BWW Review: THE WASHINGTON BALLET Celebrates Septime Webre's Legacy in Director's Cut
On the evening of Thursday, February 25th 2016 at the Eisenhower Theater in Washington, DC, Director's Cut began with a standing ovation for Artistic Director Septime Webre who just announced his departure from the Washington Ballet after a seventeen-year tenure. Webre has transformed the Ballet from a sleepy little troupe into a respected regional company. Director's Cut shows off Webre's ambition and many of The Washington Ballet company's strengths. The evening featured three works by Webre, William Forsythe, and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa that were tied together by athleticism and physicality.
In his introduction, Webre explained that the concept of cycles influenced his creation of State of Wonder. Set to Bach's iconic Goldberg Variations, Webre contrasted beautiful moments of physicality including soaring leaps, lifts, and long leg extensions with moments of levity. The audience particularly enjoyed a movement that began with six male dancers moving around the stage in stylized jogging. Music was front and center throughout State of Wonder, which featured the live performance of Ryo Yanagitani on the piano and Todd Fickley on the harpsichord. Each played on a raised, mobile platform, set on the stage. Breathing new life into the trope of the accompaniment becoming a part of a piece's choreography, the dancers deftly wheeled Yanagitani and Fickley on, off, and spinning around the stage much to the audience's delight.
In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated invigorated the ballet world when it premiered in 1987. Today it remains relevant and feels like a breath of fresh air compared to the current trend of fluid, barefoot contemporary works. Instead, In the Middle is angular and sharp. Forsythe costumed his dancers in practice clothes and stripped the stage of any set pieces or curtains. This bareness allows the audience to focus on the dancers and their movements, which are meant to look both awkward and hard. Forsythe's choreography is not given but earned. The Washington Ballet executed this piece well and the result was engrossing.
In Prism, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa explores the many changing dimensions of Keith Jarrett's The Köln Concert. Ochoa's choreography follows the music's lead as the piece begins with an empty stage and the audience is alone with the music. Then starting with one dancer, more enter and radiate outward into different colors and different vignettes. The tone changes like a prism casting different reflections. The piece ends with the company in unison; all of the dancers come together to create white light.
Located in the heart of American politics, it is not a surprise that Webre has left a political legacy of his own at The Washington Ballet, which is particularly evident in Director's Cut. Of Cuban descent, Webre has prioritized diversity in his company's membership. Further, by including Prism in the program, Webre ensured that his company was not focused on telling only one story. Unfortunately, it is still quite rare for ballet companies to feature a female choreographer. Throughout the evening, these diverse artists were not presented as a novelty, but woven seamlessly into the rich tapestry of the event. Webre need not and did not sacrifice any artistic excellence in rejecting ballet's monochromatic status quo. Webre's legacy with The Washington Ballet is clearly worthy of opening night's standing ovation.
Photo credit: media4artists, Theo Kossenas