Lincoln Center Festival:
Maryinsky’s Horse a Winner!
It’s time to open Alexei Ratmansky‘s modernist toy chest of The Little Humpbacked Horse, a sparkling new version of an old Russian folk tale danced to perfection by the Maryinsky Ballet. The story has been choreographed for many Russian stages, and made into more than one film over the decades—notably one with Maya Plitsetskaya in 1962—but Ratmansky’s version is very today, without bending the basic plot out of shape.
With sets and costumes in a riot of bright colors and skewed geometric shapes, the classic fairytale has the usual buffoons, conniving brothers, a reptilian major domo, silly old Tsar, a little horse with magical powers and—of course—a pair of young lovers who will triumph in the end (modernist or not, it’s a fairy tale, after all). And because it’s the Maryinsky, this Horse surrounds us with the kind of suppleness and athleticism at which Russians have always excelled. Those arms! Those hands! Those hyper-extended cores! All those boneless limbs and joints! And oh, the astonishing mime from every dancer, making characterization complete, and dialogue and lyrics superfluous. And don’t forget those applause-inducing leaps!
Act Two,in particular, allowed Thursday’s cast (Yevgenia Obravtsova as the Tsar Maiden, Vladimir Shklyarov as Ivan, and particularly Islom Baimuradov as the ever-insidious Gentleman of the Bedchamber) to ply their mimetic gifts to the max. A last-minute change in the pit brought Valery Gergiev to the podium to conduct Rodion Shchedrin’s cinematic score (used in the 1962 film); it works even better in this production than in the more traditional film. But: the Little Humpbacked Horse was originally a filly, giving a charmingly playful twist to her guardianship of Ivan. Transformed into a foal by Ratmansky, the charm still works, but plays out more like a buddy ballet.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been in an audience that was having so much fun. But, alas, there’s only one performance left (on Saturday), and it’s worth staying in town to see it, especially if you have children who love horses and who deserve a treat. And, while you’re at it, take a look at some of the summer’s other goodies: festival