbued with their collective love of dance.
After the student piece, the show transitioned to Russian Seasons. Accompanied by music written by Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov, the performance combined classical ballet with folk dance in a highly expressive manner. The first movement featured nearly the entire company, a happy melody buoying the coquettish interaction between the male and female dancers. The second movement departed from this happy tone; the scene began with one ballerina dancing to a harsh, noisy movement. Other female dancers joined onstage and began clapping as an operatic soprano met the music of the violins. Male dancers circled around the soloist ballerina as she pirouetted, with the first melancholy dancer eventually falling offstage into the arms of a waiting man.
The third movement began with the low, plucking beat of the cello. The mood of the dance changed continuously. The scene began with a muted energy, but built towards joyous pirouettes and lifts. Suddenly, the dancers seemed to sag with the weight of their exhaustion, turning to the audience and bowing in a false finale. The show was not over, though: The fourth movement, which was characterized by strange movement and discordant sounds, saw the dancers entering the stage in a train they formed by leaning on one another, synchronizing their progress with the awkward twinges of the violin. Through this play of opposing forces, this section created a palpable tension between the performers.
A gentle, delicate voice introduced the fifth movement. Three pairs of men and women and one unpartnered ballerina appeared onstage. The solo ballerina called to the couples with wistful grand jetés before falling to the ground; the pairs then twirled around the lonely dancer as she lay collapsed on the stage. The male dancers appeared willing to engage with the sad woman, but their female partners actively restrained them.
In a marked contrast from the melancholy and muted tone of earlier movements, the sixth movement had a fast pace; throughout the section, the dancers returned to a sort of awkward hopping run.
During the seventh movement, a soft teal light colored the backdrop onstage. A sad voice crooned a slow mournful tune as the violin countered the singer discordantly, creating a jarring sound. Languid movement characterized this section of the performance, with three men complementing a ballerina as she twirled. The male dancers created stairs for the woman with their arms, supporting her feet in their hands as she climbed higher. They lifted and rotated her like a wheel as she bent her legs. The ballerina knelt with hands clasped as the male dancers shifted and clapped, snapping her out of her reverie. Then the men drew the female dancer offstage, enticing her with tender port de bras.
The eighth movement has a tangible bounce: The quick, low melody called to mind the barynya, a traditional Russian folkloric dance that includes squatting and knee-bending. Onstage two male dancers and two ballerinas jumped with excited rond-de-jambes en l’air. One couple embraced as the other danced a pas-de-deux. The ninth through 12th movements merged together, building to a crescendo of sound and dance that ended as a woman in a flowered headdress and a man in a white tunic pranced about while the rest of the company lay back as the curtain fell. This unexpected finale felt anticlimactic and surprised the audience in offering a simple, understated end to a complex, emotional performance.