- The Washington Times - Friday, June 13, 2008

Starting last weekend and continuing through Sunday, the Kennedy Center is offering bright, illuminating pieces from the worldwide art of ballet - and in doing so, attracting new, enthusiastic audiences to the feast.

Last Friday through Sunday, “Proteges” gave theatergoers a glimpse of the next generation of talented, well-trained, about-to-be stars. Four of the leading dance academies in the world offered an enticing look at their individual styles. The choreography was musty in the overly long first half of the program, where the Royal Ballet School wafted through a graceful but dull “Galanteries” by David Bintley, and the Paris Opera School danced Leo Staats’ innocuous “Soir de Fete.” The ardent young dancers deserved better.

The School of American Ballet, the New York City Ballet’s school, brought a needed and welcome moment of great art as it performed George Balanchine’s “Concerto Barocco” with beautiful, selfless aplomb.

The program closed with students from the Bolshoi Ballet Academy tearing up the stage with the pyrotechnics of Marius Petipa’s “Paquita.” It was all good fun; the Bolshoi’s reputation for athletic brilliance looks intact with dancers like this on the horizon.

By midweek, however, we were in the middle of the center’s next, even more ambitious venture: presenting nine of this country’s finest companies for a week-long celebration of what ballet looks like today across this vast continent.

At Tuesday evening’s opening, the program began grandly with Mr. Balanchine’s enthralling “Serenade,” given an ardent performance by Ballet West, which hails from Salt Lake City. The ballet demands vivid dancing by a large energetic corps (it has the most exciting corps work I know) and a rich, understated understanding of its haunting subtext. Ballet West met these challenges with zest, a tribute to Victoria Simon’s staging.

Next, the Pennsylvania Ballet performed “In the Night,” a trio of duets by Jerome Robbins set to four nocturnes by Frederic Chopin. Created for the likes of Patricia McBride, Peter Martins and Violette Verdy - all vivid, individual performers - its simplicity places great demands on style. The Philadelphia company, for the most part, adequately performed the steps. Yet the dancers need to go to a much deeper level, making the piece their own and capturing the fragrance and uniqueness of three very different couples.

The Houston Ballet had the grand-finale spot and made the most of it. Performing to a throbbing modern score by Michael Torke, choreographer and artistic director Stanton Welch began with a striking set of dark geometric shapes and inventive lighting. For long stretches, Mr. Welch’s choreography seemed bold but repetitive and not very imaginative. Eventually, though, the driving rhythms, sheer force of the dancers’ athletic prowess and go-for-broke actions of his remarkable corps of male dancers (Where did he get them all?) built to a cumulative climax, a latter-day “Bolero.”

On Thursday, a second trio of companies - the Pacific Northwest Ballet, the Kansas City Ballet and the Washington Ballet - took the stage, and will repeat their program on Saturday. The week closes with the Boston and Joffrey ballets and the Oregon Ballet Theatre, performing Friday evening and Sunday afternoon.

WHAT: Ballet Across America

WHEN: Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 1:30 p.m.

WHERE: Kennedy Center Opera House

PHONE: 202/467-4600

TICKETS: $29 to $85

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