writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, Washington, D.C. edition

Aspects of Love

The Washington Ballet
England Studio, The Washington Ballet
Washington, D.C.
April 28, 2004 (through May 16)

By Lisa Traiger
Copyright ©2004 by Lisa Traiger
published May 3, 2004

Love. It's both many splendored and many faceted and for Washington Ballet artistic director Septime Webre, it's his most current and durable inspiration for his company's spring season, which takes place in a transformed rehearsal room at the company's Wisconsin Avenue, NW, studios. The program, 7x7:Love, is a trendy conglomeration of what the current generation of choreographers considers genre-pushing ballet. That is ballet that tears open the envelop of classicism in a quest for what they see will be the next best thing. We've seen a lot of that lately: the Ballet Boyz and the Beatles ballets vie for space on stages more typically and comfortably dressed for traditional tutus and toe shoes. This fashionable trend, though, feels like much else in our popular-culture saturated contemporary world: it's another marketing ploy. A new way to attract young audiences and make what ballet company boards and directors believe is an inaccessible art form more palatable to the unschooled masses.

For the program in the marvelously draped white box of the England Studio, where the company typically takes class and rehearses, Webre, with an assist from hot architectural design firm Adamstein and Demetriou (creator of popular D.C. eating spaces Zola), pumped the atmosphere up with seductive touches of red—rose petals and red pillows—against the purity of the white draperies, chairs and hanging paper lanterns. Not quite the cabaret Webre envisioned, the premise worked well enough, though for the hundred or so viewers seated on bleachers, chairs and a smattering of cabaret tables sight lines in the middle rows proved problematic.

The company looked superb in the studio's near proximity. With the dancers' breath and sweat, their muscles and sinews fully revealed within the close range, they fluttered and dove, soared and slid, with nary a wobble or uncertain step. No matter the choreography, the dancing couldn't have been better. There was gymnastic Jason Hartley, who unleashed a swoosh of barrel rolls. And company star Michele Jimenez who found perfection in her lovingly aligned arabesques. Erin Mahoney appeared wry and fun loving, with a touch of seduction thrown in.

Among the evening's seven works, all world premieres commissioned by Webre, most were compact duets—the program was subtitled "Love," after all. None of the works lasted much more than the seven or so minutes Webre assigned to the choreographers. Among the large pieces, Lila York, former Paul Taylor dancer, created a lovingly lush swirl of bodies in motion for Sostenuto, which used Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto #2. Around Jimenez, as soloist, the only one on pointe, six couples relished York's garden of movement, which didn't rely as much on the minutiae of steps as it reveled in the sweep and breath of the body. There were Tayloresque partnerships, serious and playful and an intricate latticework of bodies filling the modest stage. Sostenuto deserves viewing in a larger space.

Donald Byrd's L'Apres Midi/La Nuit hinted at its Nijinsky-inspired namesake in a few of the static two-dimensional poses Hartley took. With jazz-inflected music by the Tin Hat Trio and Go Ten Project, the work felt at times at cross purposes: both sensual and ugly, feral and seductive. Byrd relishes building a language of complex phrases filled with petit allegro footwork and the dancers especially in the companion quartet La Nuit tackled the opportunity to sharpen their legs using them as piercing stilettos against the smooth jazz.

The choreographer who aligned himself most closely with ballet's formalist roots was Bulgarian native and Washington resident Vladimir Angelov. His tink tank is a witty and breezy illumination of Bach's Concerto No. 5 for Piano & Orchestra in F Minor. For Erin Mahoney and a half dozen men who proceeded to bare their chests turning their tank tops into floaty sleeves, tink tank finds humor and contemporary allusions in this most traditional of forms. Angelov asked his dancers not for steps but for attitude: and they gave in, the men showing their beefcake in hip-hop styled poses one moment and putting their hands behind their heads in bunny ears the next. It's weird, wildly unpredictable and for some reason it works. Mahoney elevated the choreography with her semi-dry wit playing off the classically mannered poses —hard to do dancing in bra and briefs.

Jason Hartley, now in his fifth season with the company, offered his wife Carissa a love song in which she, too, danced, briefly and a little uncomfortably. But Underneath, to a John Lennon piece, was Hartley's to show off his gymnastic sensibility. Stephen Mills choreographed the quietly sensual Desire, with its architectural partnership for Elizabeth Gaither and Chip Coleman. Trey McIntyre's Memory of a Free Festival was instructive in why rock and roll is usually a bad choice for ballet choreographers. The music demands unfurled, unguarded movement—an approach that seems mostly outside the realm of the training and vocabulary of ballet dancers and choreographers. The piece didn't so much rock as it bumped through the pulsating David Bowie score of the same title. Albert Evans's Seego accompanied by Matthew Fuerst's Clarinet Quartet, yielded a Balanchinesque partnership—cool, crisp, sometimes distant, for Brianne Bland and Runqiao Du. Stylistically blunt with its arches, straddles and 180 degree penche promenades, it suggested a love relationship fraught with anxieties.

It's no surprise that the Washington Ballet is stretching itself with new and modern choreography for its dancers. It's, for the moment at least, the direction of a great many ballet companies. For Webre, though, a full season is like a smorgasbord: a family ballet, a Balanchine tribute, a Nutcracker and a classic. This program is just one more dish to add to his buffet table.

Originally published:
Volume 2, Number 16
May 3, 2004

Copyright ©2004 by Lisa Traiger




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The Autumn DanceView is out:

New York City Ballet's Spring 2003 season reviewed by Gia Kourlas

An interview with the Kirov Ballet's Daria Pavlenko by Marc Haegeman

Reviews of San Francisco Ballet (by Rita Felciano) and Paris Opera Ballet (by Carol Pardo)

The ballet tradition at the Metropolitan Opera (by Elaine Machleder)

Reports from London (Jane Simpson) and the Bay Area (Rita Felciano).

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last updated on May 3, 2004