Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Washington Ballet-The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Conveying a story is the purpose of a large-scale narrative ballet; a sequence of events unfolds over time. The essential components are characters, their relationships, their interactions and the general plot. But, the more interesting aspect of narrative dance is the underlying theme. In Don Quixote, the hope and search for ideal love is this obvious premise. Though, a secondary and subtler message is also present: that of homecoming. The Washington Ballet premiered their new version of Don Quixote this week at the Kennedy Center. Staged by Anna-Marie Holmes, this production had a technical ferocity that re-invigorated a classic. Artistic Director Septime Webre has assembled an incredible group of dancers that were more than able to fulfill Holmes' vision.

Friday night's performance gave us Maki Onuki as a consummate Kitri. She performed the most difficult sequences with elegance, poise and calm, particularly the spectacular double fouettes in Act III. She also gave equal attention to the less flashy choreography, like Kitri's balance and waltz turns in the Port scene. These circular sequences were stunning. She showed the audience the value that should be held for every step, not just the fantastic and the grand. Though her overall technique was exquisite, my focus was pulled to Miss Onuki's use of demi-pointe. The arch of her foot on full pointe was incredibly developed, but it was her diligent attention to rolling through demi-pointe that was intoxicating. It is in these transitional moments that you finally notice the mechanics of ballet. When beginning to dance on toe, the first thing you learn is how to roll through your demi-pointe on the way up and on the way down. This transitory space is your salvation; it protects your ankles, your calves and provides a crucial opportunity to use the floor. Often, ballerinas of her caliber have forgotten this lesson and as a result, cut their career short.

Brooklyn Mack took a little while to warm up, but once he did, the audience was rewarded with his dynamic performance as Basilio. His pas de trois with Kitri's friends (danced by Sona Kharatian and Amanda Cobb) was the defining moment when he really came into the role. From that point forward, Basilio and Mr. Mack were one. The Kitri/Basilio pas de deuxs were very impressive, especially one particular lift. Several times, Mr. Mack had to balance Miss Onuki well above his head with just one hand on her hip; she was both stable and buoyant in each instance.

Two other cast members must be mentioned, even though their respective parts were relatively short: Ayano Kimura and Norton Fatinel. Ayano Kimura as Amour, or the cupid character, was absolutely delightful. Her interpretation of the choreography perfectly matched this impish and playful character. Mr. Fatinel's performance as the gypsy man stole the show as far as I am concerned. The jumps that Holmes choreographed for him really defied the laws of nature. His execution of these movements seemed super-human and received the loudest reaction of the evening.

Anna-Marie Holmes truly captured the idea of homecoming with Kitri and Basilio. For them, home was their love for each other and when they were finally united (though they accomplished it through trickery), they had arrived at a place of comfort and contentment. This theme could have been further augmented in the character of the Don. Don Quixote is driven by the search for his ideal, which has appeared to him in his dreams. Therefore, it may seem strange to suggest that homecoming is important to him. But it is. Perhaps his place of solace is the personal clarity that can only come once his quest is over. Maybe he needs to look everywhere for perfection in order to realize that his contentment and comfort truly reside in reality, not fantasy. His character depth was missing in this version, primarily because parts of the Don's story were omitted. A deeper connection with the Don is possible even with the missing sections. There just needs to be further character development.

A live orchestra was the only other missing element in this delightful production. The taped music was a mismatch to the drama unfolding onstage and it presented some challenges with timing. The Washington Ballet was well rehearsed, but some dancers still looked surprised by or unprepared for accelerations and decelerations. Without a conductor physically present, it is tough to anticipate significant tempo changes, no matter how many times you have run the ballet with the recorded score. I'm sure that the company would have preferred to have a live orchestra, but in uncertain financial times, difficult decisions and compromises have to be made. Go and support The Washington Ballet; the performances are fantastic and a larger audience base may ensure that live musicians will be there in the future.

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