- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 23, 2008

There is plenty to like about the Washington Ballet’s “7X7,” a yearly program of seven seven-minute premieres by seven choreographers. You see the dancers as the lively, attractive people they are — chatting, stretching, schlepping, pirouetting, warming up un-self-consciously, just as if they’re in a studio.

Which they are.

However, this studio has been transformed into a white gauzy space where they ultimately shed their everyday selves and become magical creatures soaring high in the air or spinning endlessly.

The audience sees this transformation up close and personal, enjoying the freshness of it and the pleasure of seeing beautiful bodies in bare-minimum costumes moving in a nimbus of Joshua Michaels’ glowing lighting.

So far, so good.

But for a serious dance company, art also needs to be part of the equation, at least as much as the seven-minute time frame allows.

Other times there have been memorable moments, especially last year. The difference between then and now is twofold: First, last year there was an inspiring theme, the works of Shakespeare, that choreographers could dig into in many ways, sometimes tackling overall motifs, such as Hamlet’s indecision, sometimes focusing on a single moment in a play.

Second, the roster of choreographers — including such major figures as Karole Armitage, Stephen Petronio, Trey McIntyre and Brian Reeder — was the strongest Artistic Director Septime Webre has assembled in the five-year span of “7X7.”

This year the subject is “Love Duets,” an overdone subject that seems to have offered the choreographers scant inspiration. Mostly they just do their own thing; love as they portray it seems lacking in tenderness, nuance and excitement.

It was not till the last dance, Mark Dendy’s “Last Night on Earth,” set to a heavy-metal score, that sex even briefly raised its head, followed by a high-energy romp led by the company’s two pyrotechnic whizzes, Jason Hartley and Jonathan Jordan.

The opening dance was a moony duet by Stephen Mills with all the substance of a Hallmark greeting card. Next followed another, more fruitful encounter danced by Brianne Bland and Runqiao Du, choreographed by Edward Liang, who included the famous “swimming” motif from Balanchine’s “Apollo.”

A stage full of rose petals — with more fluttering gracefully from the hands of Laura Urgelles, Elizabeth Gaither and Luis Torres — was part of a vision (marred by sounds of a tinkling piano coming from an adjoining classroom) created by local artist Nejla Yatkin. A cadre of dancers, armed with wide push brooms, then swept the stage bare, providing an amusing coda.

TWB dancer Jared Nelson choreographed a take on modern romance that felt as timely as a daily gossip column.

Nicolo Fonte’s “Aria 1 & 2” stood out for its firm, welcome sense of structure, the grounding of its George Frideric Handel score and Mr. Jordan’s arrestingly slow, quiet pacing. As Mark Morris, among others, reminds us, walking can be the most eloquent movement of all.

The giddy silliness of Adam Hoagland’s “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye,” which takes its movement themes literally from the title, was given a zestful performance by Jade Payette, Jason Hartley, Morgann Rose and newcomer Tamas Krizsa, notable for his naturalness and brooding good looks.

A thought for future “7X7s”: How about something meatier, maybe Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” or Stephen Sondheim’s musicals?


WHAT: Washington Ballet in “7X7: Love Duets”

WHEN: Tonight through March 9 at various hours

WHERE:England Studio Theater, 3515 Wisconsin Ave. NW


PHONE: 202/397-SEAT

WEB SITE:www.washingtonballet.org

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