© 2017 by George Jackson
Terse but also busy movement surfaced in all the pieces of this triple bill in which the dancers appeared to be playing themselves slightly disguised. That gave the program - from the 1987 Forsythe through the 1991 Kylian to Peck’s 2012 ballet – a contemporary character. Only the Peck was a company premiere, yet the dancing’s precise attack by veterans, by somewhat familiar performers and by recent recruits had the impact of an occasion newly coined. Two members of the Forsythe cast for Thursday evening displayed the span, the overall amplitude of scale and the attraction of comets, pulling all eyes along as they moved across the stage.
Washington Ballet dancers in Jiri Kylian’s “Petite Mort”. Photo by Theo Kossenas.
Despite similarities, each work had distinct traits. In “Petite Mort” the dozen under-dressed dancers deal with dress-up for its women, with sword play for its men and with sex. Is the dressing-up in cut-outs of baroque gowns and the wielding of fencing weapons meant to mock the music of Mozart or atone for misusing it? The parts of Mozart piano concertos which accompany Jiri Kylian’s choreography are graciously phrased and not matter-of-fact like the dancers’ behavior. Such behavior seemed intentional, even at peak moments of the “little death”. The ballet’s most urgent action was unraveling and draping a large veil across the stage floor. This piece of gauzy cloth functioned like a billowing, horizontal curtain whenever a scene change had to be made. Of the couples in “Petite Mort”, Francesca Dugarte with Jonathan Jordan and Esmiana Jani with Corey Landolt engaged us most convincingly with their near natural conduct.
“In Creases” isn’t just for dancers, four women and four men, but also shows two pianists. Of course, it lets us listen to the pianists too. They – Glenn Sales and Eric Himy – played Philip Glass’s 2007 “Four Movements for Two Pianos”. The first section’s dancing was much too hurried but the remaining parts had considerable invention. Not all of the later dancing was slow, yet even fast paced passages had measure. Justin Peck’s novelties included sports plays and formations like those of children’s space games. Accentuation was sometimes slightly jazzy, more so than that of Glass’s score. It was these things, and also Peck’s functional, informally spiffy apparel for the dancers that gave “In Creases” a casual, youthful air, not the participation of two new dancers – Darion Flores and Alexandros Pappajohn from The Washington Ballet’s Studio Company. Their dancing looked fully professional and their enthusiasm was in earnest.
Is “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated” beginning to show its age? What happens to daring-do once it passes year 30? This ballet by William Forsythe was original because it took the abrupt shifts, nonsequential actions, contradictory moods and incoherent arrangements that occur on a theater’s stage during class practice, rehearsals and other off-hour activities and used them for a performance. We’ve become somewhat acclimated to Forsythe’s juxtapositions as we have to the Merce Cunningham / John Cage combinations by chance. Still, “In the Middle” remains more current than not – except maybe for its lighting. Forsythe designed the lighting too, and it abounds in old-fashioned, dramatic contrasts. Forsythe’s practice wear for the dancers is tasteful if unremarkable and the ballet’s aural aspect is an industrial sound or noise score by Thom Willems in collaboration with Leslie (not Lesley as in the printed program) Stuck, a developer of audial software.
Forsythe’s choreographic juxtapositions still stand out. Also admirable are a few of the actual step sequences. Dynamically and anatomically balletic, the steps develop and grow. In the cast of nine for this Thursday evening performance, two of the three men were astounding. Brooklyn Mack and Andile Ndlovu poured themselves into stretches, bends and twists at magna of energy. It is unusual to see such controlled pliancy of the torso and footwork so fleet and sparkling. Except for passages of group action and a few brief meetings on stage, Mack and Ndlovu appeared separately and partnered with others. But I coudn’t help wondering whether they had colluded or competed in order to give us dancing of such stellar caliber.
Stagers were Stefan Zeromski for the Kylian, Christian Tworzyanski for the Peck, and Agnes Noltenius for the Forsythe. Julie Kent is The Washington Ballet’s artistic director with Victor Barbee as her associate. The organization’s ballet masters are Elaine Kudo, Michele Jimenez and Luis R. Torres.
Photo above: Dancers of the Washington Ballet in Justin Peck’s “In Creases." Photo by Theo Kossenas.