7x7: Love Duets
The Washington Ballet
England Studio Theater, Washington Ballet Building
February 21, 2008
by George Jackson
copyright 2008 by George Jackson
Some lovers are sensual - they arch and swoon, every touch lingers and their bodies gravitate to each other when they are apart. Some are all business, dispatching kisses as if sealing envelopes containing checks. Others are selfish, possessive and even miserly. A few can be noble to the point of sacrificing for the sake of love. Septime Webre must have imagined the entire spectrum when he conceived this year’s edition of 7x7 – seven different choreographers’ ballets, each seven minutes long. What the Washington’s Ballet’s artistic director did differently this time was to schedule performances not at the end of the season but earlier, just after Valentine’s Day. The program is being performed 26 times, from February 19 to March 9 with, as previously, the public being invited into the company’s home. There is cabaret-style seating and quarters are close, which means that people who normally sit in the top balcony of theaters have the chance to see the pores opening in their favorite dancer’s skin.
Two of the 7 ballets were actually for just one couple. Stephen Mills’ “Desire” had the advantage over Edwaard Liang’s similar “Out of Time” by coming first. The lovers in both ballets are the sensual and serious sort. Mills’ duet accompanies a repetitive yet resonant violin and piano etude (Arvo Part’s “Mirror in the Mirror”) and matches its dynamics closely although not mechanically. The way the woman propels herself, stems her impulse and relaxes to become all body parts reflects the music’s eternal arpeggio. She also is like a vessel on a potter’s wheel, having inherent consistency and mass but being molded by her partner’s hands. As the woman, Elizabeth Gaither’s ability to stagger the continuity of motion was perfection. Chip Coleman partnered her elegantly, mirroring the fluctuations of mood.
Liang’s duet (to the adagio of Maurice Ravel’s G-major piano concerto) has an odd, flat linearity that could be intriguing. The woman – strong, clear Brianne Bland – is willful; the man – thoughtful, thorough Runqiao Du - is wary despite ardor. The ending, in which the woman expires, comes out of the blue.
The three people who inhabit Nejla Yatkin’s “2 Long 2 Love” are sensualists of a high order. They revel in perfume as their feet step on or sweep aside the thousand rose petals littering the stage. They scoop up handfuls that they release to flutter down over themselves. At first, each is aware only of self. The male one – tall, intense Luis R. Torres – has pride and keeps desire under control. The lyric woman – Gaither again – lives from moment to moment. The searching woman – alert Laura Urgelles – hungers for evermore. Enter the music – a Philip Glass piano etude (#2, Vol.1) – and a pairing ensues, that of the man and the lyric woman. They satisfy each other. The searching woman works herself to fever pitch, evermore, yet is unfulfilled. Yatkin developed the couple’s and the soloist’s parts but allowed the space between them to remain vacant. They existed in separate worlds with no gravitational force or magnetic field filling the void – a surprising omission for a choreographer coming out of the German modern dance tradition.
Angelic or demonic love as pictured by William Bake inspired Nicolo Fonte’s “Aria 1 & 2” - perhaps. Four beings – 3 males, 1 female – are grouped together. Energy resides in the statuesque assemblage, like electricity sparking almost invisibly between nodes. Pairs form. Sona Kharatian, classic and stern like an Acropolis column and Jared Nelson, very Blakeian with his blond locks, dance to the first Handel aria (from “Ptolemy”). Partnering each other, sure and gentle Zachary Hackstock and Jonathan Jordan, a compact dynamo, are accompanied by the second air (from Handel’s “Partenope”). Neither dance is asexual yet the relationships aren’t romantic. Fonte’s choreographic model seems to be not Balanchine (at whose New York school – among others – he studied) or, thanks be, Nacho Duato (for whom he danced and choreographed for seven years in Spain) but Mark Morris, particularly the Morris of “Dido and Aeneas” with its sculptural groupings, musical strictures and sense of commentary. Fonte’s subtext, though, steers clear of the ironic.
Comic fare for shifting pairs is Adam Hougland’s “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye” to music by Soft Cell. Hougland took full advantage of Jason Hartley’s acrobatic bravura and stage wit. The features of his 3 other dancers - Morgann Rose’s earthiness, Tamas Krizsa’s speed, stamina and flow, and Jade Payette’s delicacy – did show but could have been made more of. At the end, the two men, Hartley and Krizsa, go off together - not a new stroke.
Pop soundings (by Muse) didn’t fit the classical striving of some of the steps in Jared Nelson’s “Falling Away With You”. Nelson didn’t seem to have made up his mind in which direction the piece should go. Once more, there were two guys (Du again, and bright young Corey Landolt) plus two gals (sensual Aurora Dickie, and sunny Giselle Alvarez). The seventh seal was “Last Night On Earth” to music by Apolyptica. It had its moments of illumination and puzzlement, as ballets by flower child choreographer Mark Dendy often do. It featured 5 women and 5 men, often paired, among whom only Aaron Jackson hadn’t appeared previously. Ten dancers on stage seemed a crowd.
Next year, how about bringing back the biggest hits of previous 7x7s?