Concerto DSCH to the music of Shostakovich’s Second Piano Concerto is Alexei Ratmansky’s seventh ballet at the Mariinsky Theatre. Today the theatre’s repertoire includes three of his “plot” ballets – the witty and ironic Cinderella and The Little Humpbacked Horse and the laconic Anna Karenina. The company also has experience of performing Ratmansky’s plot-less ballets – fifteen years ago he staged the strikingly emotional and stylishly refined Middle Duet and the flowing and heartfelt Le Poème de l'extase. Concerto DSCH , which has no literary plot, is different – joyful, witty and totally filled with movement. It is as if Ratmansky is almost afraid of permitting a musical motif that is suitable for dance. Such miserliness in the movements, such concentration of the choreographic text is beguiling for both the dancers and the audience. Ratmansky is an inarguable master of plot-less dance who can create, with virtuoso ease, forms of virtuoso solos, duets, trios and crowd scenes and, with impeccable taste, fill them with amazing dance combinations. Concerto DSCH is just one such example. Solving the puzzle of his incredibly musical combinations has proved an engaging task for the Mariinsky Ballet.
This ballet was created in 2008 for the New York City Ballet, and it is ideal for a company that is focussed on the instrumentalism of dance and ensemble-performance. Moreover, Ratmansky refers to it as a “portrait of that company”. On the other hand, the text of Concerto DSCH and the style of the scenes it contains are full of references to Soviet realities that cannot be fully understood by American performers, while for Russian dancers and audiences it brings a whole bag of associations and raises an emotional response on more than just the choreographic content. For those unfamiliar with Soviet sculpture and have no idea of the athletics displays and well-loved-techniques of Soviet cinema from the 1920s–50s, many of Ratmansky’s high supports are simply conjured-up poses, and the gestures mere original ideas of a ballet-master. To feel and convey the energetic purposefulness of an adagio one has to see at least a few Soviet films that celebrate the sincere simplicity of meetings in the evening between loves who live next door, where a shyly stolen kiss was the limit of what was allowed. And in the energetic drive of the final crowd scene, breathing with its life-giving optimism, one can recognise the generally-accepted Soviet concept about doubts of a happy future.
Ratmansky is obviously captivated by Shostakovich’s music and the spirit of his time, and in his ballet he tenderly revives this. In the title of his ballet the choreographer uses the composer’s musical autograph (D.Sch in the German musical notation), which has no direct link to the Second Concerto but which does identify with the ballet’s style. Just like Balanchine, paying tribute to the Imperial Russian Stage, named his own ballet to piano the music Ballet Imperial by Tchaikovsky.
Concerto DSCH is Ratmansky’s second “Russian” ballet, staged abroad and brought to a Russian theatre in which much can only be fully felt and understood by Russian performers. The first was the Russian Seasons (also created with NYCB) that featured motifs of Russian folklore. Apparently paradoxically to westerns critics, the choreographer’s journey across the ocean in search of his cultural roots allowed him to distance himself from the strong traditions of the stage presence of those cultural roots and has helped him present them in a new light. With Concerto DSCH it was the same story. The production for NYCB demonstrated Ratmansky’s talent in creating varied and engaging combinations, yet always logical compositional constructions and drawings, enchanting with the free nature of his dance. The same production for the Mariinsky Theatre also brought to light a subtle stylist who can put an entire history of the Soviet era into a one-act ballet.