ARKA Ballet
American Dance Institute
Rockville, Maryland, USA
June 2, 2007

by George Jackson
copyright © 2007 by George Jackson

The 13 dancers on ARKA’s program were familiar from their performances under a different banner, that of the Washington Ballet. All regularly appear with WB’s first company or studio group. Undoubtedly their presence on this bill of 12 shorts was because ARKA’s artistic director, Roudolf Kharatian, is prominent on the faculty of WB’s school and his teaching draws not just students but the professionals too. Certain traits — a gracious modesty, a concentration on style and technical consistency – were brought out in the dancers appearing under Kharatian’s eye.

Mikhail Fokine’s choreography fared particularly well. Fokine perfuses movement with imagination. Even seemingly simple step combinations are nuanced and caught up in a dynamic impulse. The result is theater that yet remains pure dance. Although the two examples on this program had been made for the ultimate legendary dancers — Pavlova, Nijinsky and Karsavina — the ARKA cast made “The Dying Swan” (1905) and “Le Spectre de la Rose” (1911) meaningful. Foremost was Elizabeth Gaither’s after-her-first-ball Girl in “Spectre”. Gaither wore charm and modesty lightly, like her cloak which just slips off. When, having sunk into chair, she first rises to waltz with the airborne boy conjured from a rose she had held to her breast, her eyes are closed. We see her asleep. As her dream intensifies, she opens her eyes so that we too enter the dream, ultimately waking from it with her.   

As the Rose, even the best dancers doing the steps brilliantly fail when they forget to suggest that this boy is like a breeze that blows thru the dreamer’s room. Marcelo Martinez remembered: he flowed commendably and his arms remained buoyant without mannerism.  Martinez’s leg work more than sufficed but his torso should have had more plasticity. Rui Huang, with a build contrary to Pavlova’s and a movement quality that’s not soft as down but clear and bold, was cast against type in “The Dying Swan”. Yet she gave the solo a good showing by maintaining its dynamic and never bleeding it for pathos.

Two divertissements were attributed to Arthur St. Leon, the 19th Century French choreographer. “La Vivandiere” (1848), this program’s closer, has survived because St. Leon notated it. ARKA, like most other companies, danced it in a romantic-classical, somewhat bucolic style not unrelated to that of Bournonville. It is joyfully intricate, step rich, pure dancing for five lasses and a single lad. Brianne Bland, as the first among the lasses, particularly sparkled. Tyler Savoie was promising as the lad. The culminating “sunray” pose, with the ladies leaning on the gentleman and extending their arabesques at different but precisely spaced angles, always delights audiences and surprises those who thought that Balanchine had invented it in 1928 for his “Apollo”. Likely, though, the configuration also predates St. Leon. The other St. Leon selection, “Ocean and Pearls” (1864) opened the program. It has survived by being passed on from ballet master to ballet master. Sometimes it is attributed to one of them, Alexander Gorsky, and then it looks art deco in its linearity. ARKA, however, dances this trio in an academic classical manner with Bland and Gaither as the Pearls and Corey Landolt a respectably expansive Ocean. 

Kharatian’s choreography concerned itself mostly with aspects of the music he had chosen. It was fascinating to watch how he used weight, slowing down and drawing out movement and angling body planes to match sonorities in the sound for the “Bach’s Passion” duo in which weight predominated, and “Narayama” (to Japanese popular music) and “A Room”  (to a John Cage score) in which he modeled body surfaces. The musically responsive Sona Kharatian and Luis Torres delivered the first two, adagios both, and Martinez (this time with a suppler torso) the brief “Room” solo.

Both of the program’s premieres were for a set of paired/opposed males — Jonathan Jordan and Jared Nelson. Jordan is compact and short, Nelson linear and medium long. Both have strong techniques and “leading man” looks. Their first duo, “Two Houses”, keeps one at the edge of one's seat. Something is about to happen, perhaps several things, yet it isn’t necessary to know precisely what. The work’s choreographer, Jason Hartley (himself a lead dancer and bravura gymnast) uses Albeniz guitar music and a balletically-based athleticism to set the two men into orbit around each other. The title’s disparate houses may refer to nationality, temperament, sexuality or all of the above. This is the best Hartley I’ve seen to date. He has to be taken seriously as a choreographer.

The second duo for Nelson and Jordan, "Within," is less dramatic, more a theme and variations. It is uneven, not surprisingly so since there are three choreographers — Kharatian, Hartley and Jordan. Kharatian pays closest attention to the accompanying Bach clavier music. Some people thought that the two duets would gain a cumulative effect had they been next to each other on the program, never mind what this would have done to Jordan and Nelson.

Individual variations don’t inevitably look like school recital numbers on a small company’s program. “Dying Swan” and “Room” didn’t. The variations from Petipa’s  “Raymonda” and “Sleeping Beauty” and Liz Gahl’s Rachmaninoff “Rhapsody” did, despite Jade Payette’s panache as the Act 3 “Beauty”.  

Photos, courtesy ARKA Ballet, from top:
"Le Spectre de la Rose": Elizabeth Gaither, Marcelo Martinez
"La Vivandiere": Brianne Bland, Tyler Savoie; Gisele Alvarez, Liz Gahl, Rui Huang, Jade Payette
"Within": Jonathan Jordan, Jared Nelson  

Volume 5, No. 22
June 4, 2007

copyright ©2007 by George Jackson

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