- The Washington Times - Friday, May 5, 2006

Following its winter of deep discontent, the Washington Ballet takes to the stage next week with two dances that seem designed expressly to fit the occasion.

Although the program, called “Bach/Beatles,” was decided on and announced a year ago, no one could have thought at the time that it would be presented in the wake of a bitter strike that left both dancers and management shellshocked.

In “Bach/Beatles” the dances are set first to Johann Sebastian Bach’s exalted “Goldberg Variations” and then to a dozen iconic songs by the Beatles. Surefire choices right there.

Most important, both are world premieres, giving dancers the chance to do what they love best — be in a room with a choreographer, have dances made for them that capture their distinctive capacities, and face new challenges.

This time, two choreographers — Artistic Director Septime Webre and Trey McIntyre — spent weeks in the studios with the dancers.

Looming over the dancers at 6 feet 6 inches, Mr. McIntyre alternately inspires and corrects them as they race through his high-energy movements. The atmosphere is concentrated and professional but also relaxed.

“Think creatively. Let your body react emotionally, make it more sensual,” he suggests at one point. Another time, he concentrates on form: “Do it very square and very precise this time,” he says. “Watch each other, make sure the arms are all the same height.”

Mr. McIntyre shows them an elegant arm movement and cautions, “When you land, you absorb the tension in your shoulders. Keep it loose and easy.” Watching another section, he says, “You used to look like you were making it up — try to get that spontaneity back.”

After rehearsal, he says he has “taken a lot of extra care with them because they’ve been through so much. I know there’s a lot of hurt feelings and broken hearts in the company. Most were excited to be back, but some had frayed nerves right on the surface.

“In the studio, I try to be the most spontaneous and vulnerable I can be, so I’m really creating with them in the moment,” he says. “A lot of negative energy in the room really affects the way I work. At first I tried to block these feelings out, but it actually made things worse. Then I told them, ‘You’re welcome to talk about this with me; I’m not in conflict with you in any way.’ Once I made room for that, we were all on the same page. It felt like a love affair.”

Mr. Webre also was working with awareness in creating a work based on Bach’s music. “There are some group sections,” he says, “but it’s built like a suite with a lot of solos and duets and small ensembles. Working with one or two dancers has helped us return to more intimate personal relationships after that difficult period.”

For both choreographers, the musical choices resonate strongly.

“There’s so much in the Beatles catalog that I respond to,” Mr. McIntyre says. “First we began talking about doing an entire evening of Beatles — the catalog is so vast there’s plenty of music to explore, but then this seemed better, and Septime wanted to do Bach.”

“Bach has been so important to me,” Mr. Webre adds, “and it seemed that the journey from Bach to the Beatles, chronologically, would be more interesting than just staying in the same place.”

Mr. Webre based his work on Glenn Gould’s famous recordings of the “Goldberg Variations,” pondering the relationship between Gould and Bach, the interpretive artist and the creative artist.

“The first third of the ballet is danced to Gould’s early recording,” he notes. “The second is a baroque period, using a live harpsichord, and the last third is played live on a modern piano. The pianists are keeping the meter that Gould used in his later recording.

“The last section is a sort of return to the studio — classroom exercises as ritual. That parallels a couple of sections where we use martial arts as ritual.”

Mr. McIntyre says he’s approaching his new work differently from anything he’s made before. All his effort took place in the studio. “Maybe in the entire ballet there are five or six gestures that occurred to me beforehand. I wanted my reaction to the Beatles music to be instinctive and to be about what my interaction was with the dancers. It’s been really liberating — I found more choreographic possibilities than I’d allowed myself in the past by being too controlling. … I’ve come to the conclusion that there has to be a real human exchange with dancers for me to be successful in making choreography.”

The emotions the music evoked were often unspoken but potent. One section, “Julia,” is a solo Mr. McIntyre made for ballerina Michele Jimenez, whose mother died last year. He was very mindful of that; it became the subtext of the piece, but he didn’t reveal that to Miss Jimenez at first.

Then she came to him and said, “I found out that when John Lennon wrote that, his mother had just died.” She made the emotional connection to the poignant phrases Mr. McIntyre had imbedded in her solo. The haunting core of the song spoke to both of them.

WHAT: Washington Ballet in “The Bach/Beatles Project”

WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesday through Friday; 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturday, May 13; 1 and 5 p.m. Sunday, May 14

WHERE: Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater

TICKETS: $29 to $105

PHONE: 202/467-4600

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