Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The Washington Ballet - Genius3

Harman Center for the Arts, Washington, D.C.
May 19, 2010

Choreographers are magicians. Not just in a figurative sense, but quite literally. Creating dance certainly takes special skill; the translation of ideas into movement is magical all by itself. But, there is also some good old-fashioned illusion present in much choreography. Clues to intent are hidden within staging; nuances and structural intricacies layered beneath steps and sequences. These elusive elements are pieces of a puzzle – keys that can help unlock the vision or meaning of a work. The Washington Ballet's “Genius³” program featured four ballets brimming with these hidden treasures: The Four Temperaments (George Balanchine), Cor Perdut (Nacho Duato), Pacific (Mark Morris) and Push Comes to Shove (Twyla Tharp).

The mystique behind The Four Temperaments lies in its ability to defy categorization. In one sense it is a representational study of the four humors, giving each of them life through movement (melancholic, sanguinic, phlegmatic and choleric). A perfect example is the hip thrust/grand battement motif, indicating the aggressive passion of the choleric. Though in another sense, the ballet is very presentational, illustrating the structural relationship between music and dance. Shown by Jonathan Jordan's temps levées series, which grew in height and intensity along with the musical crescendo, as well as Maki Onuki and Brooklyn Mack's attention to the sforzando dynamics in their variation. This epic work is narrative, but not only narrative; it is abstract, but not only abstract. The Four Temperaments speaks truth to both choreographic forms - as maybe only George Balanchine could - without merging them into some sort of hybrid.

There were many compelling moments in Mark Morris' Pacific. The opening scene had a ghostly quality, as the women eerily floated across the stage – ethereally bouréeing in parallel. Jétés also had a special purpose in this piece as their presence corresponded to and emphasized changes in meter and time signature. But Pacific's veiled gem was in its partnering; this dance reminds us what a pas de deux really is. The duet between Jade Payette and Jonathan Jordan had some beautiful lifts and balances, yet it truly was a 'dance of two'. Morris revealed the simple power that exists between two bodies in space, where a glance can be more telling and meaningful than a spectacular bluebird lift.

In most dance literature, Twyla Tharp's Deuce Coupe (1973) is given praise as the first 'fusion' or 'cross-over' ballet, wherein classical and modern dance mixed together. Push Comes to Shove was made three years later, and although it was not the first, it may be the best example of fusion dance. In Deuce Coupe, one dancer performs textbook ballet exercises amidst a flurry of modern choreography. Both genres are present on stage, but the individual characters remain true to their own style - the ballerina sticks to ballet and everyone else stays with modern. Push Comes to Shove takes this creative notion one step further with every dancer taking on both styles of movement. This dance represents an entirely different and more advanced level of synthesis.

Sona Kharatian has been receiving a lot of attention lately with The Washington Ballet. She was prominently featured in their last program, “Bolero(+)” and was onstage for most of “Genius³” (dancing main parts in The Four Temperaments, Cor Perdut and Push Comes to Shove). But, unfortunately, at Wednesday night's preview, her performance was off. Her role in The Four Temperaments was full of piqué arabesques and Kharatian's working leg was continually bent, never reaching a full extension. Cor Perdut, her duet with Jared Nelson, began with a partnering fumble that garnered an audible gasp from the audience. Her preparation into a supported roll was both a little late and too far away from Nelson to be successful. Her upper back also seemed stiff throughout the whole program; her torso not responding to the curvature required by both Duato's and Tharp's choreography. And, in her traveling turns, she left the upper portion of her spine behind, rather than turning in one clean motion. I wouldn't be a bit surprised to learn that she was either ill or fighting an injury.

I love watching new ballets, but often feel that at the first viewing, so much detail is missed. With more established works, such as those on TWB's "Genius³" program, there is an opportunity to look beyond the surface of the ballet to the choreographic wealth that lies beneath.

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