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Septime Webre's Tenth Anniversary

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Besides reviewing this week's Washington Ballet Performance in the Washington Post, Sarah Kaufman took the occasion to review AD Septime Webre's first ten years with the company: (Washington Post article). I think she makes some valid points:

The Washington Ballet has never been a powerhouse, though it has had some stellar performers in its ranks over the years -- notably, back in the early '80s, the young Amanda McKerrow, before she went on to become a star at American Ballet Theatre. On Thursday's program, one felt the loss of standouts Erin Mahoney-Du and Runqiao Du, longtime members who have retired, though some especially handsome dancers remain, among them Brianne Bland, Jonathan Jordan, Kharatian, Nelson, Payette and Torres.

Webre has chosen other avenues by which to make his mark at the Washington Ballet. By adding works by George Balanchine, Antony Tudor, Jerome Robbins, Paul Taylor, Tharp, Morris and Wheeldon to the repertoire, he has steered a previously rudderless organization toward the best of contemporary ballet offerings -- when he is not distracted by lightweights (recent Trey McIntyre works and other flimsy new creations come to mind).

But the Washington Ballet still has ground to cover in its execution. One had only to see how unfavorably it compared with other troupes in the Kennedy Center's "Ballet Across America" sampler last spring, particularly Oregon Ballet Theatre, a company of similar size that has not been around as long, yet whose dancers seized the stage with appetite and attention-getting strength.

From a distance, thanks to the best of Webre's framing of its repertoire, the Washington Ballet looks very, very good. But in Webre's decade at the helm -- years that brought renewed energy to the company, that updated its public image, that reached out to broader and, especially, younger audiences -- something has gone missing. The dancers can double up on adrenaline and hit us hard with sexiness and verve. But ask them for the guts of what they surely obsessed over at the barre in the course of their classical schooling -- lyric line, musical phrasing, fullness and precision -- and what they deliver invariably falls short. For this company, purity and artistry come second. What comes first is putting on a helluva show.

My own take, fwiw, is like what a reviewer once said about our own National Symphony Orchestra: pound for pound they are some of the best players in the world, but the ensemble is less than the whole. Unlike Sarah K., though, I don't think it's just about ensemble technique. To me, they are missing an artistic identity. They can dance anything, so ok, what do they *love* to dance? Who are they, really, as a company?

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