The Washington Ballet

‘Momentum,’ ‘The Poet Acts,’ ‘Nocturne Monologue,’ ‘Firebird,’ 'In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated'

By Carole Herron

October 2003 -- Washington, D.C.

The Washington Ballet opened their season with a very mixed, three act bill. I am not sure I have ever seen such a diverse assortment of dance in one program before. The First Act was 3 dances featuring very different types of choreography. The Second Act was the "Firebird," a short classical style ballet, and the Third Act was "In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated," a modern ballet.

The program started with "Momentum" choreographed by Choo-San Goh to music by Prokofiev's "Piano Concerto No. 1 in D-Flat, Op.10." The costumes for both men and women were white leotards and tights with a narrow black stripe. This ballet was first performed by the Washington Ballet in 1983. It was an entertaining dance to open the evening.  The piece basically broke down into 3 parts. In the first and last parts the music was quite sharp and the choreography was harder and more abrupt; but the middle section was soft and romantic and Michele Jimenez and Runquiao Du did a lovely job with their pas de deux. Michele Jiminez has a very distinctive and graceful style. Throughout the evening she was easy spot in the crowd.

After a brief pause we were treated to the world premiere of "The Poet Acts" choreographed by Septime Webre (company Artistic Director), to music by Phillip Glass, excerpts from the score "The Hours." This was a short pas de deux danced by Jared Nelson and Brianne Bland. It started and ended without music, with Jared on a ladder, the lighting soft and smoky, and the costumes white and flowing. I expected this to be a romantic pas de deux, but it wasn't. The music, when it started was beautiful but slightly disturbing and haunting. The dancing was excellent, but at times almost abrupt, especially in the lifts.

After the show when Septime Webre, Robert Weiss and Glen Tuggle came out to talk to the audience, Septime explained that his vision for this pas de deux was abstract but he had in mind the Annunciation as a metaphor for a woman receiving unexpected news from a man -- news she may not want. When Mr. Webre said that, I was really surprised; but, as I thought about it, I realized it helped explain the interaction of the music and choreography quite well.

The third dance was a short solo choreographed and danced by Jason Hartley. Jason Hartley is in his fifth season with the Washington Ballet and has choreographed several other dances for them. This solo, "Nocturne Monologue" to music by Medieski, Martin and Wood premiered at the Kennedy Center in September 2003. The lighting was orange, no scenery and Mr. Hartley's only costume looked like a pair of black swim trunks. The music was quite dramatic with a strong rhythm. The solo began with Jason moving across the stage in a Gollum like crawl. As the music pulsed, his body moved as if pulled and pushed, dragged and drawn. One moment he was doing backward handsprings across the stage, the next he was crawling or rolling.

But, for me, the most amazing thing about this dance was how musical the movements were.   The choreography worked in a way that was surprising and innovative -- it was not just a gymnastic exercise. The dance got a rousing reception from the audience. In the post-performance talk Weber explained that although he had never asked Jason specifically what his vision for this dance was, he assumed, since Jason admitted to being an insomniac, that the dance reflected Jason's creative feelings at 3 or 4 in the morning.

The Second Act was Robert Weiss' choreography of the "Firebird" to music by Stavinsky. The costumes were beautiful, and the simple sets lovely and very colorful, courtesy of the Carolina Ballet. The music is, of course, gorgeous, but unfortunately I found the choreography a bit dull. I had read in the recent Washington Post article that Mr. Weiss felt that previous productions of the "Firebird" did not have enough dancing and he has added much more dance. True, but especially in the Firebird pas de deux and solo the dancing looks extremely difficult and complex, but it did not flow, it was not musical. As my next seat neighbor commented, "it is not very lyrical." Brianne Bland danced her heart out but the choreography was not exciting enough to really engage the audience. Jared Nelson looked like he spent most of the pas de dexu running around trying to catch up with the Firebird, his part was neither athletic nor pretty. The best part belonged to Kastchei, which was very well danced by Jonathan Jordan.

The Third Act was "In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated" choreographed by William Forsythe, staged by Glen Tuggle, to music by Thom Willems. At a recent rehearsal Septime Webre described the music as "industrial," a very apt description. The beat was intense, the music loud and imperative. I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat at times, clenching my fists. Wow. Hard to pick out one particular dancer: Michele Jimenez, Erin Mahoney, Morgann Rose and the beautiful Nikkia Parish were all phenomenal.

The piece looked more like a rehearsal than a cohesive dance but the musicality of it was wonderful. The women, overall, had more intense choreography than the men, some of it positively aggressive. I have only seen one other Forsythe dance "Herman Schmerman" but this was in many ways very similar, with very strong parts for the woman. Standout for the male dancers was J. Cortney Palomo, who has a slightly unusual conformation for a dancer; but when he moves he looks wonderful - what amazing arms. Jared Nelson also danced very well. Again the crowd seemed to favor the driving beat of the music and the intense choreography and gave the ballet a rousing ovation.


Edited by Jeff.

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