- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 25, 2009

England’s Royal Ballet opened a week’s engagement at the Kennedy Center on Tuesday with an electrifying jolt, the most interesting ballet program seen here this year.

The Royal had not been here for three years; in that time, it seems to have acquired a potent avant-garde thrust, not the first trait one connects with this company. The program opened and closed with ballets that were fresh, innovative and clarion calls for the vibrancy of 21st-century art.

The first, “Chroma,” is by resident choreographer Wayne McGregor; the concluding work, “DGV: Danse a Grand Vitesse,” is by Christopher Wheeldon, whose works have been performed here by the New York City Ballet and the Washington Ballet.

Sandwiched between was “A Month in the Country,” choreographed by Frederick Ashton, a dominant figure in the company’s development. Created 33 years ago, the ballet captures some of the most endearing qualities of the English style - the quick footwork, airy upper body and ability to sketch vivid characters with ease.

Ivan Turgenev’s play captured Mr. Ashton’s interest with its amusing and touching story of an older woman’s longing for the love of a younger man.

The production was perfection, with its picture of a country home looking out on a bucolic setting, the romantic sweep of its Chopin score and the nuanced behavior of its characters falling in and out of love. Most of the dancers filled their parts faithfully, but there was a brittleness to Zenaida Yanowsky’s portrayal of the central older woman who realized that the passions of youth would be hers no more. Only at the end did we feel the poignancy of her situation.

The opening and closing ballets, with their driving rhythms and angular movements, were in stark contrast to the subtle aims of Mr. Ashton’s work.

“Chroma” was distinguished by the unity of the collaborators. They were all on the same page, from the stripped-down, bold movements that made much of sky-high leg extensions and swift, manipulative partnering to the astringent score and muted earth tones of the costumes, lighting and set design. It created an airless, harsh and fascinating world but not a world where one would want to live for long.

“DGV” was, quite simply, a knockout. It’s a strong work by a choreographer comfortable with employing large groups and keeping them in constant motion. The set is a rather mysterious background of what look like huge rolls of dark rubber that later turn somewhat translucent; dwarfed by its size, the dancers disappear and reappear in its folds.

Four couples emerge, sometimes in solitary pairs, while a large group of dancers can be seen at intervals in the background.

The piece is long; the score by Michael Nyman is loud; the dancing is taut and forceful. Huge energy is unleashed and sustained at great length.

All is not just noise and bombast; a work of imagination is created with this scene that reminds us of the violence unleashed on the streets of today’s world. When the action stopped suddenly, it seemed as if a spaceship had crashed and people were dancing on the moon, lost in the cosmos.

The audience gave the work a prolonged ovation.

The Royal Ballet next turns to “Manon,” a full-length work by Kenneth MacMillan. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

★★★½

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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