writers on dancing


Son of 7 x 7

7x7: Unplugged
The Washington Ballet
England Studio Theater, Washington Ballet Building
Washington, DC
May 4, 2005

by George Jackson
copyright ©2005 by George Jackson

It could be that Septime Webre's new format for presenting ballet will catch on the way Diaghilev's mixed bills did a century ago. This is the second year in a row that Webre has concluded his company's season with a program of very short pieces in an intimate setting. 2004's "7x7: Love" was hit with the public, the press and the company itself for a variety of reasons. Lots of ideas could be tried without major expense. The cabaret/studio atmosphere made viewers tolerant of choreography they might find oppressive on a larger scale, in a formal theater setting. Getting close to the dancers was a thrill, especially for folks who usually buy seats in the upmost balcony. The dancers had more than the usual few performances and really got their teeth into roles.

This spring's "7x7" again rolled out 7 ballets of approximately 7 minutes' duration. The unifying theme wasn't love (or sexuality) but seemed to be extraordinary states of emotion suggested by the term "unplugged". Foyer and studio where the May 4 - 15 performances are being held have been redecorated by Corcoran art students along the lines of "heaven and hell", certainly an unplugged notion. The opener, by Brian Reeder (who has made the rounds as a dancer with Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, New York City Ballet, Frankfurt Ballet and American Ballet Theatre), had a science fiction plot that I read as follows. Six nearly naked men who behave like robots are being trained to dance by a power couple (Elizabeth Gaither and Jonathan Jordan). The exercises the robots perform in the presence of their teachers seem mechanical. When the teachers aren't looking, the six start to really dance and appear more human. When the teachers try to romance, they need the robots as turn-ons. Only then can they enjoy each other. This story seems to ask the question who, robot or flesh-and-blood, is truly alive.

Reeder set up the situation succinctly and managed to get quite a bit of movement performed without its being a diversion from the plot. But the ballet lacked a bang-up ending, something more than the power couple just walking off blandly like innocent lovers. The title, "These are the Days of our Lives", doesn't particularly fit the story I saw but the music, from two chamber compositions by Karl Jenkins, was well tailored to the action. Cast as the six robot hunks were Jason Hartley, Zachary Hackstock, Aaron Jackson, Brian Malek, Marcelo Martinez and Alvaro Palau.

Never would I have guessed that "Ikon of Eros" was by a veteran choreographer, San Francisco's Val Caniparoli. This duo for Michele Jimenez and Runqiao Du seemed to be two different works, chopped up and interdigited. One of the works was extrovert, almost a satire on balletic bravura a la Balanchine. In the other piece, the couple seemed to be having an emotional epiphany. Caniparoli's alternation of show-off and feeling became sophomoric, and could be excused only in part by what was happening in John Tavenor's music. Another studentish work, "And they had hair as the hair of women and their teeth were as the teeth of lions" was by Greece's Andonis Foniadakis, who has danced with Bejart in Lausanne and with the cartoon-prone Lyon Opera Ballet. Foniadakis turned up the echo on Bach, turned down the lights and tried to scare the audience with things that go bump in the night. Had his six ghouls threatened, rolled and romped for just a minute, "... Hair ... and ... Teeth ..." might have been a passable joke. Then there was the cabaret's closer, "Ritual IV" by punkist Mark Dendy, in which eight dancers pulsed rhythmically and strutted their stuff to a drum beat.Yet there were also 3 pieces that had immediate impact without being gimmicky and that lingered intriguingly in the mind.

Susan Shields, the ballet student Mary Day sent to modern dance (where she became a Baryshnikov colleague), is turning out to be a ballet choreographer. Shields uses classroom steps joyfully. Her combinations have wit, they tickle. Last summer, her "Concerto Caprice" provided the Wolf Trap audience with an antidote to Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's trendyness. On this program, her "Footnote" for four young women of the Washington Ballet Studio Company, said that where there are steps to dance there's life. Imagine the quartet rehearsing by itself, busy with rapid ensemble choreography but thinking. Instants arise when they want to race each other. Do any see themselves as ballerina? Perhaps, but the hint passes as soon as it forms. The urge to do the dancing of the moment full justice overrides all else in the quartet's consciousness, and the piece ends. "Footnote" is compact, with steps as tightly bonded as carbon in a gemstone. Shields also has a knack for picking fresh music for dancing, in this instance Tim Seddon's "16". The cast for this pas de quatre consisted of Laura Dunlop, Sara Ivan, Stacey Price and Katie Scherman.

The two other significant works were by choreographers from a modern dance background, yet both pieces were adaptable to ballet dancers - Adam Hougland's "Few and Far Between" more intentionally than Dana Tai Soon Burgess's "Fractures". Hougland's stream of movement gives the impression of a soft focus film of ballet dancing. The bones of classroom placement and propulsion don't show, but they are there within the dancers's reachings, approachings and yearnings. The result is a pliant, cushioned mobility, soft yet strong as stretch cloth. Thematically, too, "Few and Far Between" is a ballet for modern romantics. Set to Justine F. Chen's musical score "Melodramendadaries", it made me want to see more in that vein. Laura Urgelles, Morgann Rose and Elizabeth Gaither, plus Marcelo Martinez, Aaron Jackson and Chip Coleman, often used as three couples, poured themselves into the piece.

"Fractures" is about a transition, a man letting go of one woman as he gravitates to another. There's nothing frivolous or even flirtatious about the event and also nothing tempestuous, no tumult. The action has the inevitability of a cosmic shift, the pace is slow because each dancer has a powerful center of balance and a distinct emanating force. Burgess moves bodies in a molded way that has weight yet also buoyancy. Spatially, the man is the most active of the three figures whereas the women's trajectory is closer to their internal axis. Sona Kharatian as the loosing woman, Erin Mahoney as the one who gains and Jared Nelson (back from Boston) as the voyager expressed their personas from deep sources. Inevitably, as ballet dancers, they articulated joints in a more pronounced way than modern dancers but each found the individual balance of force and mass that fit their assigned role. "Fracture," accompanied by Arvo Part's "Mirror within the Mirror" music, was the program's only older piece, not specially made for "7x7" and the Washington Ballet. But Burgess, from Tim Wengerd's Graham-based company in New Mexico, has been in town long enough that his reputation for meticulously crafted, highly polished choreography is well known.

The 2005 edition of "7x7", not quite as substantial as a its 2004 predecessor, does have 3 pieces out of 7 (42.86% of the program) definitely worth seeing again. A couple of the other ballets would profit from reworking. In sum, this was a successful venture. Webre's direction - he conceived the overall theme, commissioned the individual ballets, arranged their order and undoubtedly edited a bit—was crucial.

Volume 3, No. 18
May 9, 2005

copyright ©2005 George Jackson



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last updated on May 1, 2005