- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Washington Ballet’s “Genius!” program was such a smash hit last winter that Septime Webre, the company’s director, promptly planned a repeat of the idea. It lives again as “Genius2,” opening tonight and running through Sunday at the Kennedy Center’s refurbished Eisenhower Theater.

Last year, three heavy hitters were represented: Mark Morris, Twyla Tharp and Christopher Wheeldon. Works by all three are back, joined by a fourth from the Spaniard Nacho Duato.

New this season are company premieres of Miss Tharp’s “Baker’s Dozen” and Mr. Duato’s “Cor Perdut.” There are two holdovers - Mr. Wheeldon’s “Morphoses” and Mr. Morris’ “Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes.”

In preparation for the performances, the high-profile creators and rehearsal assistants have made the Wisconsin Avenue Northwest studios a jumble of high-speed acrobatics. Early this week, Mr. Morris was holed up in one studio tweaking his witty “Drink to Me,” and Mr. Duato was literally running through his duet alongside his dancers.

Meanwhile, in an airy studio that looked out at treetops and blue skies, “Morphoses” was being rehearsed by Jeff Edwards, the company’s former associate artistic director, now assistant to Mr. Wheeldon. His quartet of dancers swept across space with acrobatic intensity, a moment later folding into impossible pretzel shapes, their bodies both incredibly strong and pliant.

To accompany the dance, a high-octane, highly respected quartet of chamber musicians called Flux had arrived from New York City for the rehearsal. These musicians collaborated with the choreographer from the beginning of the creative process, so fine-tuned is the rapport between sound and movement.

” ‘Baker’s Dozen’ is actually outtakes from Twyla’s rehearsal process,” Mr. Webre says. “Working with the director Milos Forman on his adaptation of the Broadway musical ‘Hair,’ [it is] material she had made for the film that failed to make it to the big screen - phrases left on the cutting-room floor.”

About “Cor Perdut,” Mr. Webre says: “There’s an earthiness in the material, akin to folk dancing, and you see that a lot in Nacho’s work and very complex partnering.”

After he finished rehearsing, Mr. Morris showed up at a question-and-answer session open to Washington Ballet patrons. He said “Drink to Me” was commissioned by Mikhail Baryshnikov when he became director of the American Ballet Theatre.

“I set it to ‘Etudes’ by Virgil Thomson - it’s exhausting music, very difficult. I like baroque music a lot - that’s ‘my ancient style’ - meaning there are more steps. Now I’m post-step. I’ve had a long-standing relationship with the San Francisco Ballet. They maintain the ballets the way I made them. I gave a ballet to the Joffrey one time, and the next time I saw it, it looked like it had been choreographed by Gerald Arpino,” Joffrey’s in-house choreographer.

While Mr. Morris can be witty, caustic and confrontational, he turned serious before he departed, defending dance and the arts against the charge that they are elitist and not pertinent. “The arts are critical to our lives,” he said. “They’re not some kind of effete, snobbish thing - quite the opposite. It’s as basic as the lullaby you sing to a child, a meal you prepare for people you love; it’s our civilization.”

WHAT: Washington Ballet in “Genius2”

WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

WHERE: Eisenhower Theater

TICKETS: $29 to $120

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