- The Washington Times - Friday, January 23, 2004

The Washington Ballet opened at the top of its form Thursday evening with a galvanizing performance of “The Four Temperaments” on a program celebrating George Balanchine’s 100th birthday. The company has danced the work before, but never with such splendid assurance throughout its ranks, from corps to soloists.

Also on view were two company premieres: Mr. Balanchine’s atmospheric pas de deux “Sonatine” and the first act of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Mr. Balanchine once declared, in an oft-quoted remark, that there are no mothers-in-law in ballet. By that he meant, “Choreographers, stay away from complicated plots.” Part of the fun of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is indeed the quirky complication of its plot and its complex cast of characters, but the familiarity of the Shakespeare play helps, and Mr. Balanchine’s choreography handles the plot with marvelous dispatch and clarity.

This “Dream” is a big production that involves the company, its school and its junior Studio Company as well. Sets and costumes are borrowed from Santiago, Chile, and they add a glamorous, over-the-top aura, but with a somewhat overpowering stage design and a scattering of garishly colored costumes.

The ballet has everything — charm, wit, beautiful dancing, eccentric characters and a bevy of small children who race around the stage as little woodland creatures in Mr. Balanchine’s breezy, eye-catching patterns.

Fairies and mortals mix in this woodland scene, the fairies led by the king and queen, Oberon and Titania, whose amusingly repeated quarrel suggests they have been at each other’s throats for some time.

They are rich roles. Oberon calls for fiendishly difficult, dazzling allegro dancing, and Jonathan Jordan, a fine classicist, made a valiant stab at it. The luminous Michele Jimenez played Titania with beaming sweetness rather than the regal grandeur Mr. Balanchine seems to have envisioned.

The amusingly mixed-up mortals were danced by Laura Urgelles, Elizabeth Gaither, Jared Nelson and Alvaro Palau; Brianne Bland was a shimmering Butterfly, Erin Mahoney an impressive Queen of the Amazons, and Luis Torres an unusually ardent partner to Titania.

As for Puck, responsible for much of the mischief that went on in this “Dream,” Jason Hartley was splendidly witty in a performance that sometimes veered into overkill.

With its music by Ravel and French flavor, “Sonatine” was an apt program choice in light of the Kennedy Center’s current Festival of France. The evanescent charm of this pas de deux calls for dancers able to bring a depth of subtle shading and nuanced response to the music, played onstage by pianist Christian Bonvin.

Miss Jimenez, lovely in the role, is fast developing those qualities. Her partner, Mr. Torres, new to the company this year, is an impressive dancer, but the two are not well-matched physically. Mr. Torres’ unflattering costume was no help.

It would be wonderful if the company on each program would offer the delight of seeing a dance set to live music — say a piano or small ensemble score.

“The Four Temperaments,” the program opener, is a masterpiece of construction and design, beginning with three themes stated by three couples and continuing with four sections that develop those motifs with brilliant clarity.

“Four Temperaments” began to take flight with Mr. Hartley’s impassioned solo in the opening Melancholic Variation. It is always a pleasure to see this fine performer in a role that goes beyond his pyrotechnic dazzle and stretches him as an artist.

The intensity of tone was maintained through glowing performances by Miss Bland, Runqiao Du, Mr. Nelson, Miss Mahoney, the three theme couples and the razor-sharp corps.

***1/2

WHAT: Washington Ballet in all-Balanchine program

WHEN: Today at 2:30 and 8 p.m., tomorrow at 2:30 p.m.

WHERE: Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater

TICKETS: $48 to $80

PHONE: 202/467-4600

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