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Bowie & Queen


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While in town for a conference, I was able to squeeze in one visit to the Kennedy Center to see the Washington Ballet's Bowie & Queen. It looked to me like a sold-out house at the Eisenhower Theater and a very enthusiastic audience. (The Eisenhower holds 1100.)

Before the program started, retiring AD Septime Webre came out in front of the curtain to say a few words about the program and also his sadness at leaving after 17 years. The audience gave him an instantaneous standing ovation and loud cheers. Clearly he will be missed by this group.

This had been programmed long before Bowie's death and both ballets had been created several years earlier. But the timing made for a nice season closer.

Dancing in the Street is by Edwaard Liang. The score alternated actual excerpts from less familiar Bowie music with two live musicians (violin and cello) on-stage with a score by Gabrial Gaffney Smith in the style/mood of the Bowie. With the men in street clothes and the women in colorful, swingy dresses, it vaguely made me think of an updated Robbins ballet - street dance, Broadway-esque, women on pointe. Interesting enough.

Mercury Half-Life by Trey McIntyre brought the house down. Made in 2013 and almost an hour long, it uses entirely a long medley of Queen's recorded music. The ten dancers were in various white costumes with red trim or linings. I haven't seen much McIntyre, although I know he has a devoted following. So much energy, risk, innovation...great fun to watch. He has a way of throwing in little humorous touches throughout that make for interesting surprises. I kept thinking, though, that this could just as easily be on Broadway -- some dazzling tap, no pointe shoes, lots of ensemble surprises. Is this ballet? I guess it doesn't matter. The dancers need extraordinary training to pull this off and ballet seems an essential grounding. I know some here hate the way smaller companies resort to these extravaganzas to attract audiences, but if some of that audience come back for another look, it's worth it. And I thoroughly enjoyed it.

They have five more shows next weekend, Friday-Sunday. If people are in the area, it's worth a visit.

For our collection of most annoying audience members: I was stuck next to an older woman who alternated between endless coughing and singing along to Queen. Can't decide which was more annoying.

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This was a fun show, even if Mercury Half-Life isn't true ballet. I don't see any reason to knock a ballet company for performing a piece like this. Many symphony orchestras, for example, perform Carmina Burana.

It took a couple of viewings for me to get into Dancing in the Street, which often is the case for more subtle works.

They had a little ceremony at the end of the May 15 evening performance for Septime Webre. They marched out all the dancers who weren't in Mercury Half-Life plus a number of former members of the company one-by-one, each presenting Septime with a rose. I haven't always liked his choreography, but he did give the company a distinct personality in a locale that is almost over-saturated with performing arts.

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