- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 8, 2005

The Washington Ballet likes to project a hip, cutting-edge image, and its now-annual “7X7” program devoted to seven brief pieces by seven (mostly) younger, more adventurous or less-known choreographers fits that image. “7X7: Unplugged,” its full title, is a not-so-subtle nod to MTV and an indication of its audience-building focus.

The program, continuing through the weekend at the company’s headquarters on upper Wisconsin Avenue, has a deliberately informal air. Its main studio has been converted artfully into a black-box theater (actually, the walls are gauzy white), and the audience sits on low bleachers.

For the occasion, the building’s lobby has been decorated with considerable imagination and whimsy by students from the Corcoran College of Art + Design.

Short pieces have their own brisk impact — fast in, fast out. So the works tend to be one-note affairs with little time to develop ideas. Still, some moments stood out.

What the evening lacked in depth it tried to compensate for in breadth. There were amusing dances, fierce ones, abstract dances and narrative ones, slapstick dances and tender pieces.

There also were a lot of different aesthetics piled into one evening, a nice adventure for the audience. The choreographers came from a broad range of backgrounds — from the classical modern dance of Jose Limon to the European avant garde of the Lyon Opera Ballet to the postmodern approach of the White Oak Project of Mikhail Baryshnikov and Mark Morris.

The company saved the best for last. Mark Dendy’s “Ritual IV” was well-crafted and danced with flair by its cast of eight, spiked by a high-energy male duet performed brilliantly by Jason Hartley and Jonathan Jordan.

In a different twist, Mr. Jordan was half of an inhibited couple — Elizabeth Gaither was the other half — in charge of a group of nearly naked men who appeared to be acting out the couple’s repressed desires. “These Are the Days of Our Lives,” by Brian Reeder, made the most of its male chorus line, but the obviousness of the work’s premise made for a cliched performance. It’s the kind of thing Paul Taylor did in a much more diabolical way in “Big Bertha.”

Most of the dances were world premieres. An exception was “Fractures,” set to a score of Arvo Part by local choreographer Dana Tai Soon Burgess, which was having its company premiere. It was the most nuanced work on the program and told its story of a menage a trios with a sustained tone that conveyed strong emotion with simplicity and restraint. Sona Kharatian, Erin Mahoney and Jared Nelson were the troubled threesome.

Veteran choreographer Val Caniparoli created “Ikon of Eros” for two of the company’s most eloquent dancers — Michele Jimenez and Runqiao Du. The dance was music-driven; its score by John Tavenor alternated between classical and what seemed to be East Indian pop music. This made for a lot of back and forth between one style of dance and another, which the two dancers handled with aplomb. But whoever let this beautiful ballerina appear in such an unbecoming costume?

The wildest number on the program was set, surprisingly, by choreographer Andonis Foniadakis to the exalted Prelude that begins Bach’s Sixth Cello Suite in D Major. The title hinted at what was to come: “And they had hair as the hair of women and their teeth were as the teeth of lions.”

The recorded music was heavily amplified, distorting the music’s intent, and served as accompaniment to a wild and exhaustive display of crashes, hurtling leaps and general mayhem by six intrepid dancers — Brianne Bland, Miss Mahoney, Zachary Hackstock, Mr. Hartley, Mr. Jordan and Mr. Nelson. As the dance’s title described, all were dressed in unisex costumes of matted black hair that covered body and face, adding to the performance hazards. Even with all the violent action, the dance ran out of ideas and would have been better if shorter.

Adam Hougland’s “Few and Far Between” reinforced the club atmosphere of the evening with dancers again dressed in flesh-colored shorts and (for the men) bare torsos. It featured lively partnering, a cool solo for Aaron Jackson, intriguing music by Justine Chen and interesting partnering.

***

WHAT: The Washington Ballet in “7X7”

WHERE: England Studio at the Washington Ballet, 3515 Wisconsin Ave. NW

WHEN: At 7 p.m. tomorrow and 7 and 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and at 1 and 4 p.m. Sunday

TICKETS: $32

PHONE: 202/397-7328

MAXIMUM RATING FOUR STARS

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