THE GOLDEN COCKEREL
June 9, 2016
Alexi Ratmansky dips back into the archives of Diaghilev’s “Ballets Russes” (1909 – 1929) to reiminagine one of the eras innovative choreographers Michel Fokine’s production of The Golden Cockerel.The good thing about dance’s lack of universal dance documentation in the era before video, is that a choreographer can re-imagine a ballet that only exists in photos, film snippets and biased reviews.
Tapping into a magical time, the Astrologer—engagingly played by James Whiteside, hungers for the capture of a fantastical Queen of Shemakhan (Stella Arbrera). His secret weapon is the magical Golden Cockerel (Cassandra Trenary).
Traditional, pre-Russian revolution towns emerge in fairytale book style populated by men and women in a riot of colorful outfits, wide fitting skirts, vests, fur rimmed hats topping flowing robes, crowns weighed by long beards, and a shimmering gold cockerel. The eye-catching scenery costumes are by Richard Hudson inspired by the remarkable Natalia Goncharova and the sumptuous music is courtesy of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.
Dance reconstructions are difficult because of course the audiences are different as are the dancers and their training. Imperial School trained dancers were technically quite capable, but they are also master actors. Today’s dancers are expressive, but frequently lack dramatic depth and heft.
Meanwhile, in a neighboring kingdom, Tsar Dodon (veteran Victor Barbee) and his sons, Prince Guidon (Aaron Scott) and Prince Afron (Alexander Hammoudi) fear the constant incursions of barbarians. Ready to assist, the Astrologer presents the Tsar with the gift of the Gockerel, whose crow warns of insurgents.
Thrilled they celebrate, but soon the cockerel crows and the sons are off to war. Word comes back they are slain. This spurs the Tsar to action. Off he goes to retrieve the sons only to encounter the seductive Queen of Shemakhan (Stella Abrera).
Seduced by the queen, the silly Tsar claims her as his queen and returns to his land. There the wily sorcerer demands the Queen as his bounty for the Golden Cockerel. Refusing to obey, the Tsar kills the Astrologer and in turn, the Tsar’s us gruesomely pecked to death—shades of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds?”
Totally suite to mount ballet spectacles, American Ballet Theater nonetheless does not have the detailed theatrical training that initials each individual character. In addition, Russian stages are raked, allowing audiences to see through large throngs of dancers, appreciating the patterns and rhythms.
Despite all the action, the drama is relatively subdued. Ms. Treneary excels as a limber and flashy avian, while Abrera indulges in sultry passages. Exhibiting a new-found dramatic vein in his dancing, Whiteside valiantly whips his robes around, drawing the audience in to the story. Caught in the roles of kind hearted, robust brothers, Scott and Hammoudi managed their heroics in the repetitive sequences.
Still settling, The Golden Cockereloffers a fascinating window on the ballets that broke ground and feed today’s ballets.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Celia Ipiotis