- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 11, 2006

It’s the Washington Ballet’s yearly formula dreamed up by artistic director Septime Webre: seven dances, seven minutes long, by seven choreographers — this year, all of them women.

Since ballet companies are awash in women, and the ballerina en pointe is almost their symbol, it’s surprising there are so few prominent female choreographers. This current “7 x 7,” as good if not better as TWB’s past “7 x 7s,” makes a case that women’s recognition as choreographers is long overdue.

The program is also significant because Michele Jimenez, TWB’s de facto prima ballerina, is giving her final performances with the company before she joins the Dutch National Ballet in the fall. (There will be a final chance to see Miss Jimenez when she appears with the Trey McIntyre Project at Wolf Trap Aug. 8.)

The brief spurts of dancing that comprise the program seldom give a chance for a serious or lasting impression, but the evening is lighthearted fun. The studio atmosphere, the elegant white panels that frame the action, the audience’s proximity to the dancers, their attractive honed bodies and the simple but elegant figure-revealing costumes provide a rare chance to see dance up close and personal.

Miss Jimenez, the lone woman in “Trio in White,” gave a compelling, beautifully seamless performance in the high energy role. (She dances the part on alternative nights, so catch her if you can.) At the work’s premiere Thursday evening she was supported with equal intensity by Jonathan Jordan and Jared Nelson.

“Trio,” to a Beethoven score, was by Helen Pickett whose breathless, demanding moves reflected her years dancing in Germany to William Forsythe’s starkly modern choreography.

Jessica Lang, who has danced with Twyla Tharp, did clever things in “Stearc” with three chairs skillfully manipulated by three dancers from TWB’s junior Studio Company to music from a Bartok String Quartet.

Susan Shields produced beautiful images in “Uncertain Song” to a haunting vocal score by Canteloub from his Auvergne song cycle. The dancers — Sona Kharatian Jordan, Morgann Rose, Alvaro Palau and Jared Nelson — were all curved arms, yearning torsos and ecstatic lifts.

In contrast to the taut, small-scale duets, trios and quartets on the rest of the program, Tania Isaac, who hails from the West Indies, used a cast of nine and brought the warmth, languor and music of the tropics to “Shifting to Here.” This was her first work for a ballet company, and as if to underscore putting her toe in new waters, she had the women’s left foot bare with toe shoes on their other foot.

“Alarm Will Sound,” by Sarah Slipper, one of the most intriguing works of the evening, began in a scene with diagonal tapes stretched across the stage. Four dancers: Miss Jordan, Erin Mahoney-Du, Marcelo Martinez and Luis Torres, their backs to the audience, stood in a feral-looking stance. Their movements were insect-like, hands skittering across the tapes, partnering angular, pacing swift. At the end each bit a tape, snapped it apart, and strode off stage.

Originality continued with Jodie Gates’ “Minor Loop,” to music by Franz Joseph Haydn. The duet had three elements — the windswept dancing of Brianne Bland, Jason Hartley’s strong, tender partnering, and Miss Bland’s flowing blonde hair — which was an integral part of the choreography.

The evening concluded with “Pillow Talk,” a goofy spoof by the experienced choreographer Julia Adams. Her four dancers — Elizabeth Gaither, Miss Mahoney-Du, Mr. Jordan and Luis Torres — looked tousled as they staggered on stage with pillows. Soon they were dropping into fetal-like positions, occasionally coming to and hurling pillows in fast succession, whacking each other with gusto. It was fun to watch, looked like fun to do, and its silliness was perhaps Miss Adams’ sly comment that seven minutes wasn’t enough time for anything serious.

At any rate, as popular as such little tidbits seem to be, they have led nowhere. Nothing on these programs has ever entered the repertoire; they’ve all been writ on water.

Maybe it’s time to give choreographers the time to come up with something more lasting. How about “5 x 5,” or even “3 x 3.”?

***

WHAT: The Washington Ballet in “7 x 7”

WHEN: Tuesday through Sunday through June 25, times vary

WHERE: The Washington Ballet’s England Studio Theater, 3515 Wisconsin Avenue NW

TICKETS: $60

PHONE: 202/397-7328

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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