BWW Review: THE NATIONAL BALLET OF CANADA: FORSYTH, KYLIÁN, RATMANSKY at The Kennedy Center
The traveling ballet works that tend to fill the Kennedy Center Opera House are usually the big, brand name costumed works - "The Nutcracker," "Swan Lake" (a version of which played last week; another is coming in April) and "The Sleeping Beauty," which in fact the National Ballet of Canada is doing through Sunday.
But the nearly 70-year-old company from the Great North preceded that celebrated Tchaikovsky work with a couple of evenings of pure dance.
The mere title of William Forsythe's "The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude" indicated the fussy demands of the work, the final movement of Schubert's Ninth Symphony. Still, it was exuberantly handled by the company, with men in violet tights and the women in flattened lime green tutus (by Stephen Galloway) that made them appear as tops. Quickly on and off the blank stage, they performed in bursts of duos, trios, solos, and groups and fluttered off. Though not always the most exacting of ensemble movement, there was a fluidity and aliveness that continued through the 25-minute piece.
During a brief pause, in which electronic music blurted like whale sounds, came another Forsythe, "Approximate Sonata 2016," set to electronic music by Thom Willems. A scrim rose and fell during the piece, and a sign came and went that said "YES," suggesting that maybe this 1996 piece was about consent (the set was by Forsythe as well).
Preceding the piano score, there was a roar that almost made you think a plane en route to nearby Reagan National was flying the Potomac River approach a little too low. A niftier piece of sound effects came when the dancers performed to what seemed to be audio from a fireworks display. Who knew what perfect accompaniment to contemporary dance this could be? Especially one that popped like this company.
Following an intermission, "Petite Mort," created by Czech choreographer Jiří Kylián to commemorate the second centenary of the death of Mozart for the 1991 Salzburg Festival, began with a bit of expressive swordplay from the barely clad half dozen male dancers.
Dressed in earth-toned tights, the men advanced and subsided with the occasional approach of a vertiginous tarp that billowed like a dust cloud, presenting and erasing female dancers beneath.
But the piece had a bit of humor amid its reverie, set to two Mozart piano concertos. In particular, what seemed to be the elaborate black gowns of its six female dancers (by designer Joke Visser) that zipped around the stage effortlessly were indeed on wheels, allowing them to wriggle out from behind them as the stiff dress silhouettes rolled away headless.
A strictly musical interlude of Janaćek's lovely "Idyll for String Orchestra - Adagio" got separate applause for the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra and its Canadian conductor David Briskin.
Soloists Zhenya Vitor on piano and Tim White on trumpet were singled out for their own ovations at the conclusion of the final piece of the evening - Alexi Ratamsky's "Piano Concerto #1" the last of the three segments in his 2013 "Shostakovich Trilogy," paying homage to the Soviet conductor, using his music.
Its dancers wore costumes by Keso Dekker that alternated in color from front to back - in this case burgundy and silver, while a trio of women danced in contrasting red.
On a set (by George Tyspin, lit by Jennifer Tipton), red geometric figures representing the Soviet era - stars, hammers and planes among them - dangled above as the full complement of 16 dancers performed breathlessly below.
Amid the sharp young dancers in the company, Koto Ishihara seemed to receive the highest acclaim on opening night; her duet work with Naoya Ebe, like that between Elena Lobsanova and Harrison James were remarkable in their innovative folding into one another to the music, a triumph of pure dance that didn't need the story or fancy costumes of the piece that would follow later in the week in the hall.
Running time: About two hours with one intermission.
Photo credit: "Piano Concerto #1" by the National Ballet of Canada. Photo by Karolina Kuras.
The National Ballet of Canada performed Forsyth, Kylián and Ratmansky Jan. 28 and 29 at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St NW, where the company's "The Sleeping Beauty" continues through Feb. 2. Information: 202-467-4600 or online.