British Invasion: The Beatles and The Rolling Stones
“Rooster”, “There Where She Loved”, “A Day in the Life”
The Washington Ballet
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
March 6, 2014
By Ashley McKean
copyright © by Ashley McKean
At first blush, ballet and classic rock seem to have little in common. Yet the Washington Ballet synergized the two, in not just one but two pieces on Thursday's program: Christopher Bruce’s “Rooster” and Trey McIntyre’s “A Day in the Life”. The program was an example of the integration of ballet with popular culture and contemporary styles that has occurred more frequently during the past couple of decades. Any such fusion can only be effective if the elements are compatible. Both “rock ballets” performed on Thursday combined masterful choreography and well-chosen melodies that blended together as seamlessly as the colors in a kaleidoscope. But it was the dancers’ commitment, individuality and spectacular dancing in all three pieces on the program that made the evening truly remarkable.
All of the dancers performed admirably, as a cohesive whole, in “A Day in the Life”, but several gave standout individual performances. Maki Onuki, a dancer who seemingly can do anything, was both quirky and endearing in her solo, “Julia”. Jonathan Jordan moved with ease and technical assuredness, displaying polished jumps, and especially shone in the touching duet, “Blackbird”, with Brooklyn Mack. These two dancers moved in perfect unison, mirroring each other, echoing each other, and at times supporting each other in lifts.
But it was Mack who gave a performance to behold as the central male figure. His solos throughout, and particularly in “Mother Nature’s Son” and “Golden Slumbers”, were powerful and honest, showing great emotional depth. Mack’s beautiful classical and contemporary lines suggest that he is a rare dancer who can move easily between both styles. His was a stunning performance—technically brilliant, completely committed, and holding nothing back.
Christopher Bruce’s “Rooster”, choreo-graphed to songs by The Rolling Stones, opened the program and was all swing and swagger, a fast-paced celebration of music and movement. Although not a comedic piece per se, Jared Nelson’s convincing portrayal of the “Little Red Rooster” made use of his comedic skills. The piece underscored the strength of the company’s current crop of male dancers, including Nelson, Chong Sun (who made quite an impression with his jumps) and Andile Ndlovu, to name a few. If it were a battle of the sexes, the men would have won, had it not been for the poignant solo by Morgann Rose to “Ruby Tuesday”, an unusual lyrical moment—and one of the most memorable moments—in this ballet. As a woman coming into her own, Rose demonstrated a seasoned dramatic ability and an adept way of maneuvering complicated partnering with four different men.
The program was rounded out with the delightful and intriguing “There Where She Loved” by Christopher Wheeldon. This suite of love stories was choreographed to songs by the German composer Kurt Weill, interspersed with pieces from Chopin’s Polish Songs, and accompanied by a solo pianist and two sopranos who sang on opposite sides of the stage. The colors of the costumes and the backdrops established the mood for each piece. Luis Torres danced a pas de quatre to Weill’s sultry “Surabaya-Johnny” with three women in lavender—Ayano Kimura, who danced an intricate petit allegro sequence in silence before the music began, the elegant and refined Sona Kharatian, and Morgann Rose, once again showing an intelligent dramatic quality in this dance suggesting unrequited love. Dressed in light green in front of a pink backdrop, Maki Onuki and Brooklyn Mack danced a flirtatious but difficult pas de deux—“Spring”, to music by Chopin—that was as fresh as the spring itself and as smooth as spun silk. But the highlight for me was Onuki’s “There Where She Loved”, a solo displaying her impeccable technique, brilliant balances and extensions, and easy, playful quality. A soulful and luscious pas de deux by Luis Torres and Aurora Dickie closed the ballet and was wonderfully danced; my only wish was that she would let herself go a bit more.
copyright © by Ashley McKean