The Fairy's Kiss
Simone Messmer and Miami City Ballet dancers in “The Fairy’s Kiss.” Photograph by Gene Schiavone

A Blessing and a Curse

Miami City Ballet in Alexei Ratmansky's “The Fairy's Kiss”

Performance
Miami City Ballet: “The Fairy’s Kiss”
Place
Broward Center for the Performing Arts, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, March 11 & 12, 2017
Words
Oksana Khadarina

Alexei Ratmansky’s “The Fairy’s Kiss” is a captivating piece of dance storytelling, fusing genres of fairy tale, mystery, and romance to powerful effect. Set to Igor Stravinsky’s enchanting score and replete with gripping choreographic imagery, it’s a masterfully-crafted and thought-provoking ballet in which Ratmansky’s talent of making dance as a vital, immediate, and engrossing theatrical experience shines through and through. This 45-minute-long work was created for Miami City Ballet and received its much anticipated premier at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami on February 10. This was the second ballet by the famed Russian-born choreographer for MCB, the first being his 2012 “Symphonic Dances.”

A rarely staged work, “The Fairy’s Kiss” is rich in history. The ballet’s music was written by Stravinsky 90 years ago as a commission for the Russian dancer Ida Rubinstein and her newly-founded ballet troupe. “The idea was that I should compose something inspired by the music of Tchaikovsky,” Stravinsky wrote in his autobiography. “It would give me an opportunity of paying my heartfelt homage to Tchaikovsky’s wonderful talent.” He decided to rework a selection of Tchaikovsky’s songs and his minor compositions for piano, giving them a unique neoclassical texture that was entirely Stravinskian.

Stravinsky crafted the ballet’s scenario, drawing on a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, The Ice Maiden. The composer streamlined the convoluted original storyline, arranging the action in four distinctive, continuous scenes. Entitled in French “Le Baiser de la feé,” the ballet told a story about a mystical fairy which saved a child from a blizzard and marked him with a fateful kiss. Twenty years later, the fairy returned to claim him and to change his life forever. In Stravinsky’s treatment, the ballet became an allegory, with the fairy of the title representing Tchaikovsky’s Muse, who bestowed upon him a blessing (and a curse) for a life of artistic greatness and personal sacrifice.

“Le Baiser de la feé” premiered at the Paris Opera on November 27, 1928 featuring the choreography by Bronislava Nijinska and set designs by Alexandre Benois. Rubenstein danced the role of the Fairy and Stravinsky conducted. The production was anything but a success and the ballet disappeared from the stage just after a few performances.

Yet the haunting beauty of Stravinsky’s music had kept the choreographers returning to the ballet again and again. Among those who tried to recapture the mystery and the magic of Stravinsky’s creation were George Balanchine, Frederick Ashton, Maurice Béjart, Kenneth MacMillan, and John Neumeier.

Ratmansky set his heart on “The Fairy’s Kiss” a long time ago. He had previously made two different versions of “The Kiss:” one for the Kiev Ballet in 1994 and the other for the Mariinsky Ballet in 1998. Nearly 20 years later, he returned to the ballet once again, this time for the Miami troupe creating a completely new production.

I was able to catch the performance of Ratmansky’s new version of “The Fairy’s Kiss” when Miami City Ballet brought it to Fort Lauderdale’s Broward Center for the Performing Arts in March as part of the company’s Program Three.

In his staging, Ratmansky closely adheres to Stravinsky’s original libretto, populating the story with four principal characters: the Fairy, the Young Man, his Fiancée, and his Mother. The corps de ballet plays significant part in the action, appearing as assorted spirits, gypsies, and villagers. The ballet feels like a mystery-thriller; the stark set designs by Jérôme Kaplan and projections by Wendall K. Harrington add to the overall atmosphere of suspense.

In the opening scene, a peasant woman with a baby in her arms is caught in a vicious snowstorm. She is encircled by icy spirits and desperately struggles to escape their deathly grip, but to no avail. The Fairy enters in royal style, carried aloft by her attendants. She wears a silver crown and is draped in a long blue dress. Showing no mercy, she looms over the lifeless body of the mother and takes the baby from her frozen arms. She places a kiss on the infant’s forehead, thus sealing his fate. Before she disappears from the stage, she spins with a mighty force as if reinforcing her curse and setting in motion the events of the future.

The abandoned orphan is taken in and raised by the villagers. He grows up to be a handsome, good-natured young man, engaged to be married to a beautiful young girl from his village. (There is a clever scene to indicate the passage of time, with the hero shown first as a little boy and then as an adult.) They make a charming, sweet couple; and their exuberant folk-inspired dancing—bright, joyful and full of life—brings a rare feeling of warmth and tenderness to this story.

On the night before their wedding day, the Fairy returns, disguised as a gypsy, to remind the young man of his miraculous rescue and his mother’s tragic death. To add to his anguish, the Fairy tells him about his new future, the future that doesn’t include his fiancée, for he is destined by her kiss to forsake the pleasures of ordinary life. The wedding still takes place, but it is the Fairy herself, who becomes the young man’s new bride.

In his treatment, Ratmansky employs Stravinsky’s allegory of the Fairy as the muse to the young hero. In the ballet’s finale, she leads him to his new destiny, introducing him to the realm of high art; and this scene constitutes one of the most ingenious and stunning moments of the entire ballet. Dressed in light beige tulle costumes, the dancers of the corps enter the stage in a manner of the Shades from “La Bayadère,” gradually filling the space and arranging themselves in rows. What follows next is at once ravishing, poetic, and visually breathtaking sequence of continuously-changing scenes from various famous ballets: “The Sleeping Beauty,” “Giselle,” “Apollo,” “Les Noces,” “Serenade,” “Symphony in C,” with the hero directing, like a choreographer, the dancers of the ensemble, who shift in and out of the choreographic formations, one more spectacular than the next. In the final scene, the Young Man is lifted skyward as if being transported to a world beyond time and space, where the process of creating art becomes a metaphor not only for identity but for life itself.

Ratmansky’s “The Fairy’s Kiss” is a perfect vehicle for the Miami dancers, showcasing their ample dramatic gifts and impressive technical skills. I saw two different casts; both were excellent with the principal characters putting their own interpretive touches and nuances on their roles and the corps de ballet dancing with élan, eagerness, and passion.

Simone Messmer was cool, imposing, and implacable as the Fairy—a regal Ice Queen, with haughty, chilling demeanor and a cruel streak. In the same role, the vibrant and spritely Nathalia Arja came across as a seductress rather than a domineering monarch, playing her character with ardor and an appealing sensuality. In the wedding pas de deux with the hero, she evoked an alluring siren, her movements sinuous and graceful. Watching them dance, it felt as though, with her kiss, she not only sealed his fate but also stole his heart.

Jeanette Delgado was sunny, warm and utterly lovely in the role of the hero’s Fiancée—a stark contrast from Messmer’s chilling portrayal of the Fairy on opening night. A ballerina of remarkable dramatic gifts, Tricia Albertson, in the second cast, made the role of Fiancée deeply affecting and poignant. The scene in which her heroine realized that her beloved was lost for her forever made for one of the most dramatically poignant moments of the ballet.

Renan Cerdeiro filled the role of the Young Man with youthful exuberance and sweet naiveté, while Kleber Rebello delivered a more earnest and composed, even philosophical, reading of the role.

A sparkling gem, Stravinsky’s vibrantly poetic music was another pleasure of “The Fairy’s Kiss;” brimming with bold and vivacious rhythmical sound, the score received a rousing rendition by the Opus One Orchestra under the baton of Gary Sheldon.

“The Fairy’s Kiss” was part of a triple bill which also comprised George Balanchine’s “Walpurgisnacht Ballet” and Christopher Wheeldon’s “Polyphonia.” Both pieces were danced to perfection. Nathalia Arja was a particular stand-out, demonstrating star-ballerina qualities in her brilliant performance in “Walpurgisnacht Ballet.”

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