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BWW Review: BALLET ACROSS AMERICA at The Kennedy Center

Ballet is always beautiful, but too often it also feels inaccessible and outdated. With Ballet Across America, The Kennedy Center banishes these concerns with a program full of relevance and joy. It's rare that I exit a performance too giddy to speak, but that is exactly how I felt after witnessing the program curated by Misty Copeland. (Also running in rep is a program curated by Justin Peck). Copeland has brought together three diverse companies who differ in style but share an impressive level of talent and passion. The cumulative effect is a vivid reminder of how effecting ballet can be.

Nashville Ballet's Concerto, with original music by piano pop master Ben Folds, opens the evening. The music and dance is classical mixed with jazz; perfect technique tinged with theatricality. While there's no concrete narrative to the piece, each principal dancer is full of character. Judson Veach is brilliant as a heroic leading man, and the featured trio of Kayla Rowser, Owen Thorne, and Jon Upleger is beautiful and tender. The company moves as one with absolute precision through complicated formations, weaving between the principal dancers. It's a true display of virtuosity.

The Black Iris Project's Madiba tells the story of Nelson Mandela in the form of a classical narrative ballet. It's thrilling to see the form brought out of the fairy tale forest and into the reality of apartheid. Andile Ndlovu and Daphne M. Lee shine as Nelson and Winnie Mandela; their chemistry is palpable. Although the piece is short compared to Nelson Mandela's long life, Ndlovu captures the transition from young organizer to confident leader. The company translates riots and police brutality into graceful movement, highlighting how relevant Mandela's story still is today.

Star Dust, by Complexions Contemporary Ballet, is an exuberant salute to David Bowie. There's glitter and body paint, gold curtains and purple lighting, and even a little ballet drag (men on pointe, of course). Each song is led by a different male dancer who takes on the Bowie persona, lip-syncing and weaving in and out of the ensemble. The choreography is both athletic and sexy and features some incredible partner work. This is the kind of performance that makes you want to get up and dance yourself. The Thin White Duke would surely be proud.

Ballet Across America is dance at its best. It's an electric performance that reminded me how joyful and powerful movement can be. I highly recommend you catch a performance before the end of the run on April 23rd.

Photo Credit: Teresa Wood

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