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 MCBs 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 cant say what it was.
Thats good. There is a story but you dont need to put it in words. The music [also] tells a story but how can you translate it? Whats great about ballet is you dont need to put things into words. You cant really have the words for everything in life. There is a good saying in Russian, if you express your thought clearly, its 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 cant explain what happens when you watch ballet.
I agree. But it should not be too meaningful because its 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. Thats about it. Ballet is more structured. The form, the structure are the result of centuries of development. But at the bottom its 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 wouldnt 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 its 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 dont 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 Im not sure this is the right word vulnerable?
Q. And Nathalia?
Shes a force. Its not necessarily that she brings something bad. Its an extreme situation that she brings. But it also can bring glory.
Q. Founding artistic director Edward Villellas departure was a big change for Miami City Ballet. What do you think about that?
Edward really did create this company from zero, and its his company still. He built an amazing institution. Now the trick is to preserve it and lead it somewhere else. Its hard for the dancers, hard for all involved. But it shouldnt be sad. Life continues.
Thats 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. Its a religion. Its 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.