Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Washington Ballet-Bolero(+)

Harman Center for the Arts, Washington, D.C.
April 14, 2010

Before most Washington Ballet performances, Artistic Director Septime Webre greets the audience with a brief comment about the evening's program. Besides being a very genuine moment where the fourth wall disappears, this provides valuable context. At Bolero(+) on Wednesday night, Webre shared two important observations. First, he noted that the three dancemakers on this particular bill celebrate a new generation of ballet. They are contemporary artists, creating current, new work. Second, Webre shared that the Washington Ballet was able to work directly with each of these choreographers. Wunderland was created on the company one year ago by Edwaard Liang, Karole Armitage's Brahms on Edge was a world premiere and Nicolo Fonte was available to set his Bolero on this talented group. These days, the gift of working in the studio with a ballet's creator is becoming less and less frequent; now more of a luxury than the norm. This personal interaction was very apparent in all three pieces; the attention to detail proving that no other method of staging dance works quite as well.

Wunderland unfolds like a steady crescendo. Filled with several divertissements, it is hard to imagine that each section could be better than the last. They were. As Liang built on what had come before, each segment transcended expectation. Several specific moments deserve mention. Near the beginning of the ballet, there was a short combination, featuring the men. They were unbelievably on. A double pirouette followed by a double tour en l'air not only ended in unison, but each internal rotation was also completely together. I think I actually said "wow" out loud. I don't believe that I've ever seen Maki Onuki and Luis R. Torres dance as a couple, but I was hooked after their duet. Both are beautiful, technical dancers, but it was their chemistry that electrified the stage. Theirs was the best connection in the entire evening. Jonathan Jordan's pirouettes and fouettes were fantastic and it was fun to see some brief glimpses of innovative capoeira in his solo. Lastly, Elizabeth Gaither and Jared Nelson's slow, intense pas de deux had the most fantastic and inventive partnering moves. Without much preparation, Gaither leapt backward into a pseudo-backbend over Nelson's head. The lift came out of nowhere, which made it even more astonishing. Having said that, I must say that Wunderland's opening scene has always been a disappointment for me. The visual element is stunning: the curtain rises to find five women balanced en pointe in a deep plie (2nd position) with their upper backs curved down toward the floor. I've seen this ballet more than once and I've never seen all five nail this difficult balance. Last Wednesday, two dancers looked like they might fall over.

Karole Armitage's Brahms on Edge had some interesting moments, although the choreography was not particularly deep. One exception to this was its compelling start, utilizing seven women in the company. It looked like an adagio center combination in a ballet class - a good representation of this learning environment. Every dancer has different degrees of flexibility, strength and internal timing and the classroom is where they are encouraged to build their technique, challenge themselves and take risks. Armitage really captured this essence. Beyond that short segment, the compositional elements were par for the contemporary ballet course and the piece not very well-defined. The dance explored elements of the abstract, narrative, and deconstructed narrative, though at the same time, not really fitting into any of those choreographic forms. Some choreographers enjoy this ambiguous presence in their work, however, the problem with this dance is that ill-defined read as imprecise.

Nicolo Fonte's Bolero, the namesake of the program, was a fascinating examination of tempi. This work explored the extremes of speed: accelerandos and ritardandos coupled together in the choreography. The juxtaposition of fast and slow movements was interesting in its own right, though even more so, when underscored by Ravel's monotonous, recurrent music. There was a continual, pulsing undercurrent with which the choreography's speed could play. Fonte's comment on tempo also spoke to the energy required for different types of movement. Bolero questions the assumed and required energy output for all movement, fast or slow.

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