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The Washington Ballet

'High Lonesome' - 'The Four Temperaments,' 'High Lonesome,' 'Fives'

by Carmel Morgan

April 3, 2008 -- Harman Center for the Arts, Sidney Harman Hall, Washington, DC

The Washington Ballet presented a program titled “High Lonesome” on Thursday, April 3, 2008, at Sidney Harman Hall in downtown Washington, DC.  It was a miserably cold, rainy evening, and apparently there were some traffic problems.  This resulted in the hall not being as full at it should have been when the dancing began on opening night.  It was a shame that some audience members missed the first of three spirited works, Balanchine’s “The Four Temperaments,” because it was the most glowing of the night. 

In “The Four Temperaments,” the Washington Ballet was joined by guest artist David Hallberg of the American Ballet Theatre.  Hallberg was once a student of Kee-Juan Han, who is the new director of The Washington School of Ballet.  “The Four Temperaments” is technically challenging, but it was extremely well executed.  Hallberg blended right in among the Washington Ballet’s gifted dancers. 

“The Four Temperaments,” which is accompanied by Paul Hindemith’s lively score, has as themes different medieval personality types.  The dancers wear simple ballet class attire – the women in black leotards and pink tights, with a black ribbon around their waists; and the men in white t-shirts and black tights.  The work is pretty and playful. 

Jonathan Jordan, a rising young star in the Washington Ballet, danced in the variation “Melancholic.”  Jordan dances with magnetism and buoyancy.  His arched back and open arms were beautiful to behold.  The “Phlegmatic” variation consists of a lot of odd steps – flexed hands, off-kilter hip swings, and arms that sweep back and forth like a speed skater’s.  These modern elements infuse the ballet with a sense of fun.  Hallberg, who has a penetrating stare, was superb in the “Phlegmatic” variation, twisting his hands and feet in interesting ways. 

The program closed with “Fives,” which was choreographed by the Washington Ballet’s former resident choreographer and associate artistic director, Choo-San Goh.  “Fives” is a perfect bookend for “The Four Temperaments” because the two works share much in common and yet also serve as striking contrasts to one another. 

Not surprisingly, “Fives” showcases dancers in several groupings of five.  In the background are tiny red lights making tracks in the shape of a large “V.”  The dancers are costumed in fire-engine red unitards.  The continuous color emphasizes the long lines of the dancers’ legs.  The music, by Ernest Bloch, provides a dramatic aura. 

“Fives” is a piece that calls for tight, fast-paced ensemble work.  It seems less about emotions than about form.  During some early sections of “Fives” there is silence, and the dancers’ marvelous footwork can be heard.  Much of the movement is sharp, precise, and intense.  There are also a number of unusual and demanding lifts.  The men twist the women in different directions as they are wrapped around men’s waists.  There is a lot to absorb in “Fives,” and ultimately, it feels a little rushed.  There doesn’t seem to be quite enough time to appreciate the choreography before it speeds by. 

The third work on the program was “High Lonesome” by the maverick young choreographer Trey McIntyre.  The work is about McIntyre’s family, and one sees discord in the various relationships between the mother, father, sister, brother, and McIntyre himself. 

“High Lonesome” is set to music by rock star Beck.  It’s piercing, thumping, and oh-so-hip.  The stage is bathed in blinding white, but at times, yellow and pink colored squares appear on the floor.  The dancers are clothed in white, too.  The mother, Erin Mahoney-Du, wears a 1950s-inspired dress and gloves.  Only Jordan, clearly the McIntyre figure, wears color – long shorts in a rusty orange hue.  As the title “High Lonesome” suggests, Jordan indeed seems lonely, even in the midst of his family.  Family members dash in and out of a filmy fringed curtain.  Their bodies reveal more than their rather blank doll-like faces. 

The mother role was originally performed by former Ballet Memphis dancer Dawn Fay, who now works as Associate Artistic Director of Ballet Nouveau in Denver, Colorado alongside her husband, Garrett Ammon, the company’s new Artistic Director.  Fay was outstanding in the role, dancing with gusto and raw emotion.  Mahoney-Du has a softer approach, and yet she is equally moving.  The choreography calls for a certain aloofness.  Mahoney-Du captures the stiffness and coldness of her character, expressing a building anguish that doubles as love. 

The Washington Ballet delivered an undeniable punch in this performance.  Although the “The Four Temperaments” premiered in 1946, “Fives” in 1978, and “High Lonesome” in 2001, each of the works seems thoroughly fresh and modern, thanks to the exuberance of the Washington Ballet.  For those who haven’t seen the Washington Ballet in a while, it’s time to take another look.  And for those who haven’t ever seen this company, it’s time to do so.


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