- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 23, 2000

Fall is still just a hint in the air, but the Washington dance season has roared out of the gate.
The two-week Balanchine Celebration at the Kennedy Center, which concludes this weekend, is one of the most entertaining, eye-popping and inspiring dance events the center ever has staged.
The local dance scene also was toasted with gusto last weekend at Dance Place, which is marking its 20th year as a center of creativity in Washington.
The George Balanchine retrospective, though it is showing only about a fifth of the master choreographer's works, has the importance of a major Pablo Picasso art show or an Igor Stravinsky music festival, to name two other figures who occupy a similarly towering place in the cultural firmament.
Six companies coming together to display the works of Mr. Balanchine have given us a sense not only of his range of style, but also of the companies' stylistic range. Audiences have roared with delight.
One or two performances proved to be mildly disappointing, but most of the surprises have been happy ones.
The Miami City Ballet — in the biggest surprise of last week — showed what tremendous strides it has made. Since its last performance at the Kennedy Center five years ago, the Miami group has shot up into the ranks of this country's leading companies.
The Miami dancers performed Balanchine with daring and delight in his rhythmic challenges. Those are the same characteristics that made its director, Edward Villella, a Balanchine star of the 1960s. "Rubies," the middle section of the choreographer's full-length "Jewels," was made for Mr. Villella; his company performed it brilliantly here.
The company also danced Mr. Balanchine's razzmatazz "Stars and Stripes" Sept. 12 on the opening program (which was long on glitter). Last weekend, though, the Miami dancers tackled two of Mr. Balanchine's most acerbic and challenging works, "Agon" and "The Four Temperaments," and gave them exceptionally strong, nuanced performances.
A revelation of a different kind came in the performance last week by the Bolshoi dancers of the enigmatic "Mozartiana," a meditation on spirituality and grace that was the last major ballet Mr. Balanchine created. Suzanne Farrell, one of the choreographer's most celebrated muses, danced the work at its premiere. She traveled to Moscow two years ago to work with the Bolshoi dancers on the piece.
The Bolshoi dancers, so at home in dramatic ballets, brought a controlled passion to the storyless ballet that was fascinating to see. Their performance was but one reminder at the festival that Mr. Balanchine's work is structured enough and rich enough to be danced in different ways.
Nina Ananiashvili, the Bolshoi star seen here last spring in the Bolshoi's full-bodied, full-length ballets — "Romeo and Juliet" and "Don Quixote" — had a new challenge in a work that responds to the wordless emotions in Peter Tchaikovsky's music. She obviously reveled in the experience.
Besides her careful coaching of the Bolshoi dancers, Miss Farrell also brought her own small company to perform Mr. Balanchine's elegantly lyrical "Divertimento No. 15."
Headed by Philip Neal and Charles Askegard of the New York City Ballet and several prominent free-lance dancers, her pickup company had only two weeks of rehearsals. Although Miss Farrell inspired her dancers to perform with freshness and grace, they obviously could not develop the conviction and finesse of a company that takes classes and rehearses together for months and years.
Another astonishing appearance at the celebration was the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, directed by Gerald Arpino. The company seemed in disarray when it appeared here a few years ago, so its fine performance in Mr. Balanchine's classically demanding "Square Dance" was a pleasant surprise.
The ballet originally had an amusing gimmick: The dancers went through square-dance patterns using steps from the ballet vocabulary while a caller hollered out directions, to the music of Antonio Vivaldi and Arcangelo Corelli. The caller later was dropped from the ballet, but the Joffrey reinstated him. He seemed a distraction to me, but the audience obviously enjoyed his joking banter.
In other programs, the Joffrey danced the difficult, aerobically challenging "Tarantella Pas de Deux" with flair.
The strong performances of the San Francisco Ballet this week are no surprise because it has established itself, under Helgi Tomasson's direction, as one of the premiere companies in the country. This made it strange that the company did not create a stronger impression opening night in "Symphony in C," Mr. Balanchine's sparkling ode to classical ballet, French style. By the third evening, however, the company had found its stride.
San Francisco Ballet went on to astound this week with one of the most powerfully performed ballets of the entire festival, Mr. Balanchine's erotic, Japanese-inspired "Bugaku." The company was able to field three ballerinas on successive evenings. All of them — Muriel Maffre, Lucia Lacarra and especially Yuan Yuan Tan — were striking in the role of a Japanese bride.
The subtlety and delicacy with which Miss Tan moved her head, the exotic twists of her body, the suppleness of her limbs and her fragile beauty made her seem born to the part. Miss Tan's performance is a reminder not only that dancing in this country is at a remarkably high level, but that real stars are peppered around the country.
This fortnight has had such highlights as Miss Tan's performance and the richly textured dancing in the "Agon" pas de deux of Miami dancers Jennifer Kronenberg and Eric Quillere. Indeed, every company featured dancers who performed with the kind of arresting individuality that makes an audience sit up and take notice.
The other featured company this week, the Pennsylvania Ballet, has been dancing one of Mr. Balanchine's most inspired works — "Serenade," the first piece the choreographer made in this country. The breadth, sweep and conception of "Serenade" is breathtaking. Mr. Balanchine was not yet 30 when he created it, and this work alone is ample proof of his genius.
The company's dancing of the ballet was less electric, softer and more warmly romantic than other versions; dancers' arms were especially lovely.
The Balanchine Celebration concludes this weekend with the Pennsylvania Ballet dancing Mr. Balanchine's high-style cowboy ballet, "Western Symphony," and the San Francisco Ballet performing his striking, high-tension "Symphony in 3 Movements" to the Stravinsky score, and the powerful 1929 "Prodigal Son," the earliest Balanchine work on the festival's program.
At Dance Place last weekend, its celebration was a moment to acknowledge the vital work of Washington's dance elders and note how rich a dance scene they have spawned.
The final program Sunday was an intimate evening, full of zest and nostalgia. It began with a witty curtain speech by Virginia Freeman that covered the local dance scene past and present and saluted the work of Dance Place founder Carla Perlo.
The dancing that followed was strong proof of the variety and richness here. Jan Van Dyke, the first to initiate modern dance seasons in Washington, choreographed "Quatre Femmes," an inspired folk-tinged work for four women that wonderfully blended natural movement with firm structure.
Liz Lerman showed her appealing theatricality in a spoken and danced solo, "Fifty Modest Reflections on Turning Fifty"; Maida Withers looked like the dynamic Washington dance matriarch she is as she slashed through excerpts from her newest work. Cathy Paine was amusing and poignant on the ground and airborne on a trapeze in "Learning to Fall, Learning to Fly," and Meriam Rosen, who has been making thoughtful, intense dances hereabout for decades, showed a solo, "Relentless Memory," sensitively performed by Mary Buckley.
Men were outnumbered in this program, but what they lacked in quantity they made up in quality. Juan Carlos Rincones, Melvin Deal and Joy of Motion Director Douglas Yeuell were each a knockout in three wildly different styles.

WHAT: Balanchine Celebration

WHERE: Kennedy Center Opera House, F Street and New Hampshire Avenue NW

WHEN: 2 and 8 p.m. today and 2 p.m. tomorrowTICKETS: $26 to $73

PHONE: 202/467-4600 or 800/444-1324

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