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The Washington Ballet

'Stravinsky Violin Concerto,' 'There Where She Loved,' 'The Rite of Spring,' 'The Engagement'

by Carol Herron

February 24, 2005 -- Eisenhower Theater, Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C.

On a cold and very snowy night I braved the icy roads of Maryland and D.C. to get to the Kennedy Center to see the world premiere of Trey McIntyre’s "Rite of Spring," and the company premieres of Balanchine’s "Stravinsky Violin Concerto" and Christopher Wheeldon’s "There Where She Loved." I was not disappointed: each piece was very different in style, yet provocative in its own way. There were a couple of cast changes, and one of my favorite dancers, Michele Jimenez, did not dance at all. The Eisenhower Theater is a much smaller venue than the Opera House and offers a much more intimate setting. The sound was good with the live and recorded music being at just at the right volume.

"Stravinsky Violin Concerto" - choreography by George Balanchine, Music by Igor Stravinsky. One of the black and white dances, the choreography is a bit softer and more fluid than works such as "The Four Temperaments." I love Stravinsky and this music was delicious, and even though it was recorded, the quality of the recording and sound system was very good.

Erin Mahoney danced with Brian Corman and Sara Ivan (substituting for Michele Jimenez) was paired with Runqiao Du in the Toccata and the two Arias. In the past couple of years, Mahoney has become an impressive dancer - her technique is improving, her confidence is evident, and even though she drops her left shoulder occasionally, she looked every bit the part of a ‘Balanchine’ dancer with her long arms and legs, and her sharp, crisp movement. Brian Corman is new to the Washington Ballet this season, but what an exciting dancer he looks to be. Corman has charisma, his partnering of Erin Mahoney was excellent and his style is well suited to Balanchine.

Sara Ivan, also in her first season with the Ballet, did not appear suited to Balanchine last night, her performance appeared strained and flat and that seemed to affect Runqiao Du’s performance, which looked quite tense. Sara Ivan’s extensions were good, but the smaller movements were quick and blurred. The corps was a little ragged in the Toccata but improved as the piece progressed, synchronizing their movement better, although the lines were still a little off kilter. The Aria I with Mahoney and Corman was simply delightful and a joy to watch. Prior to the start of the performance Septime Webre described the Capriccio as having the energy of a hoedown, and the entire cast did a wonderful job creating the energy and joyful dancing to finish the piece.

"There Where She Loved" - choreography by Christopher Wheeldon, Music by Frederic Chopin and Kurt Weill. I must admit to a personal bias here, I adore Christopher Wheeldon’s work. I was not disenchanted. In an article in the Washington Post he describes the piece as "a sketchbook of unrelated little dances, linked as suite". He also says, in the same article, that he thinks of himself as a romantic and in 2000 when he created the piece, he was interested in romantic themes.

There were seven ‘little dances” each exploring a different aspect of love. 'The Wish' had one woman dancing with four men, Laura Urgelles dancing with Jonathan Jordan, Aaron Jackson, Brain Malek and Brian Corman, sweet, but of all the dances the least impressive.

“Surabaya-Johnny” had one man, Brian Corman, as a "use ‘em and lose ‘em’" type. Loving each of the three women and then rejecting them. My German is very limited, but the tone of the song sung by Mezzo Soprano Shelley Waite was very mournful and anguished. Again Brian Corman was outstanding, his cavalier attitude was just right. He danced with an attitude, sexy, aggressive and careless. Of the women, Sona Kharatian was tremendous, and Sara Ivan looked much better in this piece than she had in the Balanchine.  The title dance “There Where She Loved” was beautifully danced by Brianne Bland. She is another dancer who just keeps improving in technique and confidence.

The most fun dance of whole night was “Merry-Making” with Jonathan Jordan as a man with too many beautiful women to choose from. The audience were laughing and clapping as he puzzled over each of the three lovely ladies.

Perhaps the reason I like Wheeldon so much is the musicality of his choreography. His dances sing to me in a way I find difficult to explain. When I had the opportunity to see him in rehearsal a year ago, I was deeply impressed by his attention to the small, expressive details of the dance. The movement of a shoulder, the angle of a hand, the connection of movements were of as great importance as the actual steps of the dance itself.

The music for this suite of dances was superbly performed live by pianist Margarita Gramaticova, soprano Dorothy Kingston and mezzo soprano Shelley Waite. The costumes, designed by Holly Hynes courtesy of the Royal Ballet, were very romantic soft greens and purples.

"Rite of Spring The Engagement" - choreography by Trey McIntyre, music by Igor Stravinsky.  Perhaps with time the choreography of this dance will become more cohesive and more fleshed out. But for the world premiere I found the choreography to be less than impressive. In too many scenes there was too much running back and forth, no solos or pdd that were developed, lots of emoting, but very little real dance. The story has it all, sex, drama and murder, but unfortunately the story is told in a blunt and unsubtle way.

There were some stagecraft devices that had an impressive visual impact: opening to the ballroom scene, and the reddish silhouettes of the orgy scene. But even the silhouettes were used too much by the end of the dance. It was unfortunate that Trey McIntyre’s work followed Christopher Wheeldon’s. The comparison was dramatic and less than favorable for McIntyre.

That said, the dancers did an excellent job with the material they had. Laura Urgelles, who was substituting for Michele Jimenez, danced The Hostess, a young virgin on the eve of her engagement. The dance opens with her before a mirror, she is obviously upset and her Assistant, danced by Brianne Bland, consoles her. She is dressed for the ball in a brilliant blood-red gown, the black curtains part just a bit to reveal a manic ballroom scene. In bright, white ligh,t the hard, cruel looking men and women swirl around in a most menacing way.

The Hostess almost loses her nerve until her Mother, danced with conviction by Erin Mahoney, drags her into the fray. Enter the Fiancée, danced by Jonathan Jordan, a vicious young buck dressed in a shining silvery suit. The Hostess is obviously repelled by her suitor, and the Mother is just as obviously attracted to him. The Hostess escapes the ball for a few moments with her Assistant, where they rest together and end with a kiss. The Mother observes the kiss between the two women and a nasty confrontation ensues. There is an orgy scene with the men appearing naked (dressed just in their flesh colored dance belts). Eventually the Mother comes in with the Fiancée, who is naked except for gray cloak, and after having her way with him, she sends him to her daughter. The Fiancée appears to rape the Hostess. The Hostess in pain and anguish murders her Mother.

The dancers of note were Laura Urgelles as the anguished Hostess. Brianne Bland as The Assistant, she was sweet and caring, and probably had the best solo in the choreography. Erin Mahoney did a wonderful job of acting The Mother, a horrendous woman who set her daughter up to be raped. And Jonathan Jordan as The Fiancée, is another young dancer who has been with the Washington Ballet for a few years now, and is developing by leaps and bounds.

The wonderful music by Stravinsky, which caused a riot in 1913, was recorded.

Edited by Editor

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