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Mood Swings

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I was hoping somebody else would go first.....

On the plus side, the company is looking more like a company every program, and I salute Webre for that. It's no longer an extended end-of-school recital company (with some very good dancers); it's a real company now. The program looked very well-rehearsed -- I don't know if it was :D, but it looked as if it was.

For me, the strongest performance was in Choo-San Goh's "Unknown Territory." Now, this is on my list of least beloved Choo-San Goh ballets -- it's boring, its derivation from Glen Tetley is even more obvious now than when it was new -- but it was beautifully staged. It looked exactly as it did when it was last shown here -- Balanchine, Ashton and Tudor should be so lucky -- except that it was better danced. I thought Michele Jimenez and Runquia Du were both excellent in this very long, slow, odd mating ritual in a tribe obviously destined for extinction.

"Rubies." Well. I thought the staging and direction were far off the mark (Elyse Borne gets the credit in the program). Some of the movements were TOO sharp, as though the dancers were finding hidden things -- phrases that were supposed to be hidden, subtle, suggestive -- and dragging them into the spotlight with a big "Ta Da! Look what WE've uncovered!" I've never seen a "Rubies" in which the pas de deux couple clasps hands and boogies for a few bars in the opening moments. (Not a suggestion of social dance, but a Social Dance Moment.) Jared Nelson was so broad in the Villella role that a friend commented, "Does he think this is Rodeo?" Brianne Bland and Erin Mahoney are both very good dancers, but the former was miscast in the McBride role and the latter had trouble with the steps. Bland is a small, classical dancer -- she reminds me of Kristine Elliott -- and does not have Balanchine's "speedy leg" or look comfortable in jazzy movements. The corps looked well-drilled (one, two, three, turn) but weren't quite into it. (A very understandable problem with companies stuck in the four programs a year format. There's no time to really get comfortable with a new ballet.)

The program closed with a new ballet by Trey McIntyre, which promised to be a Real Ballet. After seeing his "Blue Until June" for the company, which I think is a very light, pop piece, but a very well-constructed one, I was looking forward to this. McIntyre is talented. I've yet to see anything from him that has any depth, but he's still quite young, and he can make dancers MOVE. On this one, though, his reach exceeded his grasp.

It's called "The Reassuring Effects of Form and Poetry" -- is the title a joke? This was an in your face, HIGH ENERGY exercise to Dvorak without either form or poetry. I didn't even see any effort at form, or thematic or structural development, and if there was any poetry it was of the postmodern kind, which is totally at odds with the music. (Dvorak's "Serenade for Strings.")

REFP is for four couples. The dancers are dressed in medium shades of purple and blue. The men wear poet tank tops and loose stretch pants, the women backless tutus with spaghetti straps crisscrossing their backs, and the tutus have bustles. It's a period piece.

It begins with a woman standing next to four men. What to do? Why, lift her, turn her upside down, pass her from guy to guy, splay her legs and exhibit her, crotch front, to the audience, and then turn her upside down again. What else? In the next section, a woman and a man dance together -- well, they share the same space -- and the man stands behind her, reaches between her legs, and...grabs her crotch. She later sits on him. I was beginning to wonder why it wasn't called "crotch shot," when McIntyre seemed to lose interest in this part of the anatomy.

The reaction to the music is very superificial -- episodic, in the way McIntyre's "Blue Until June" is, but there he's doing a music video-style piece to a series of songs, and he can sustain a four- or five-minute piece of music. Here, he goes through the score tune by tune, often with a note for note literalism -- the dancers wave their arms at a tremulo in the music, for example. Duets were more supported allegro rather than adagio. (Why use a lush, post-romantic score and ignore its every emotional resonance?) One is painfully aware of repeats. The ballet is so choppy that one thinks the music is stopped and restarted -- although that doesn't happen. It just feels llke that's what's happening.

The look of the piece is very Forsythian, but that resemblance is superficial, too, because Forsythe is a master of form. The movement was, to this eye, firmly rooted in the MTV vocabulary. Shoulders shook, chests shimmied. Lots of running, jogging. A ballet step here and there, but dumping oregano into chicken 'n' stars soup doesn't make it Italian. There was one very nice solo built on pirouettes for Bland near the end, and another with lots of petit batterie for a man -- who wasn't brilliant enough to carry it off. And why were these two dancers singled out for solos? Whatever. There was a hint of a Big Finale, when all the dancers were suddenly on stage, but then that idea fizzled out, too, and something else happened.

The audience, which was not young (lots of board members and long-time supporters on opening night) gave it an instant standing ovation. I went home and listened to the music to make sure it was still there, and thought of Tudor, but that wasn't reassuring either.

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Fair is far -- for two very different views, read these: (copied from Ari's post on today's Links)

The Washington Ballet performed the Kennedy Center on Thursday.

  • Sarah Kaufman in the Washington Post
    This company, like many of its size, has had moments of being caught up in the popular trend that anything goes, and the rougher and more extreme the better. So at Thursday's opening at the Eisenhower Theater, it was refreshing to watch three well-constructed ballets with zero schlock value — George Balanchine's "Rubies," Choo San Goh's "Unknown Territory" and Trey McIntyre's new "The Reassuring Effects of Form and Poetry."
  • http://www.washtimes.com/arts/20030405-12705840.htm'>Jean Battey Lewis in the Washington Times
    In the Washington Ballet's splendid program that concludes this weekend, the jewel in its crown is a world premiere by Trey McIntyre. His new ballet is admirable on many levels. Waves of fresh, imaginative dancing spill across the stage; the movement is both virtuosic and nuanced.
        Its only flaw: The ballet is burdened with an unwieldy title — "The Reassuring Effects of Form and Poetry." This cavil aside, the new ballet is a tremendous addition to the company's repertoire. One mark of a first-rate choreographer is that he or she not only creates interesting movement, but also coaxes inspired performances from the dancers.

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I was delighted with the Saturday eve. performance (same cast as Thursday). All three works "played well" together, visually and stylistically - a gorgeous program. The dancers were really "on", a thrilling energy level (wonder if they put something in the water :) ) with star turns from Bland, Nelson, and our other wonderful principals.

Just some non-technical impressions from a long-time WB fan... (and thanks, Alexandra, for getting the ball rolling!)


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Welcome, Mike, and thank you very much for posting. I hope we'll be reading more of you! We used to have a rather robust Washington contingent, but several people moved away. (There are some rather long threads about the International Ballet Festival on the Recent Performances forum. You're welcome to ring in there, as well.)

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