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Washington Ballet

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I saw the opening night of Washington Ballet's "Carmen+" program at the Kennedy Center last night. It was a sold out house -- I'm told the run is sold out, except for weekend matinees, which are nearly sold out. If you live in the area and don't have a ticket, I'd recommend this. I've never seen a stronger performance from this company. The difference between the "Agon" program of two years ago and last night was about 10 years! In general, the ballets looked extremely well-rehearsed -- nothing scattershot, and it didn't seem as though all the energy had gone into director Septime Webre's new "Carmen." Each of the three ballets was well-cared for. Another general comment was that even in the Good Old Days, this company, especially in Balanchine, often looked rather dutiful and studentish. There was a school recital atmosphere -- which has now been blasted away. There were students in Four Ts, and I couldn't distinguish them from the company members.

The program opened with "The Four Temperaments" which used to look squishy (the last time I saw it danced by WB was about a decade ago). Last night, the ballet's architecture was triumphantly clear. Some of the solos were a bit quirky (Jason Hartley's arms in Melancholic would have been soft for Phlegmatic) but overall, it was a fine performance. Albert Evans (of NYCB) danced Phlegmatic. It was obvious that he was dancing in his native language, and he gave a wonderful performance, but the difference between Evans and the other dancers was not stark.

Choo San Goh's "In the Glow of the Night" is one of his strongest works -- and the first Goh the company has danced in several years. More, please. (Fives, Double Contrasts, Birds of Paradise, Variations Serieuses for starters. This company once had a decent repertory.) Here, Brianne Bland was the stand out in the second movement (Day, the blue gypsy movement). This movement looked better than it has in the past. Bland's dancing was very strong and clear -- beautiful turns -- but not overly athletic, and the seven men (led by Runqaio Du) were darned good! Amanda McKerrow danced the Midnight role created on her nearly 20 years ago, when she was a teenager. She was extraordinary then -- and still is. I'd like to say there was more maturity now, but she was so mature as a young girl that there was nothing lacking; she's kept what she had then. The only weak spot for me was Erin Mahoney in the opening movement. This role was made for Julie Miles who had an unusual stage presence -- like a large, softly glowing pearl. The first movement is Dawn (if you haven't guessed, the ballet takes one through the day), and there was nothing tentative or young about Miles's Dawn. She was a passive demon queen, triumphant, as though her daily arrival vanguishes the more temporal Day and Night creatures. Again, the company looked terrific.

Septime Webre's "Carmen" is a handsome production -- after Picasso sets in black, white and gray by Holly Highfill helped. I don't think this is destined to become a repertory staple, although I thought it was 100 times better than his "Romeo and Juliet." If you don't worry about what's going on on stage, and what's supposed to be going on, and just watch the dancing, it's pleasant enough. (Carmen is a Girl Who Just Wants to Have Fun, especially with the Toreador. Don Jose doesn't like this and kills her. She seems shocked.) Webre doesn't tell the story, just puts out dances with Spanish touches in them. Michaela (Bland) has been turned into that faux-Romantic character, The Good Girl, who wafts on occasionally to remind Don Jose of...something. Michele Jimenez is a lovely dancer but not an actress, and Webre, again, gives her little to do but developes and turns. She's also not one of nature's Carmens; she's more an ingenue. There was a good character solo for Jason Hartley as the Toreador -- a much more vivid character than poor Don Jose (Jared Nelson; I don't mean to imply that it was his fault that he wasn't a vivid character). Webre used the company well -- there was a nice section for four women (the dancers were Ballet Spaniards, with nothing to do all day but swish their skirts, stamp their feet, and flare their nostrils). The music was a rather watery rendition of bits of Bizet's Carmen suite, with some L'Arlesienne (and perhaps other pieces) woven in.

[ November 02, 2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]

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A few notes on Saturday evening's performance:

I have to admit that I didn't really care for Carmen. The group dances were fine and enjoyable, although even the most toned and muscular thighs are going to jiggle unpleasantly if you have bare-legged women stamping their feet in character shoes. The main problem for me was the lack of characterization of Carmen and Don Jose, which was admittedly difficult for the dancers to develop in a 30-minute ballet where the group dances got more time than the main "action." Also, the partnering was awkwardly choreographed, with too many lifts transitioning uncomfortably into other lifts. Septime could have taken a lesson from Choo San Goh, who had a number of beautiful, meaningful lifts in "In the Glow of the Night." I did, however, like the Picasso-esque sets very much, and Jon Jordan and Boris Serebryakov are very strong additions to the corps. (I'm sure the other new men are excellent as well, but these two were dancing in the front so I noticed them more.)

I liked the ballet, but was disappointed not to see Amanda McKerrow in "In the Glow of the Night." She was scheduled to perform according to the program, and no notice was given at any point that she was not dancing. Still, I thought Laura Urgelles danced eloquently and movingly so I wasn't as upset as I might have been. Also, Brianne Bland was delightful and gave a wonderful performance in the second section. Although she's a little too small for Runquiao Du, with whom she was partnered, she managed to engage him in a way that made their partnership very interesting; since the departure of Ju Hyun Jo last year, Du has often looked like he's off on different planet from his partners.

Like Alexandra, I was pleasantly surprised by the strength of the company's effort in the 4 T's. It didn't have the depth of, say, Miami Ballet in last year's Balanchine Celebration (Festival?), but for a company that doesn't perform a great deal of Balanchine, I thought they gave a clear, effective performance. In fact, I would have preferred that Carmen had opened the night's program and 4 T's had closed it.

[ November 05, 2001: Message edited by: The Bard's Ballerina ]

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Thank you for that, Bard's B -- and very glad to see you! Has your email address changed? I've tried to email you (searching for you) a few times and they bounce back as undeliverable. If it's changed, could you email me with a current one?

I hope to be reading you often this season -- there's a lot to see this year.

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Did anyone have the opportunity to see and compare the "second cast" performances in the lead roles of Washington Ballet(Saturday or Sunday matinee)?

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