At the same time, he hasn’t exhausted the possibilities of classical vocabulary; like Balanchine, he instills steps with a crisp and sweeping musicality. And at City Ballet, he will be part of an artistic team that includes Stafford and Whelan, along with Justin Peck, the company’s resident choreographer and artistic adviser. Just as Ratmansky was ready for a change, City Ballet is in the middle of its own.
Who loses here? Ballet Theater. Even with a new full-length ballet by Christopher Wheeldon, the company’s summer season at the Metropolitan Opera House, the last programmed by its outgoing artistic director, Kevin McKenzie, seems like a rehash of the past: “Giselle,” “Romeo and Juliet” and “Swan Lake.” (And no Ratmansky.) Under its new artistic leader, Susan Jaffe, the company may blossom while preserving its roots, but for now, its repertory confines Ballet Theater to another time.
That is not to say that City Ballet hasn’t had misfires in its recent commissions. But with Ratmansky’s new position, suddenly, the ballet world — or one part of it — doesn’t feel so stuck. Beyond his choreographic output, Ratmansky, who will create at least one ballet a year as well as rehearsing his existing repertory, could become a stabilizing force. He knows what he wants and he pushes to get it, but he also has an indelible rapport with dancers. You get the feeling they’re willing to fight for each other.
What happens when a dancer goes to the limits for such a choreographer? In a behind-the-scenes video about Ratmansky’s “Concerto DSCH,” the principal Sara Mearns describes a lift in which she is held above her partner with one leg extended to the side. “He said, ‘You need to look up to the sky like it’s the heavens, and then I want you to actually close your eyes,’” she says. “So I do, and it’s amazing and so magical.”
He didn’t just guide her body, he led her spirit. These are the moments when ballet becomes more than ballet. Dancers shape the music, the air and, as Ratmansky said, the steps to reveal — I like to think — something about themselves. With Ratmansky at City Ballet, the future seems bright, effervescent. It’s like what Balanchine used to say to his dancers: There is only now. I love the idea of now.