BWW Dance Review: High Energy BOWIE & QUEEN at The Washington Ballet
Like the musical icons who inspired the work, The Washington Ballet's program BOWIE & QUEEN toys with the art form - respectful of classical roots yet pushing forward. The pieces innovate, celebrate and they have fun. While BOWIE & QUEEN is full of heart and poetry, the irreverent and humorous moments remind us all to lighten up and enjoy.
The program features two works, both company premieres. Opening the evening is DANCING IN THE STREET, choreographed by Edwaard Liang, which celebrates the music of David Bowie. Original music composed by Gabriel Gaffney Smith was inspired by Bowie's artistry, introspection and joy. The recorded score is augmented with live music performed on stage by violinist Machiko Ozawa (S&R Artist-in-Residence) and cellist Suzanne Orban. Intermixed with the original music are recordings by David Bowie, a pair of very early-career works "Good Morning Girl" and "I'm Not Losing Sleep" and culminating with the mid 80s cover of "Dancing in the Street."
DANCING IN THE STREET renders a modern, crowded city street scene and contemporary feel, but does so with traditional ballet partnering and with women en pointe - all choices that highlight the precision and strength of the dancers. This isn't a delicate beauty - it's a sassy and humorous expression of power, form, and the pure joy of dancing. There are quirky moments like an overcoat-wearing trio competing to catch the eye of a passerby. Tamás Krizsa, costumed in white, is at the center of the story, weaving through the changing crowds and trying to garner the courage just to speak with a young woman, much less to ask her to dance. The rest of the company is costumed by Erin E. Rollins in autumnal jewel tones. Les Dickert's lighting played with shadow to highlight muscle and depth, yet we are still able to see dancers' expressions and subtle movement.
MERCURY HALF-LIFE, with choreography by Trey McIntyre and music by Queen, blasted into the second half of the program. Daniel Roberge's white patent-leather tap shoes announced from the start that the work would revel in fun and unorthodox moments. Sprinkled among jetés and fouettés were vogueing and vaudeville. The ten dancers, all in white with peeks of red accents, grouped and reformed, coupled and broke apart, in an enthralling visual parade. Weaving together the magnificent movement was the voice of Freddie Mercury, also soaring, dipping, commanding, and playing. Not to be excluded, the audience joined in with its own thunk-thunk-clap when the infectious beats of "We Will Rock You" were heard.
BOWIE & QUEEN is the last Washington Ballet program offering under the artistic direction of Septime Webre (although Webre's collaboration with Imagination Stage to fuse dance and theatre in a world premiere adaptation of THE LITTLE MERMAID will be on stage in Bethesda this summer). Before the BOWIE & QUEEN opening night audience Webre, who was greeted with a standing ovation, admitted the moment was emotional. Yet at this time of transition, Webre still continues to open the doors to new ballet enthusiasts with the inclusion of work such as BOWIE & QUEEN. The current program is exciting not just for merging powerful choreography with the musical inspirations of our time, but for its potential in building new audiences for ballet. For those who have found it hard to connect with narrative ballets of sylphs or Wilis, will find plenty that is approachable in this contemporary chapter that uses the movement vocabulary of ballet while embracing pop culture influences. Ballet offerings tend complete their run in just a few quick days, but BOWIE & QUEEN will be on stage at The Kennedy Center a somewhat luxurious week-and-a-half through May 15. For ballet veterans or newcomers to dance, the energy, precision, beauty and high spirits make BOWIE & QUEEN something to experience.
Runtime: 2:10 including one intermission.
BOWIE & QUEEN runs through May 15 with shows on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 7:30 and 1:30 matinees on Saturday and Sunday. The production is at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts' Eisenhower Theater. For tickets or for more information please visit The Washington Ballet's website here.
Photos by Media4Artists, Theo Kossenas. At top: Jonathan Jordan; center: Sona Kharatian and Tamas Krizsa; bottom: Venus Villa and Brooklyn Mack.