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American Ballet Theatre: The Golden Cockerel 2017

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American Ballet Theatre

The Golden Cockerel 2017

David H. Koch Theater

Kevin McKenzie, Artistic Director
Kara Medoff Barnett, Executive Director
Alexei Ratmansky, Artist in Residence
Clinton Luckett, Assistant Artistic Director
Susan Jones, Principal Ballet Mistress
Ballet Masters: Irina Kolpakova,
Carlos Lopez, Nancy Raffa, Keith Roberts
Ormsby Wilkins, Music Director
Kelly Ryan, Director of Press and Public Relations
Jenny Lee, Director of Marketing
Susie Morgan Taylor, Manager of Press and Online Media

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
June 2, 2017

(Read More ABT Reviews)

(See a Conversation with Conductor, David LaMarche, on the Spring Season Ballet Music.)

The Golden Cockerel (2012, Copenhagen, 2016, ABT Premiere): Choreography by Alexei Ratmansky (inspired by Michel Fokine’s original production), Staged by Anne Holm-Jensen Peyk, Music by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Arranged by Yannis Samprovalakis, Scenery and costumes by Richard Hudson (inspired by Natalia Goncharova, 1913, 1937), Lighting by Brad Fields, Associate Designer: Kasper Hansen, Conductor: David LaMarche, Performed by Misty Copeland as the Queen of Shemakhan, Gary Chryst as Tsar Dodon, Skylar Brandt as the Golden Cockerel, Cory Stearns as the Astrologer, Arron Scott as Prince Guidon, the Tsar’s son, Alexandre Hammoudi as Prince Afron, the Tsar’s son, Craig Salstein as General Polkan, Tatiana Ratmansky as Amelpha, the Tsar’s Housekeeper, Calvin Royal III and Jose Sebastian as Persian Men, and the Company as Boyars, the Tsar’s Advisors, Peasant Women, Peasant Men, Skomorokhs, Warriors, and Persian Women, led by Christine Shevchenko.

The Golden Cockerel, is inspired by Michel Fokine’s original production. That 1937 one-act ballet was based on his 1914 opera-ballet for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, with opera singers sitting on the right and left of the stage, which was based on Rimsky-Korsakov’s 1909 opera, “Le Coq d’Or”, which was based on Pushkin’s 1834 poem, “The Fairy Tale of the Little Golden Cockerel”, which was based on two chapters of Washington Irving’s “Tales of the Alhambra”, or so that’s how it appears in a program pamphlet. In other words, this ballet was originally part of a fanciful, poetic opera. Ballet Theatre’s Artist in Residence, Alexei Ratmansky, created this ballet in 2012 for the Royal Danish Ballet, whose scenery and costumes were transported to New York for this one-week run. Ratmansky is quoted in the program pamphlet as calling his ballet “reflective of Russian music-theater”.

The essential plot concerns Tsar Dodon and the Queen of Shemakhan, in whose kingdoms and regional battlefield the two-act ballet is set. The first scene is a brilliantly colored court, in gold, red, blue, and yellow, in which a cunning Astrologer gives a magical Golden Cockerel to the Tsar, to vocally warn him if enemies are approaching. The second scene is the tent and kingdom of the Queen of Shemakhan, who seduces the Tsar, amidst exotic warriors and dancers. In the third scene, back in the Tsar’s court, giants and a tall camel appear, and, in one fell swoop, literally, the conflict of who gets the Queen, Dodon or the Astrologer, is resolved. The Tsar, who owed the Astrologer a favor for his Cockerel, had demanded the favor be that he got the Queen, whom the Astrologer adored, invading the Astrologer’s turf, with much dramatic mime. (Partially based on ABT Pamphlet Notes.)

Skylar Brandt was, once again, an outstanding Cockerel, the model for future ballet artists. She not only exuded speed and style, but she shone from within, youthfully aerobic, dynamic, and elegant. She leaped and hopped as if on a spring, filled with enthusiasm and charisma. She engages the audience in ways few ballet Soloists, and, for that matter, few Principals, manage to do these days. Cory Stearns, however, as the Astrologer, seemed passive, moving in the role, but not psychically engaging in the theatrical dimensions. Gary Chryst (formerly with The Joffrey Ballet), as Tsar Dodon, exuded stage presence, but not the Russian heft that a Tsar would project. Misty Copeland, as the Queen of Shemakhan, was wily and theatrical, with sensual, exotic dance styling. She lures the Tsar into her tent with ease. Arron Scott and Alexandre Hammoudi, dancing the roles of Prince Guidon and Prince Afron, who become literally locked in battle in an awkward scene of “crossed swords”, were suitably ingénue-militaristic. Another scene stealer, in addition to Ms. Brandt, was Roman Zhurbin, as General Polkan. Tatiana Ratmansky, the wife of the choreographer, was a charming Amelpha, the Tsar’s housekeeper. The General just wanted to win a war, and Amelpha just wanted to win the Tsar.

I still feel that Ratmansky’s new ballet should be seen as part of an opera, as it was originally conceived by both Rimsky-Korsakov and Fokine. In fact, the 1914 opera ballet concept, with singers sitting side stage and dancers performing the story is intriguing. There is so little dancing and so much miming and gesturing, with so many heavily costumed characters and ornamentations, that ballet is not the focus. With a collaboration of opera (the newly reorganized New York City Opera comes to mind) this would be quite a show. In fact, Richard Hudson’s scenery and costumes, so visually stunning and magnetic, with the Cockerel in gold feathers and frills, would be purely operatic. The arrangement of the Rimsky-Korsakov score, by Yannis Samprovalakis, gives the listener the sense of an esoteric, rather than entertaining, musical experience. But, with so little actual dancing, and the stage stuffed with furry, brocade-costumed characters, the lack of balletic rhythm seems inconsequential. Brad Fields’ lighting is excellent in making the primal colors glow. They really pop off the backdrop and cloaks. David LaMarche conducted this time, with total mastery of the genre. Kudos to Diaghilev for commissioning Fokine’s original Le Coq d’Or in 1914, over a century ago. Mr. Ratmansky has created what could be a stunning, ballet-opera pièce de résistance.

Misty Copeland in "The Golden Cockerel"
Courtesy of MIRA

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at