writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, Washington, D.C. edition

The Washington Ballet Celebrates Balanchine

The Four Temperaments, Sonatine, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
The Washington Ballet
Eisenhower Theater
John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
January 22-25, 2004
(January 22, 2004)

By Alexandra Tomalonis
Copyright 2004 by Alexandra Tomalonis
published 26 January 2004

The Washington Ballet has performed Balanchine works since it was born back in 1976; often in its early days, there was a Balanchine ballet on every program. So this all-Balanchine evening, programmed by Artistic Director Septime Webre to honor the great choreographer on his 100th birthday, is very much a part of the company’s tradition, not a one-time gesture. And the company did the ballets proud.

The Four Temperaments (staged by Sandra Jennings) was given an especially strong performance, and a very musical one; it was clear that the music provided the ballet’s architecture. Jason Hartley has one of his best roles in Melancholic. Hartley is a rarity in ballet today—his is a sturdy body built more for modern dance than ballet, but he's also a fine classical dancer. It’s the kind of male body that created many of Balanchine’s early American roles, and Hartley suits this one perfectly. From the first, soaring leap, brought immediately to the ground as though he's been shot, through the interplay with the “Furies”, Hartley seemed to make the tension between the physical and artistic nature a metaphor for his temperament. He neither reveled in nor surrendered to his melancholy nature; he fought it. It was a beautifully danced, and beautifully shaded, performance.

Erin Mahoney, with her height and long, long limbs, is the company’s Balanchine dancer and was perfectly suited to Choleric; Brianne Brind, with Runqiao Du, was an appropriately sunny, harmonious Sanguinic. Jared Nelson was a rather energetic Phlegmatic—the limbs would collapse, but the rest of the body was that of a young dancer, ready to move.

Sonatine (staged by Jeff Edwards) is one of Balanchine’s most sophisticated pas de deux. It was made on Violette Verdy, and uses her particular way of phrasing and some idiosyncratic movements that might look like mannerisms on someone else. It’s a ballet for a mature woman, a cocktail (martini, very dry) and Michele Jimenez, one of the least idiosyncratic dancers around, gave a tentative performance, as though she were walking, ever so carefully, on glass. Luis Torres is a fine partner, especially in this ballet where the partnering is almost invisible. He’s a tall man, and his size makes the softness of his dancing even more interesting.

The company danced only the first act of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (also staged by Jennings). The second act, a wedding ceremony presented as divertissement that’s rich with dancing, was omitted, and, as the second act is set up in the first, there was an unfinished feel to the evening. Who were all those people in cloaks parading around the stage? Why is such a fuss made over that tall girl who dances with the hounds? Balanchine’s Midsummer isn’t a one-act story ballet, but the prelude to an essay on love. That said, the company was impressive in this ensemble work with its dozen soloist parts.

Jimenez was a rosy and adorable Titania, her dancing fluid and beautifully phrased, the high extensions effortlessly floating skyward. She was fairylike in her lightness and the ease of her dancing. Every step was given full measure, and nothing was forced. Jonathan Jordan is perhaps too inexperienced yet to pull off Oberon, both technically, in variations made for speed king Edward Villella, and as an actor, but he certainly made an honest attempt at the role.

Hartley could have been the central character, with his vivid stage presence and strong dancing, but his good manners kept Puck in scale. It was through Puck’s obeisance that one knew that Oberon was in charge. He was also very funny— perhaps a bit too funny, although I’m told that the role has been played broadly at New York City Ballet in recent years too.

Other standouts were Brianne Bland’s fluttery Lead Butterfly and four very funny Lovers (Laura Urguelles as Helena, Elizabeth Gaither as Hermia, Jared Nelson as Lysander, and Alvaro Palau as Demetrius). Erin Mahoney seemed to be having an off-night as Hippolyte. Charles Pregger was a sweet, if rather tentative, Bottom. Squadrons of butterflies, fairies, pages, bugs and hounds (the company, with help from the Washington School of Ballet) populated Balanchine’s magical forest. I hope TWB dances the second act some day, because the ballet really is incomplete without it, and I hope that this turns into a repertory staple, because it provides so many good opportunities for so many dancers, and a feast of great choreography, as well as fun, for the audience.

Originally published:
Volume 2, Number 4
January 26, 2004

© 2004 Tomalonis




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