Honest artistry is flourishing at the Washington Ballet these days and it was on delightful display Thursday night when the company opened NEXTsteps, a program of three world premieres that runs through Sunday at the Harman Center for the Arts.
Of the three works, Reverence, choreographed by Jessica Lang, a former member of Twyla Tharp’s troupe, THARP!, came across as the most traditional with Lang using highly modern choreography to convey ballet classicism. It was also quietly breathtaking and romantic. Set to Robert Schumann’s Symphonic Studies Opus 13, this ballet for four men and four women plays with a variety of moods.
The dancers glided in and out of large and small groupings and paired off now and then throughout the ballet’s eleven movements. Lang’s sophisticated choreography was interpreted brilliantly and effortlessly by all of the dancers. The much beloved Washington area pianist Glenn Sales’s fluid playing of the Schumann music matched the dancers’ graceful ease. Adelaide Clauss, Eun Won Lee, and Gian Carlo Perez, in lead roles, seemed uniquely attuned to the music and Clauss’s was a standout. The light-as-air way she rose up en pointe to a set of arabesques that appeared twice in the choreography was a beautiful sight to behold. This is a ballet with staying power, and I hope Washington audiences get to see it again in the future.
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Delusional Beauty, by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa was completely different and completely beguiling, as is much of this Belgian choreographer’s work. Ochoa has described this ballet as an ode to the 20th century painter Salvador Dali’s surrealism. Its central “Golden Figure,” danced on Thursday night by company veteran Sona Kharatian, must be seen to be believed.
Dressed in a backless gold floor-length gown and wearing a helmet of flowers surrounding her head and face and golden talons on her fingers (designed after Dali’s painting, “Femme à la tête de fleurs”), Kharatian didn’t exactly dance. She undulated menacingly and hypnotically around the stage, a glittering gold goddess who might just scratch your eyes out if you come too close.
It was hard to look away, but the audience was rewarded when it did by the flurry of powerful dancing that swirled around Kharatian. This was a near flawless performance by all 10 dancers with corps level dancers matching principal level colleagues in strength, precision, and grace.
Lang and Ochoa each have more than 15 years of experience choreographing dances for major ballet companies and that is one of the reasons why their works are so very good and of such high caliber. Sound judgement and good taste are another.
That’s not to say that John Heginbotham, who choreographed the program’s closing ballet, Racecar, doesn’t also possess those qualities. Heginbotham is not new to the dance world, but he lacks the depth of dance-making experience of the other two choreographers and their well-honed ability to edit out excess, and that sometimes showed. Up to this point, Heginbotham has choreographed primarily for theater and opera. This is one of his first ballets.
NEXTsteps closed October 27, 2019. Details and tickets
The good news Thursday night was that Racecar revealed Heginbotham’s obvious preference for dramatic and clever movement (and a sense of fun) that he no doubt honed during his 14 years dancing with Mark Morris Dance Group. Less good was that for all its percussive and athletic energy the ballet was sometimes tedious to watch. Yet there were interesting and wonderful moments too, such as an unusual little pas de deux for Kharatian and Tamás Krizsa, and the last section of the ballet when 16 dancers came together onstage and danced their hearts out to So Percussion’s live music.
Along with the three scheduled works was an additional surprise offering. Added to honor the Washington School of Ballet’s 75th anniversary, artistic director Julie Kent opened the evening with a Défilé du Ballet, an onstage parade of the school’s pupils starting with the youngest students and ending with those in the most advanced level. The Paris Opera Ballet does this on a grand scale with about 250 students and company members presented on its vast stage. This Défilé was in no way grand, but it was a nice touch and gave the audience a peek at some of the school’s up and comers.
NEXTsteps . Choreographers featured: Jessica Lang, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, and John Heginbotham. Produced by The Washington Ballet . Reviewed by Maria Di Mento.