Sarah Kaufman reviews Washington Ballet: Death by Balanchine blunt-force trauma
If anyone needs a demonstration of the stultifying effect that the national Balanchine obsession has had on new choreography, the Washington Ballet's triple bill at Harman Hall is it. Minimalism reigns. Legs hit noses. Crotches -- cranked open, screaming at you to notice -- hit a new expressive high mark.
But the choreography does not. Here's the takeaway from this program, which opened Thursday and continues through Sunday: The dancers look terrific in the bare essentials (skimpy leotards and pink tights for all three ballets). They can ooze all over the stage like warm wax, they can dazzle you with their extreme flexibility. What they do will make your eyes pop. And each choreographer -- Karole Armitage, Nicolo Fonte and Edwaard Liang, all Balanchine followers -- uses the dancers in the same way, dresses them the same way and anchors them in the same erotic-romantic dreamscape. In each work, the lighting may differ (slightly), the leotards are different hues (red in one, blue-gray in another, red again in the third) and the music is different. But it's clear that when the Kool-Aid chalice was passed around at the holy communion of neoclassical groupthink, Armitage, Fonte and Liang drank deep.
Armitage is, I suspect, trying to make a new hybrid of dramatic expression and classical dancing, the old hybrids (from 1920s balletic Ausdruckstanz to 1950s ballet/modern fusions) having passed into history. On Thursday, though, her stylization looked calculated and awkward. Jared Nelson, as the principal male, was the only one in the cast whose emotions arose convincingly from inside, from his guts. He was able to spill them out into space and at the audience. Sona Kharatian, although moving with impressive control, seemed uncomfortable embodying and displaying strong feelings. I'd like to see the corps launch into Armitage's distorted classicism after a week of consecutive performances. Cynthia Hanna, mezzo, and pianist Joy Schreier, courtesy of the Washington National Opera, performed the Brahms lieder.