- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 1, 2003

The long wait is almost over. The Kennedy Center's International Ballet Festival begins Tuesday and continues for the next two weeks. If ever there were an example of turning a lemon into lemonade, this is it. Faced with the prospect of a lean dance season owing to the renovation of the Opera House the prime stage for ballet the Kennedy Center turned bold. It decided to have a festival of six of the world's leading ballet groups, an illustrious gathering as had never before been assembled.

With the smaller Eisenhower Theater as the venue, the center carefully assembled a repertoire of mostly smaller works. Its inspired choices offer a picture-book illustration of the styles of some of the greatest choreographers of the past 1½ centuries.

Besides the simple pleasure of seeing all these masterworks danced by the companies for whom they were created, the festival is also a remarkable minicourse on the development of 19th and 20th century dance.

The programs do not follow a chronological order, and rightly so this is entertainment, after all, not Dance Ed, and program balance is important.

When the festival was first announced, England's Royal Ballet was on the roster, scheduled to dance two works by Frederick Ashton, the company's first resident choreographer and the man who helped shape its style.

For reasons not clear, the Royal Ballet dropped out. Instead of turning to another major company, such as the San Francisco Ballet or the Paris Opera Ballet, or even a minor company, the festival chose a pickup group that includes a few dancers from the English National Ballet. It is headed by Adam Cooper, best known as the lead swan in Matthew Bourne's iconoclastic "Swan Lake," the one where the swans are all male and wear feathered pants.

The ballet they will perform is by Kenneth MacMillan, the dramatic choreographer of "Manon" and "Romeo and Juliet" danced here last week by ABT. Instead of a well-known work by this prodigious choreographer, the group will dance "Sea of Troubles," a brooding meditation on Hamlet's guilt made for Dance Advance in 1988 and since then only performed once. The ballet will at least have the virtue of novelty.

In contrast, the five major companies are bringing seminal ballets that define the art form.

The first week the American Ballet Theatre will perform "Fancy Free," the Royal Danish Ballet will dance excerpts from "Napoli," and the Bolshoi will offer a solo and several pas' de deux'.

The second week, beginning March 12, the companies are the Miami City Ballet in "The Four Temperaments," the Kirov Ballet in the Kingdom of the Shades from "La Bayadere," and Mr. Cooper's company in "Sea of Troubles."

The Royal Danish Ballet is dancing the oldest ballet at the festival, excerpts from the third act of August Bournonville's 1842 "Napoli" the Tarantella and Pas de Six.

Bournonville created a technique that is quick, bright and joyous, a style that male dancers, especially, say sharpens and refines their dancing. The choreographer also created a version of "La Sylphide" that is danced by many companies today. The lightness and speed of Bournonville's movements are marked by charm, grace and joie de vivre. That a small country such as Denmark has given the world so many great dancers, from Erik Bruhn, Ib Anderson, and Peter Martins to Nikolaj Hubbe, is testament to the enduring style that Bournonville created.

The Bolshoi Ballet is offering a potpourri of shorter works a solo and several pas' de deux' dating from 1869 to the early 1900s and including a range of important Russian choreographers.

The pas de deux from "Don Quixote," that fiery showpiece of a ballet, was first created by the great Marius Petipa at the Bolshoi, although he spent most of his career in St. Petersburg. It offers the kind of grand challenge at which the Russians excel.

"Le Spectre de la Rose" is a romantic dream, forever linked to Vaslav Nijinsky, the legendary dancer who first danced the title role. It had its premiere in Monte Carlo, commissioned by Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. Choreographer Mikhail Fokine created such important ballets as "Les Sylphides," "Firebird" and "Petrouchka."

The solo "Narcissus" was created by Kasyan Goleizovsky, an avant-garde choreographer in Russia who was an influence on George Balanchine. Being an experimental artist during the Stalin period was not a good career move, and much of his work was suppressed.

The last of the Bolshoi's shorter works will be a pas de deux from "La Fille mal Gardee," created by Alexander Gorsky, choreographer and director of the Bolshoi Ballet early in the 20th century.

American Ballet Theatre rounds out the first program with Jerome Robbins' "Fancy Free." It is an amazing work, a milestone in the development of American dance created by three artists in their early 20s. An instant hit, it combines a jazzy score by Leonard Bernstein, set by Oliver Smith and choreography that brilliantly blended show business and classical ballet. Its influence continues to be felt in the blending of popular music and moves in the work of Paul Taylor, Twyla Tharp and many others.

The second program has two ambitious, longer works, in addition to Mr. Cooper's company in "Sea of Troubles."

The Kirov is dancing one of the most eloquent examples of the magic spell that ballet can cast the Shades scene from Marius Petipa's full-length 1877 "La Bayadere." The entrance of the Shades, 32 women who one by one slowly descend a long, curving ramp, then move together with perfect unity, is mesmerizing.

Petipa, who went on to create "Sleeping Beauty" and parts of "Swan Lake," never outdid the grand symphonic configurations of this scene. Interestingly, it is perhaps the first example of an abstract ballet. There is a plot, but it is really suspended here while the focus is all on the grandeur and beauty of classical dancing.

Another work, also grand in concept, could not be more different. George Balanchine's 1944 "The Four Temperaments" is a peerless example of his take on ballet abstraction, a form of which he is the acknowledged master.

The formal designs Mr. Balanchine creates in "4 T's," as the dancers refer to the ballet, are amazing. The main themes of the ballet are first presented in three striking pas' de deux', and then Mr. Balanchine proceeds to develop this material in fascinating ways.

"The Four Temperaments" is one of his strongest, most inventive works, and its ending when all these themes and variations and inversions are brought together is stunning.

The Miami City Ballet is led by the remarkable Edward Villella, who was a star of the New York City Ballet and inspired Mr. Balanchine to create great roles for him. His company, the youngest of the five major companies in the festival, has a special affinity for the kind of bold, musically alert response called for in "The Four Temperaments."

The achievement of assembling these companies and these dance masterworks for a festival is a tribute to the imagination of Charles Reinhart and the late Stephanie Reinhart, artistic directors of dance for the Kennedy Center, and Michael Kaiser, president of the Center, whose support and leadership is turning Washington into a major destination for dance lovers.


WHAT: International Ballet Festival with the Kirov, Miami City, Bolshoi, Royal Danish Ballet companies, American Ballet Theatre and Adam Cooper Company

WHEN: Tuesday through March 14, evenings at 7:30 p.m., matinees Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 p.m., no evening performances March 8 or March 10 and 11.

WHERE: Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater

TICKETS: $45-$95

PHONE: 202-467-4600

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