Looking back at the review I wrote for last year’s presentation of The Golden Cockerel at American Ballet Theatre, I was struck by how little my appreciation had changed. From the moment the curtain rises to reveal the gorgeous, color-saturated backdrops, this is a transporting piece of theater in which everything works.

Jeffrey Cirio, Skylar Brandt and Joseph Gorak in <i>The Golden Cockerel</i> © Rosalie O'Connor
Jeffrey Cirio, Skylar Brandt and Joseph Gorak in The Golden Cockerel
© Rosalie O'Connor

The sets are stunning and evocative, the costumes are sumptuous, the individual parts are mimed wonderfully, the lighting is spot on, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s music is lushly rendered by the orchestra. I love this ballet. Ratmansky has created a masterpiece of story-telling and several of the principals who reprised their roles from last year were only better. The story is an intricate blend of comedy and drama that requires attention but Ratmansky has created indelible roles so that the narrative is always clear.

Skylar Brandt in <i>The Golden Cockerel</i>
Skylar Brandt in The Golden Cockerel
My only regret about this show is that Cassandra Trenary was a late scratch and was replaced by Skylar Brandt as the Golden Cockerel. That’s mere selfishness on my part because Brandt was fantastic. She seemed, if anything, to have gotten even stronger since last year with even higher grand jetés. Roman Zhurbin, in the role of the cowardly and blustery General Polkan, has become the linchpin of the story. You could pretty much understand the story if you only watched his performance. It was simply brilliant. He was there at every pivotal moment of the story to offer his opinion in hilarious style. This year I was treated to Stella Abrera in the role of treacherous Queen Shemakhan. Abrera filled out the role with so much sly humor that it was sheer joy every time she was on stage. Hers is a part that can be played using the eyes alone and her eyes are expressive along the lines of Mary Pickford, the silent film star. James Whiteside was dastardly as the Astrologist who maneuvers Tsar Dodon into accepting his Golden Cockerel, thus sealing his fate. Jeffrey Cirio and Joseph Gorak as the Tsar’s cowardly sons gave an even better account of themselves than they did last year. Their characters seemed more fully formed, their dancing more articulated. In short, The Golden Cockerel is a great ballet and this was a great performance.

Stella Abrera and artists of American Ballet Theatre in <i>The Golden Cockerel</i> © Rosalie O' Connor
Stella Abrera and artists of American Ballet Theatre in The Golden Cockerel
© Rosalie O' Connor
I will reiterate what I said last year: I hope, fervently, that audiences will give this ballet a chance because it has everything that you want in a show except for those formal pas de deux. It is a grand story, told on an epic scale, with superb acting, lots of character dancing and terrific visual rendering. It’s full of rich characters and a great story that weaves farce, tragedy, exotic music, and outstanding stagecraft together into an experience that takes you away. There is little better in the repertory right now.

****1