Choreographer Alexei Ratmansky talks about inspiration for Miami City Ballet’s ‘Symphonic Dances’


If you go

What: Miami City Ballet Program III, with ‘La Valse,’ ‘The Steadfast Tin Soldier,’ ‘Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux,’ ‘Symphonic Dances’

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Broward Center, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. March 8-10, Adrienne Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami

Tickets: $20-$175 at 305-929-7010 or

Alexei Ratmansky is widely seen as one of the most original and important choreographers in ballet, an artist who is moving the genre forward while remaining deeply rooted in its classical origins. When Miami City Ballet commissioned him last season to create Symphonic Dances, set to a Rachmaninoff score of the same name, it was a milestone for the company.

After its one-night premiere last year, Symphonic Dances is back for MCB’s Program III. The Herald talked to the 45-year-old Russian about his inspiration for this sweeping, mysteriously dramatic ballet, and his thoughts on dance and the Miami troupe.

Q. When I first saw Symphonic Dances, I thought it had a story, but I can’t say what it was.

That’s good. There is a story but you don’t need to put it in words. The music [also] tells a story but how can you translate it? What’s great about ballet is you don’t need to put things into words. You can’t really have the words for everything in life. There is a good saying in Russian, if you express your thought clearly, it’s already alive. Meaning that not everything can be put in words. I like that. The great strength of ballet is its mystique or symbolism. This art can touch a kind of universal harmony without explaining it.

Q. You can’t explain what happens when you watch ballet.

I agree. But it should not be too meaningful because it’s just dance. Not every subject is good for the ballet. It should not be too complicated. Because the original impulse is either joy, where you get drunk and you have friends and start dancing. Or of course we know from ancient history that there are some symbolic dances that make connections with stars or religious ceremonies. That’s about it. Ballet is more structured. The form, the structure are the result of centuries of development. But at the bottom it’s still these simple impulses.

Q. There were strong characters in Symphonic Dances that surprised me. I saw a side of [MCB dancer] Kleber Rebello I had never seen. Nathalia [Arja] had always seemed like a very sweet girl, and suddenly she was so passionate.

I wouldn’t call them characters. They create tensions. And in order to create tension you have to have some kind of motivation. Nathalia, we called her the war girl. There is a painting by Henri Rousseau, the French primitive painter, of a girl in a white short dress on a horse, called The War. She is a horrifying figure. But it’s just a little inspiration.

The structure of the piece, which is quite complex, took place after I observed [MCB company] classes. I wanted to use particular dancers. Each person had certain characteristics. Maybe in everyday life they are very different. But there is something in their physique, in the expression of their face, the line of the neck, the gestures, that tells you about their inner character. They might fight it. Maybe they don’t like it. But as Martha Graham says, the body never lies. The body tells the truth about a person. So I was trying to sense who these dancers are, and they led me to certain story developments.

Q. So what did you get from Kleber?

A person in difficult circumstances, some inner suffering that was hidden. He was — I’m not sure this is the right word — vulnerable?

Q. And Nathalia?

She’s a force. It’s not necessarily that she brings something bad. It’s an extreme situation that she brings. But it also can bring glory.

Q. Founding artistic director Edward Villella’s departure was a big change for Miami City Ballet. What do you think about that?

Edward really did create this company from zero, and it’s his company still. He built an amazing institution. Now the trick is to preserve it and lead it somewhere else. It’s hard for the dancers, hard for all involved. But it shouldn’t be sad. Life continues.

That’s another amazing, beautiful thing about ballet. No matter what, every morning you go to the barre and you need to serve the god, the goddess of dance. It’s a religion. It’s not about you or your ego. The beauty of ballet is the result of centuries. You think of all the amazing choreographers who contributed to it, and it now lives in us. Because all the steps we do were invented by someone, and we can feel their impulse when we do the step.

A previous version of this article misspelled Nathalia Arja.

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