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Washington Ballet's 'Genius 2' Program

'Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes,' 'Morphoses,' 'Cor Perdut' and 'Baker's Dozen'

by Carmel Morgan

October 23, 2008 -- The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Eisenhower Theater, Washington, DC

Like last season’s “Genius!” program, this year’s Washington Ballet season opener “Genius2” combined the talents of Mark Morris, Christopher Wheeldon, and Twyla Tharp, plus the addition of noted Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato.  All four living choreographers deserve reverence.  Their contemporary works perfectly suit the strengths of the Washington Ballet.

Mark Morris’ genius lies in his musicality of movement and his distinctive wit.  Glenn Sales, a treasure of a pianist, expertly played the challenging Virgil Thomson score in Morris’ “Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes.”  Situated toward the back of the stage, Sales dashed out dissonant chords as the dancers, wearing all white, maneuvered through the space around him.  A signature motif of the work occurred when the first couple entered.  A male carried a stiff female, horizontal, over his head.  Her arms were in an elongated curve, crossed at the wrists above her head.  The men later twirled the women in this frozen ballerina position.  Tilted at a deep angle, their straight bodies made a wide arc like a protractor.  Despite the obvious joy in Morris’ often comical twist on classical ballet, the dancers seemed overly serious, and the piece felt weightier than it should.  Nonetheless, “Drink’ was a feast for the eyes and ears.

If Morris’ genius is his gift of musicality, Wheeldon’s choreographic genius is probably in his partnering.  Wheeldon’s “Morphoses,” which the New York City Ballet debuted in 2002, is an arresting work.  The music by György Ligeti, performed live by the fabulous FLUX Quartet, grabbed one’s attention, and the dancing kept it.  A quartet of dancers – Sona Kharatian, Luis R. Torres, Jade Payette, and Jared Nelson – was costumed simply in intense shades of orange.  Narrow columns of light appeared on the backdrop in vivid, changing colors that sank and grew along with the pulse of the music and dancing.  Together, the piece brimmed with passive-aggressive restlessness.

In the beginning, the four dancers formed straight lines on the floor that radiated from a central point, toes connected and heads away.  This is also where the dancers ended up at the close of “Morphoses.”  Upon standing, their arms became entangled, creating a swing for one.  The men in “Morphoses” engaged in half-aborted tosses of the women.  The two women would at times become listless, floppy dolls, swooning back and forth while on pointe, only to quickly revive with a devilish high kick of a leg.  They melted into and out of their partners.  Kharatian and Payette moved sideways in a seductive crab-like slide.  This low, deep second position lunge showed off their gorgeous long limbs.  Other lovely moments included fingertips poised on the stage like crab legs, hands that jutted out and fluttered desperately like a bird, and flexed feet that cut the space and broke straight lines.  “Morphoses” had great energy, and yet it maintained an emotional distance.  Here the dancers’ composed intensity felt true to the work.

Duato’s genius is passion, which clearly comes through in his movement.  His touching duet “Cor Perdut,” a small gem, shone brightly.  Kharatian and Nelson superbly danced the bittersweet roles of lovers who are drawn to one another, linger, and yet cannot stay long.  The music, beautifully sung by Mallorcan singer María del Mar Bonet for whom Duato choreographed the work as a birthday gift, bounced with evocative rhythms.  The red costumes Duato designed added spice and drama to the piece.  The sensuous Kharatian lightly threw herself in the air in a bent position.  Her arms lengthened and coiled like a snake.  At the close, the couple rested in a clump on the floor together, his hand reaching out to hold hers.

Finally, the bookend to Morris’ “Drink” was Tharp’s “Baker’s Dozen,” another work in which the dancers were clothed in all white/cream.  The women wore skirts reminiscent of pastry bags.  Tharp’s genius may be her playfulness, humor, and charm.  Her much loved “Baker’s Dozen,” first performed by her company in 1979, was a Washington Ballet company premiere.  Glenn Sales again took to the piano, tapping out the upbeat, jazzy score by Willie “The Lion” Smith.  Typical of Tharp, there is more than a dash of Broadway and social dance thrown into the mix, and the dancers, thankfully, were able to capture a lot of the fun.  A dancer was pulled on and off the stage by invisible hands, daring the audience to laugh.  Another dancer, on his knees, rotated his hips Elvis-style.  Heads bobbled slightly to the happy music.  As the last couple exited the stage hand in hand, one couldn’t help but smile, as Tharp surely intended.

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