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Washington Ballet 'Genius2'

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Last night's opening at the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater was attended by a smallish (at least in Balcony level) but enthusiastic audience. Considering that the calibre of the WB dancers -- full-time professionals -- is miles above that of the Farrell Ballet, I cannot understand the difference in attendance (nearly-full houses in the same venue for Farrell). Perhaps we can chalk it up to the sudden economic downturn?

Audience-size aside, it was an evening of mixed results. Let's begin at the top. Best by a mile was an extraordinarily fluid performance of Wheeldon's early gem of a ballet, Morphoses. The orange-clad quartet of dancers displayed exemplary sleek line and passionate movement. Kudos to the two couples last night: Jade Payette and Jared Nelson, Sona Kharatian and Luis R. Torres. The latter, in particular, has developed into a major performer and star presence, IMO...always a delight in the past, Torres has now blossomed into one of the finest male dancers on any stage, anywhere in the world. Even the Kirov or Bolshoi would be proud to have him on the roster. How lucky for us in DC to have him in our back yard!

Mark Morris' balletic masterpiece, IMO, is his 1988 Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes, originally for Baryshnikov and ABT. The excellent WB dancers did justice to the steps...it's only too bad that (a) the WB pianist butchered the Virgil Thomson score -- perhaps the reason why the printed programme does not even mention Thomson! -- and (b) said piano now occupies the center-back of the stage...completely ruining the dreamy-reverie quality of the ABT staging (both ABT and WB credited to Tina Fehlandt...why an on-stage piano for WB and none for ABT?). I could also swear that two or three segments around the middle of the ballet have been excised...definitely, the lifts at the start of the final number were pared-down from four to three couples. Morris lite.

Like the little girl with the curl in the nursery rhyme, The Washington Ballet can be either very, very good (the above two ballets)...or it can be horrid, as it was in the two opening works. Truly, I cannot call them ballets, as that would be insulting the art form known as "ballet." First we had T3 -- Totally Trivial Tharp -- in the form of a jazzy trifle known as Baker's Dozen with cheap-cool moves and not a pointe shoe in sight. Hey -- at least the pianist in this piece played beautifully AND remained in the pit! So much for the Bakers.

Then came the ultimate insult: Cor Perdut, Nacho Duato's ultra-boring duet for man & woman in Duato-Standard-long-bleak-gown. The work lasts all of six minutes. Yup, it's another Maria del Mar Bonet recording...but....Wait! Didn't we see this before in Jardi Tancat and Arenal? Sona Kharatian and Jared Nelson's considerable talents for classical dance are wasted here with twisting and gesticulating; thank goodness that we could later admire them in a TRUE BALLET, Morphoses. But here is the real zinger: In this difficult economy, the WB actually flew the choreographer from Spain to DC to stage this tiny duo and trotted him onto the stage at the end for a bow. Why? [...and Duato was not even the credited stager, that being Eva Lopez Crevillen...another airfare and per diem? "Ka-ching" goes the register!]

Perhaps this initial half-hour of boring dances -- not ballets -- was a reason why half of the Balcony emptied at intermission? Too bad, as the two remaining TRUE BALLETS of the night were yet to come.

The program repeats today through Sunday, with alternating casts.

p.s. For the record, the only tutu on view was in a glass case in the foyer. At least we got some pointe shoes in Morphoses and Drink to Me.

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It's wonderful to read how well Washington Ballet is dancing. I hope we get more comments from our Washington BT contingent.

Natalia, you make me yearn to see Drink to Me Only again. About Baker's Dozen, I really enjoy it though it is "Tharp Lite" definitely. Smaller and less technically skilled companies like Ballet Florida dance it and do a good job. What's it doing in Washington? Or at ABT for that matter?

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It's wonderful to read how well Washington Ballet is dancing. ....

Indeed they are, bart. I am also going to the Sunday matinee to catch different dancers in the works. When I dislike a piece, I think, "At least we still have the DANCERS to admire." :toot:

Incidentally, the Washington Ballet portions of the playbill, especially the dancers' bios, are a hoot. Whoever edited them must be in deep merde. Example: one of the WB's main soloists once danced a pdd from "Balanchine's In the Night"...and another young lady's honors are listed, among them "she is a recipient of the U.S. Dept. of State's O-1 Visa for exceptional talent..." [not that the lady is not exceptionally talented but...c'mon...]

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Last night, ABT's curtain rose at 7:38 on Baker's Dozen (curtain rose, actually, around 7:41, but the music started at 7:38), so ABT and WB were doing the same ballet simultaneously. :) As I noted on the ABT thread, this looked better on ABT last night than it had last year. Great Tharp? No, but it can look better or worse, and maybe with time WB will give it all (or more than) it deserves.

Did our Washington friends hear laughter from the stage in your performance, as Classic_Ballet noted (but I didn't hear) in ours? I wouldn't put it past Tharp to choreograph in a laugh.

Incidentally, the Washington Ballet portions of the playbill, especially the dancers' bios, are a hoot. Whoever edited them must be in deep merde. Example: . . . another young lady's honors are listed, among them "she is a recipient of the U.S. Dept. of State's O-1 Visa for exceptional talent..." [not that the lady is not exceptionally talented but...c'mon...]
:lol: A reflection of the zeitgeist of the city wherein it dwells?
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Carbro, the only laughs that I recall came when one of the male soloists squatted in deep-plie and performed some raunchy "pelvic wiggles" with a deadpan face. I am not sure if the audience's laughter was more nervous than genuine.

Some of the cutesy things that happen from the wings also got a couple of chuckles.

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Saturday's matinee had the same casting as on Friday eve. and Sun. matinee. Matinees in DC can be an odd audience as you get a lot of older folks, first-timers, random tourists, and even (as today) a vocal baby. The Mark Morris piece got a somewhat tepid response; in fairness, the WB as a whole wasn't at their best in this, although Jared Nelson absolutely nailed his huge solo. The audience didn't know what to make of Morphoses, but they liked it anyway (except for the crying baby, who I guess was not a big fan of Ligeti). Cor Perdut got the biggest hand of the matinee, thanks to Brianne Bland and Jonathan Jordan. Tharp's all-too-accessible Baker's Dozen closed the program on a positive note. On the way out I overheard a lot of compliments, along the lines of "wow, I haven't been to the ballet for years, but that was really good." So the WB is obviously doing something (actually, a lot of things) right.

As for my own impressions, well, I didn't think the program itself was all that strong, but the dancing was mostly excellent except for some uneven ensemble moments in "Drink To Me" (hmmm). Besides Nelson, Bland, and Jordan who I've already mentioned, the Morphoses "quartet" of dancers - Elizabeth Gaither and Luis R. Torres (yes Natalia, you are so right about Torres, he rocks - he's The Man!), Laura Urgelles, and Jonathan Jordan (again!) did themselves and the company proud, not to mention Maki Onuki and just about everybody else in their individual moments. When Onuki was dancing, by the way, even in ensemble, several people around where I was sitting made appreciative noises - ooh, ah, etc. - that didn't help my concentration any, but I admit that I was feeling the same thing.

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I'm glad that we coincided on most points, Mike!

Well, I also caught the Sunday Matinee closer, to see the alternate cast (which Mike saw on Saturday). I must say that it was, on the whole, even more felicitous than the opening cast. Overall, it was simply a stronger performance -- that makes sense, it was the closing performance and all had gelled.

A huge plus: The numbers in the program had shifted since the opener on Wednesday -- balletic Drink to Me now opened the program, while the upbeat-jazzy Baker's Dozen closed it. This was a wonderful switch, as the Tharp allows the audience to leave the theater in a happy, toe-tapping mood. Also, Drink is serious and "balletic-pretty" enough (i.e., pointe shoes) to not off-put the audience duirng the first intermission...nobody left at intermission this time, as they did on Wednesday, when Duato's drab Cor Perdut closed the first act.

Even Cor Perdut was more upbeat and positive this time around, in the hands and feet of more petite-sunny and less Graham-bleak dancers. I agree, Mike -- Brianne Bland and Jonathan Jordan were fantastic in this piece! They made me forget how much I dislike Duato's choreography.

Both casts of Wheeldon's gorgeous Morphoses are excellent, including this performance's fab quartet -- Elizabeth Gaither with Luis Torres, and Laura Urgelles with Jonathan Jordan.

Drink to Me benefitted from more accurate piano-playing by Glenn Sales ...although the famous Spanish-flavored 'Baryshnikov Solo' section was still weak, resulting in no applause after the final "bang pose" at the end...this final pose should snap as if to say "AHA!" but Jared Nelson had to "soften" the final pose with soft arms. The Thomson score must be extremely hard to play. The penultimate number from the full ballet seems to have been cut here...BUT -- on the positive side -- we saw all four couples-lifts during the final number, unlike Wednesday's opener...although one barely stayed up. :)

In contrast, Sales played brilliantly for Baker's Dozen. Everthing about Baker's was better this time around -- the cast, including Maki Onuki, worked better together than the Wednesday group. Kudos to apprentice Tyler Savoie for that "wiggly pelvis" solo moment!

After the show, we had a delightful Q&A session of "Ballet Talks" with Septime Weber and three of the dancers including (lucky me) DA MAN -- Luis R. Torres! :) Also participating graciously were Elizabeth Gaither and Laura Urgelles -- the latter announcing her retirement at the end of the current season, prompting a bunch of "awwws" from the audience that loves her.

Hey, I've now become a certified Washington Ballet fan. Quite a change since the 1980s and early '90s when that was not the case...and some 'old timers' may even recall my angry postings about the troupe on early ballet websites. That's no longer the case. What a difference a decade makes! I am really looking forward to the rest of their season including a rarity: a full-length classical ballet other-than-Nutcracker, Bournonville's La Sylphide! Oh, my.

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Hello All,

After years of 'lurking' I have decided to join the discussion, as I am dismayed by ever-diminishing Washington DC representation on this and other boards.

I have followed ballet/dance in the Washington area for some 20 years. I should tell you that I like all forms of dance, although I do prefer ballet. I enjoy the traditional classics, most Ashton & McMillan, most Balanchine, many contemporary works including Kyllian and Forsythe, as well as the more contemporary-modern Mats Ek and Nacho Duato, some Tharp, some Morris.... In terms of dancers, I tend to dislike the splashy-flashy, posing and mannerisms that plague many performances, preferring clean, strong technique coupled with elegance and true artistry (versus melodrama or histrionics) that enhances a work without distracting from it.

I have to agree with Natalia about the calibre of the Washington Ballet Dancers versus the Suzanne Farrell dancers -- there is no comparison. Every season, we hope that Suzanne Farrell will finally bring us good dancers, but we're consistently disappointed. As interesting and thoughtful as her programs are, I don't think I can stand another.

So much for my introduction. Now on to the 'Genius 2 program'. I saw both casts perform, first on opening night on Thursday, then on Sunday. Just a quick clarification: Although technically the Wednesday performance is the first public performance, it is billed as the 'preview' night, with Thursday billed as 'opening' night. This is the performance that Sarah Kaufman 'reviewed.'

As mentioned, there are many new dancers and this probably contributed to the lack of cohesiveness and chemistry in the two group pieces, although this had improved slightly by Sunday.

I was most impressed by Sona Kharatian, Jonathan Jordan and Luis Torres (they have certainly come a long way in the last couple of years) as well as by Laura Urgelles, Maki Onuki, Brianne Bland, Rui Huang and Jared Nelson. Among the up-and coming, Norton Fantinel looked very promising, as did Diana Albrecht, Tyler Savoie and Cory Landolt. As yet, none of the new dancers really caught my eye.

Beginning with the Thursday performance, the program was performed in reverse order, i.e.:

Morris' "Drink to me only with thine eyes"

Wheeldon's "Morphoses"

Duato's "Cor Perdut"

Tharp's "Baker's Dozen"

This order worked quite well, finishing the evening on a light, witty, bright note.

Pianist Glenn Sales was terrific both days. He deserves special cudos for the very difficult Virgil Thomson score.

The weakest piece for me was the Morris, which I had actually looked forward to seeing again, as I had quite enjoyed it last year when WB performed it at the Harman Theatre. Not so this time. I found it very uneven and disjointed -- both in terms of choreography and execution, although on Thursday Jonathan Jordan did improve matters some. I have to believe that part of my enjoyment last season was the overall quality and rapport of the dancers. This time, the piece really lacked flow. My favorite pieces both days were Wheeldon's "Morphoses" and Duato's "Cor Perdut." And I must admit that I enjoyed Tharp's "Baker's Dozen" more than I had expected to -- both days!

"Morphoses" is truly a gem and only improves in interest and depth with every viewing. I was completely riveted from beginning to end. It was beautifully danced on Thursday by Sona Kharatian and Luis Torres, who've both really grown into this work. Jared Nelson was fine, but Jade Payette, who is physically talented, still lacks depth and maturity and in my opinion is miscast here. On Sunday, Jonathan Jordan and Laura Urgelles were wonderful, and although Luis Torres was again excellent, there was no connection between him and Elizabeth Gaither, who has been a consistent disappointment to me in the last couple of seasons.

The Duato duet was beautifually, albeit very differently, performed both days. However Sona Kharatian clearly stood out on Thursday. She was exquisite, simultaneously exuding strength and fragility as well as great depth and mystery. The applause and 'bravos' for Kharatian and Nelson were deafening and unending on Thursday.

Overall, I thought it was good launch to the season.

Would anyone care to comment on Sarah Kaufman's 'review'?

Although I wholeheartedly agree with her last paragraph, I felt that some of the examples she used to illustrate her point were off the mark and even served to negate her point. The Washington Ballet does have well-trained classical dancers (Jordan, Urgelles, Kharatian, Huang), who are all under or mis-utilized (except for Jordan) by Webre who consistently chooses to feature dancers who can produce more acrobatics, flash and sexiness, because that is the esthetic he understands and is comfortable with. How can someone with absolutely no real classical ballet training or dancing experience be expected to do otherwise? Again, although I agree with the philosophical point Kaufman has been trying to make for the past year or two, by not providing real reviews, I feel she is being unfair to the audience and to the dancers. As for her comment regarding Washington Ballet showing poorly next to Oregon Ballet, this is an unfair comparison in that the WB performed Tharp's "Nine Sinatra Songs" whereas OBT performed a serious work by Christopher Wheeldon (the name of which escapes me now). In my opinion, the WB dancers are talented artists who are doing a wonderful job with the direction and repertoire they are given.

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After years of 'lurking' I have decided to join the discussion, as I am dismayed by ever-diminishing Washington DC representation on this and other boards.
Cheers to a one-woman contribution against the diminishment! :) Glad you've emerged from the shadows.

Thanks for your thoughtful review. I hope you'll take a moment to brieflly (or even extensively) introduce yourself in our Welcome Forum.

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Thanks to Lucie for the excellent review.

As a lapsed member of this forum, I had also written a note about the Sunday matinee of Genius 2, but in the end didn't post it.

Why ? Because I don't want to participate in a forum that continues -- as in the past -- to include supercilious remarks about fellow audience members. If forum members want to promote interest in ballet in general, and the Washington Ballet in particular, they might reflect on whether it furthers that goal to label an audience as odd because it includes older people and first-timers, and to assert -- via mind-reading ? -- that it didn't know what to make of a performance. We all pay the same price for the ticket, we all like ballet, and there's no entrance exam to attend a performance. Those odd, old people who make distracting noises will be needed help support organizations like the Washington Ballet through what is bound to be a very difficult coming few years.

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Washington Ballet must be a very rare and lucky company if its "odd" audience consists of old people, first timers, and tourists -- well, maybe not the crying baby -- since almost every ballet company in the world is trying to attract a younger demographic, new audiences, and a higher profile :P

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Saturday's matinee had the same casting as on Friday eve. and Sun. matinee. Matinees in DC can be an odd audience as you get a lot of older folks, first-timers, random tourists, and even (as today) a vocal baby.

My God. It sounds just like the Royal Opera House ballet matinees. You see people are people wherever they come from.

All I say is thank you to them all as b..s on seats is money in the bank and all companies and theatres need that.

As someone approaching being an 'older folk', I don't mind being categorised in print or on the web as such just don't say it in earshot. EH! WHAT DID YOU SAY?

Yes, I was once a first timer lost in the bewildering maze of stairs and seat numbering. Yes I have felt abandoned when lost in Lincoln Centre.

Lets hope the people you categorise as an "odd audience" go to a matinee(or an evening performance) again as without them, you may not have a ballet at all in Washington.

In London we see nights when the ballet is not sold out and I fervently wish for a so called "odd audience to" fill seats and I will pay the respect to them that they are due.

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Thanks for posting your thoughts, Tammy. I guess I'm with Helene and Leonid, having grown up with NYC audiences where oddness might have been considered a synomym for diversity -- something quite interesting and beneficial to the creative juices of any company.

I hope you will post your thoughts about the performance. Washington Ballet has quite a history and those of us who cannot be there attending its performances benefit from hearing from those of you -- all of you -- who can.

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