The Washington Ballet
Harman Center for the Arts, Sidney Harman Hall
April 14–18, 2010
Reviewed by Emily Macel
Sona Kharatian and the women of TWB in Armitage’s
Brahms on Edge. Photo by Carol Pratt, Courtesy TWB.
The three works billed as “Bolero+” showcased TWB’s technical strengths and emotional depth, but the program itself was disjointed and the choreography, in some cases, felt like a step backwards.
Karole Armitage’s Brahms on Edge, a premiere created for the company, was a pleasure to watch, but there was nothing edgy about this elegant work. Armitage acknowledged in program notes that “I am drawn towards two poles in my choreography—the very lyrical and the very edgy.” Here, her “very lyrical” focus could have pulled closer to the center of the spectrum. At times the work felt generic in its classicism, and one wished for something more boundary-defying, which is not too much to expect from this generally forward-thinking choreographer. There were moments that made the piece come to life: a series of tornado-like turns, a flexed foot rather than a pointed one, a fist pump. But Brahms needed more of these departures from the fluid romanticism.
The lead dancers and longtime Washington Ballet members Sona Kharatian and Jared Nelson shared a natural partnership. In one remarkable moment, Nelson seemed to push Kharatian so far into a deep plié on one foot that I expected her to shoot into the air like a spring that’s been compressed and released.
Cynthia Hanna, mezzo-soprano of the Washington National Opera, sang the medley of Brahams’ music to live piano, and while her voice was rich and full, at times it distracted from the dance. The melody often seemed incompatible with what was happening onstage, as if the score were an afterthought to the choreography.
To be fair, Edwaard Liang’s Wunderland is a tough act to follow. The 2009 ballet paints a vivid portrait of snow falling and dancers whirling. It is full of the unexpected. The women’s extreme flexibility made them seem like rubber that the men could mold in any way. While the racing Philip Glass score drove the dance forward, it also allowed solos and pas de deux to stand on their own with an electric force.
The evening ended with Nicolo Fonte’s Bolero, originally created for Oregon Ballet Theatre in 2008. For all the promise that the set design offered, the choreography itself fell short. A number of corrugated metal sheets, hanging from the rafters, were lifted periodically, sometimes revealing dancers, sometimes on cue with the music. With Bolero, a piece of music used so frequently by choreographers, the dancing has to reinvent the score, but Fonte’s attempt did not. When the stage was clear of metal sheets, the dancers seemed to finally come alive and break from an almost robotic feeling, but only briefly. For the finale, a red drape descended from the ceiling and Sonia Kharatian threw herself into it. (Another dancer stood behind the curtain to catch her.) It felt like an overly-symbolic ending, a grand flourish that carried little weight.