The Washington Ballet
8 “Pas” plus “Theme and Variations”
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
April 23, 2014
by George Jackson
copyright 2014 by George Jackson
Because the Washington Ballet’s current season has much family fare and pop programming, and quite a bit of it is familiar, I’ve been staying away. Right now, though, the company has mounted a bill intriguingly titled “Tour-de Force: Balanchine”. It lured me to the theater. Balanchine’s “Theme and Variations” concludes this program but I’d not expected its first half: 8 separate “pas” by other choreographers. The bookends for the divertissements were two well known display pieces: Vasili Vainonen’s “Flames of Paris” pas de deux and the “Diana and Actaeon” duo which was credited to Marius Petipa (usually it is ascribed to Agrippina Vaganova, or to Vaganova after Petipa). The six other short dances or excerpts were by Choo San Goh, Edwaard Liang, Septime Webre, Elaine Kudo and Tamas Krizsa. Closest to Balanchine, particularly to a certain Balanchine, was Vainonen’s “Flames”.
Balanchine’s “Liberty Bell” pas de deux (from his Sousa ballet “Stars and Stripes”) suspiciously resembles a comment on the Vainonen duo. Both choreographers were similar in age, education and initial employment. Both became interested in varying and developing further the technical and stylistic classicism they had been taught as students of Russia’s Maryinsky ballet. Vainone’s duo (accompanied by Asafyev music) uses academic ballet technique at bravura increments to express revolutionary fervor. Washington Ballet’s cast danced it strongly. The man, Chong Sun, also conveyed heroism. The woman, Tamako Miyazaki, was technically tidy and remarkably fleet but decorative. She styled her role as if she were an ornamental ballerina of the 19th Century. Shouldn’t her coach have shown her the 1953 film with the rousing Musa Gottlieb?
Brooklyn Mack, who dances very big, and Ayano Kimura, who has a remarkable stretch for her small size, were Actaeon and Diana in the Vaganova/Petipa piece (music by Pugni). Mack was dressed in a loin cloth, which made him look as if he was about to launch into the Excelsior duo. There were times he could have used some of Kimura’s precision. Choo San Goh’s duet from “Momentum” (to a Prokofiev score) is a romantic adagio that suited Kateryna Derechyna’s pliant line and muscular Tamas Krizsa’s ability to lift. Goh makes lifting not just a feat but an expression of very personal relations. Lifts figure prominently too in Liang’s “As Above, So Below” duo (to Bach and Alessandro Marcello music) and in Krizsa’s debut piece of choreography, “Together Apart” (to Blake Neely music). In the Liang, Luis R. Torres partnered Sona Kharatian, whose more arrow-like linearity contrasted interestingly with Derechyna’s curvings in the preceding Goh. The dramatics of “Together Apart” seemed over done, but the choreographer propelled Maki Onuki through not just striking hoists but descents, too, and slides.
Of Webre’s two divertissements, “Sympathique” was the shorter and simpler. Three guys – Josue Justiz, Daniel Savetta, Marshall Whiteley – lift one gal – Fernanda Oliveira – joyously and briefly to Latin pop strains by Pink Martini. “D-Construction”, to John Cage percussion, is a pas de quatre for sporty guys – flamboyant Jared Nelson, brotherly looking and behaving Corey Landolt and Daniel Roberge, plus the virtuoso Andile Ndlovu looking somewhat like an outsider. This all-male exercise from 1989 seems a less silly forerunner of Marcelo Gomes’ “Aftereffect” that American Ballet Theatre brought to town last week. Webre, though, goes on too long, as did Elaine Kudo’s “Opposites Distract” (to Ottmar Leibert music). Kudo has two couples who are not dissimilar enough (Morgann Rose, Torres, Aurora Dickie, Zachary Hackstock) do partner swapping.
“Theme and Variations” is about courtly love. A richly varied step vocabulary is spun into movement continua that explore personal relationships and royal protocols. Group architecture and individual dynamics reflect the microstructure and overall design of Tchaikovsky’s music. Sandra Jennings staged it for the company and it took practically all of Washington Ballet’s soloists and corps to form the court for this Balanchine ballet’s royal couple, Maki Onuki and Jonathan Jordan. The group dancing was clear and not at all inelegant. Jordan carried himself nobly, both when dancing and walking, had soft landings in his first variation and amplitude in the second solo. Onuki gave the ballerina role a slightly dreamy air but did not slur its steps or diminish speedy passages. For all its familial airs and pop allure, Washington Ballet can be respectably regal.