Washington Ballet

April 28, 2004

Washington Ballet
England Studio Theatre, Washington Ballet Building

Washington, D.C.

April 28–May 16, 2004

Reviewed by George Jackson

The bodies nearby demanded attention as the audience was being seated. One woman’s was upright and tense as she worked more pliancy into one of her pointe shoes. Two others kneaded leg muscles and stretched their spines. A couple of the men, with bare chests, were already perspiring; one became a fountainhead as he practiced his pirouettes. Such intimacy with the performers was apt because “7×7: Love” wasn’t Washington Ballet’s usual sort of presentation. The show went on in a luminous space, part nightclub with tiny tables and moveable chairs, part studio with bench seating. This venture to premiere seven ballets by seven choreographers was Artistic Director Septime Webre’s idea. Each piece was supposed to be about seven minutes long and had to be about love.

Almost all the works were adroitly concise, and each had a love theme—but isn’t that true of most ballets? Webre arranged the program’s order to show contrasting aspects of the emotion. First came Trey McIntyre’s energetic take on courtship, Memory of a Free Festival. McIntyre is a master of constantly shifting body alignment and balance and a whiz at devising novel appositions for his dancers. Memory exemplified these skills, yet had two problems: Flesh-colored slippers made the women’s feet go unnoticed, and the dance’s dynamics bore little relation to David Bowie’s accompanying pop songs.

Then came Stephen Mills’ Desire, an adagio of melting movements. This duo, so sensuous and lyrical at first, became cloying with delay upon delay of the longed-for climax. And wouldn’t robust Wagner have sustained the perpetual yearning better than thin music by Arvo Pärt?

Donald Byrd condensed two works into his seven minutes. Both seemed to be about lessons learned from watching masterpieces. L’Après Midi, an earthy twosome based on Nijinsky’s and Robbins’ Faun ballets, showed how hard it is to conquer ego even in a seductive situation. La Nuit, for three women doing emphatic pointe work, plus a man, referred to Balanchine’s Apollo. The man partners one of the women, yet remains narcissistically intent on perfecting his classical ballet positions. Was this another example of self-absorption subverting desire?

Lila York took a chance with Sostenuto, using thirteen dancers in close quarters. Strong vertical vectors in the partnering travel forward, backward, and along curves prevented the choreography from bumping against the narrow sides of the space. York concentrated on choreographic architecture and courtly ranking but neglected content, so the outcome was bland.

Content of a confessional sort made Jason Hartley’s solo/duo Underneath mawkish, as he showed off athletic feats and called on his non-dancer wife for comforting hugs.

Love became a joint endeavor in Albert Evans’ Seego as a couple explored music together, finding depth and daring in Matthew Fuerst’s Clarinet Quartet, which opened their eyes to each other. In the Balanchine tradition, Evans segmented and articulated the woman’s body enticingly and challenged the man’s deftness in partnering.

In tink tank, Vladimir Angelov refused to exclude laughter from love’s domain. The six guys and a single gal in this wicked, witty final ballet frolicked to the music of reason (Bach) while sending up conventions—artistic and amorous. Fluffing, spanking, stripping, and pranks of all sorts highlighted bright choreography, pithy pantomime, and sensuality.

Whether pearls or paste, the seven works showcased the company’s strong dancing and glamorous appearance. In the first cast, Erin Mahoney stood out (in the McIntyre, Byrd, and Angelov pieces) for her pliant long line and immediacy. Morgann Rose, Mahoney’s alternate in the Angelov, wasn’t so much one of the guys but more the ballerina. Brianne Bland and Runqiao Du embodied the music in Evans’ duet, whereas Elizabeth Gaither and Jared Nelson were more tuned to each other’s bodies. Both casts were savvy with Balanchinian neoclassicism. In various pieces, Michele Jiménez’s elegance, John Michael Schert’s intensity, Chip Coleman’s smooth partnering, Sona Kharatian’s proud bearing, Alvaro Palau’s directness, Luis Torres’ bravado, and Maki Onuki’s passion caught the eye. Onuki danced the female lead in Pan Eros II, an eighth ballet added to several performances. Its young choreographer, Avichai Scher, showed a sound sense of structure but expressed only a fraction of the eros implied by his title.

For more information: www.washingtonballet.org