- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 14, 2000


Misogyny meets its match as men show contempt for women and women flail back or shrug them off in Val Caniparoli's "Bird's Nest," the opening number of the Washington Ballet's fall performances.
The program has a theme: All three of the ballets are set to jazz or blues scores. Two of the dances, and the evening as a whole, are given a tremendous lift by the presence of live music. The Howard University Jazz Ensemble, directed by Fred Irby III, is rousing even before the dancing begins. It plays as the audience enters the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater.
The "bird" in "Bird's Nest" is the late jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker, and his music is the haunting backdrop for a cliched comment on men and women and their social arrangements. This is the world of Mikhail Baryshnikov yanking a woman around in Twyla Tharp's "Sinatra Songs" or couples in Alvin Ailey's "Blues Suite" swiveling angrily away from each other.
Mr. Caniparoli, a master of sharp, incisive movement, has made striking works for the San Francisco Ballet, where he has been resident choreographer. He is breaking no new ground here, but he gives his dancers plenty to do and they respond with humor and skill.
The dancers are part of the radically new look Washington Ballet Artistic Director Septime Webre is giving the company. In addition to four excellent dancers who arrived with the director last year — Erin Mahoney, Michele Jimenez, Jared Nelson and the astounding Jason Hartley — the performers in "Bird's Nest" include four who are making their debut with the company this season — Yvonne Cutaran, Laura Urgelles, Tim Melady and Cortney Palomo.
The strong suit for the majority of these recent arrivals appears to be the high-energy movement Mr. Webre favors. Their skill in classically based works will be put to the test in ballets by Antony Tudor and George Balanchine for the company's winter program.
In "The Jazz/Blues Project," the dancers are not only pyrotechnic wizards but project as individuals as they flesh out the sassiness, exuberance, anger and despair inherent in the choreography.
Senior company members Runqiao Du and Chip Coleman add a welcome note of nonchalant elegance to the hard-driving mix.
The most substantial ballet on the program is Lila York's "Echoes of the Jazz Age," which uses recorded music by Duke Ellington and the spoken words of F. Scott Fitzgerald (delivered by actor Brett Egan) and Dorothy Parker (spoken on the fly by dancer Miss Mahoney in a blond wig). The miking was somewhat distorted, and some words were lost to part of the audience.
"Jazz Age" is substantial not only because it looks behind the surface gaiety of the music and presents an almost elegiac look at the roaring 1920s, but because in its episodic, wayward way it has a strong sense of form.
Miss York, who choreographs all over this country and abroad, was a starring member of the Paul Taylor company. She has absorbed his skill at creating shifting patterns that suddenly jell into sharply etched, fast-moving ensembles.
Inevitably, a certain sameness sets in when a program uses jazz-based scores. All three works on the program create a party-scene atmosphere, but the sameness of that scene is mitigated by the dramatic lighting of Clifton Taylor and handsome set designs and costumes of Sandra Woodall — traditional party dresses for "Bird's Nest," enchantingly frothy for "Jazz Age" and charmingly funky for Trey McIntyre's "Blue Until June."
For "Blue," the Jazz Ensemble was joined by singer E. Faye Butler to re-create songs recorded by diva Etta James. Mr. McIntyre has a wry take on his party scene and spins more steps for his dancers, who maintain the high pitch of their dancing to the end.WHAT: Washington BalletWHEN: 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. today and 2 p.m. tomorrowWHERE: Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater, F Street and New Hampshire Avenue NWTICKETS: $32PHONE: 202/467-4600

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