There’s a lovely passage in Mark Morris’s Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes (1988) where something happens that you don’t often see: the dancers look down at their feet. The ballerinas on pointe, arms outstretched, step forward daintily, their eyes demurely cast down, as if they were moving from one rock to another to cross a mountain stream in spring spate. That’s the fresh feeling of this ensemble piece, set on Virgil Thomson piano etudes.
After spring must come summer and fall, and both of the latter seasons are represented in the superb There Where She Loved (2000) by Christopher Wheeldon. Cheery sexy pieces set on Chopin songs (performed by soprano Kate Vetter Cain with Glenn Sales’s accompaniment) (e.g., Brianne Bland’s post-coital joyful rolls on the floor) alternate with dark ruminations on love gone wrong by Kurt Weill. The most heart-breaking of these is “Surabaya-Johnny” (wrenchingly interpreted by mezzo Shelley Waite): serially monogamous Luis R. Torres dances through three girls, Diana Albrecht, Morgann Rose, and Jade Payette. Unfortunately the background scrim created some nasty moire patterns when it was hit by the follow-spot.
I have a weak spot for Twyla Tharp’s Nine Sinatra Songs (1982), and not in a good way, as it is scored with some of the worst late-career excesses from the singer Frank Sinatra, chief among them the smug attitudinizing of “My Way.” But it’s hard to resist Erin Mahoney-Du as the comic drunk girlfriend who won’t leave the bar, her trapeze dress failing to stay in place to cover her bottom, in “One for My Baby (And One More for the Road).” Or the adolescent fumble of “Somethin’ Stupid” by Maki Onuki and Zachary Hackstock. Ball gowns for the women, designed by Oscar de la Renta, are stunning.
- Genius!, The Washington Ballet, Sidney Harman Hall, Washington
The comfy seats in the Harman Hall steeply-raked balcony have extra-high backs.
With the theme of Shakespeare, it’s not surprising that two of the pieces in Washington Ballet’s latest installment of 7×7 feature spoken-word accompaniment. But it is a couple of the wordless pieces that are the most effective of the evening.
Trey McIntyre’s Queen of the Goths, drawing on two scenes from Titus Andronicus, ends with a saucy flourish. quick bright things, by Matthew Neenan in response to a line of Lysander’s, is a colorful romp for six.
In Lovers Speak, Brianne Bland and Runqiao Du dance a meaty, muscular adagio duet by Matjash Mrozewski. As their bodies intertwine on the floor, there’s a strong sense of intimate improvisation.
The standout piece is by Cathy Marston, scored by Henryk Górecki: Whispers recounts Hamlet’s scene from Act III with his father’s ghost and Gertrude in her chamber. Third-season company member Zachary Hackstock gives an agile, expressive performance as he is called upon both to partner and be partnered. This is lean-forward entertainment that you can’t get from a screen.
- 7×7: Shakespeare, Washington Ballet, England Studio Theater, Washington
Washington Ballet continues to make improvements to the friendly confines of its England Studio Theater. Stepped risers (that apparently stow away like a trundle bed) now allow for six rows of seating (and every seat has a back). Sight lines are pretty good, though seats on the extreme right and left lose sight of some of the far upstage action.
The local company returns with a glorious restaging of Septime Webre’s signature work, Carmina Burana, preceded by the company première of Christopher Wheeldon’s Morphoses. Wheeldon’s exploration of biomorphic forms (scored by György Ligeti) demands strong partnering by Luis Torres and Jared Nelson, while Sona Kharatian and Jade Payette display silky arms with steely strength. And how often do we get to see a ballerina use her fingers to such good effect? Payette and Kharatian evoke spiny critters of the ocean deeps. Mark Stanley’s lighting effects (recreated by Joshua Michaels), achieved by coloring the cyclorama while pulling open slits with the upstage travelers, are top-notch.
The magic spectacle of 1999’s Carmina is recreated with a full staging. Members of the Cathedral Choral Society and Children’s Chorus of the Cathedral Schools are arranged on industrial scaffolding, forming a U on the deck, altogether making four layers of dancers and singers, with two followspot operators on a tier above them. (Unfortunately, some of the stage machinery at Thursday’s performance was not noiseless.) The “Tanz” passage, a dance with pushbrooms used to clear the deck of rose petals strewn across the stage in the preceding dance, retains its sexy wit. The soloist for “Olim Lacus Colueram” eloquently thrashes, to evoke the throes of the roasting bird. And the reprise of “O Fortuna,” as the soul (much-buffeted Jason Hartley) binds himself to Fortune’s wheel and ascends into the heavens, is still a heart-breaker. Special recognition to vocal soloists Laura Lewis, soprano; Robert Baker, tenor; and Stephen Combs, baritone.
Charles Cave offers a wealth of background information on the “scenic cantata” that is Carmina Burana, debuted in 1937 by composer Carl Orff.
Carmina Burana with Morphoses, Washington Ballet, Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater, Washington
Septime Webre and the Washington Ballet mix it up Latin style with live music—in the lobby, on stage, and in the pit—and Latin works by three choreograpers, including a restaging of Webre’s own Juanita y Alicia. Even though some of the company’s stars are missing, it makes for a fun evening.
After an opening serenade by Mariachi Los Amigos, the dancing opens with Paul Taylor’s Piazzolla Caldera, a suite of tangos set to music by Astor Piazzolla and Jerzy Peterburshsky, Sona Kharatian brings a leggy soulfulness to the “Celos” section, nicely balanced by the pair of comic borrachos danced by Jonathan Jordan and Jason Hartley. It’s an easy dance to enjoy, but perhaps not to love, with its unbalanced casting of seven men and five women. Its featured role (created, I believe, by Francie Huber) doesn’t have a clean break after the solo to give us the opportunity to applaud.
Mystic Warriors, performingly traditional Andean music, provides the intermission music. Following the break is Nacho Duato’s Na Floresta. Maki Onuki continues to develop her artistry, dancing two good solos, one slow, one fast. The time following this dance, ordinarily filled by another trip to the lobby, is taken—nay, stolen—by harp virtuoso Celso Duarte and his band, Jarocho Fusion.
Webre’s dance closes the evening, accompanied live by Cuban salsa band Sin Miedo. An extended family and friends assemble for a garden party, dressed in crisp off-whites, the women in pointe shoes, the men in jackets and Bermuda shorts. But an earthier element is also present in the form of Luis Torres, wearning colorful native trousers and not much else. The two factions come together in his duet with the robust Elizabeth Gaither, who doffs the linen and imported European decorum. She snaps off a crackling good run of very fast partnered turns.
- ¡Noche Latina!, Washington Ballet, Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater, Washington
The company presents two new, quite disparate works, framed by two older pieces set on music by G. F. Handel.
If Taylor’s Promethean Fire (2002) is read as a bold, optimistic response to the events of 9/11, his Banquet of Vultures (2005) is a grim, darkly pessimistic reaction to the prosecution of hostilities ever since those attacks. In murky, just-liminal light provided by Jennifer Tipton, dancers in olive drab jumpsuits cross the stage in headlong runs that suggest the Hoarders and Wasters of Dante’s Inferno. Three men struggle in a pool of light, with ever-shifting support, while another writhes in another pool of light stippled with blackness. MIchael Trusnovec, dressed in a black suit and red tie, hunches his shoulders like Tricky Dick and jerks about, barely in control of the situation: he’s Death in a power suit. This piece showcases the Taylor men with steps that remind one of Cloven Kingdom.
Offsetting this dance is the brief, comic Troilus and Cressida (reduced) (2006), featuring Taylor’s go-to girl for clowning, Lisa Viola. A travesty of classical conventions, set on Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours (yes, the one with the dancing pachyderms), the piece gets mileage out of Viola’s big visible effort in her jumps that lifts her at most three inches off the deck. She is matched by Robert Kleinendorst, who has to partner her while she climbs over his shoulder and back down his back, all the while his harem pants having fallen to his ankles. Subtle is not the word for it.
Rounding out the evening are the measured, stately Airs from 1978 and the very early Aureole (1962), featuring big straight arms that whirl like pinwheels. It’s a light, lovely piece, like spring clouds scudding about.
- Paul Taylor Dance Company, Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater, Washington
One of the simple joys of visiting the Kennedy Center is the coconut-scented liquid soap in the washrooms.
Sona Kharatian shines in the third of the duets in Jerome Robbins’ In the Night, the stormy and dramatic dance of the three. Robbins’ lyrical piece, set on Chopin piano nocturnes, is put together with simple materials, assembled masterfully.
Artistic Director Septime Webre’s new offering, oui/non, is a suite of dances to songs from the Edith Piaf songbook, sung live by Karen Akers. The company’s men meet the partnering challenge laid down by this piece, with nearly every song featuring a set of complicated gymnastic lifts; Erin Mahoney-Du’s partner in “Non, je ne regrette rien,” Luis Torres, seems to have sprouted a third arm in order to keep up. Akers breaks some hearts with some of Jacques Brel’s most piercing material.
The suite is just the right length to set us up for a rousing performance of the massive In the Upper Room, choreographed by Twyla Tharp to a score by Phillip Glass. The piece seems to be spun from nothing more than a backwards jazz run upstage by two dancers, but it flowers into a kaleidoscope of movement for thirteen. Norma Kamali’s costumes juxtapose prison stripes and leotards of a candied orange-raspberry color.
- Washington Ballet mixed bill, Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater, Washington