BWW Review: Washington Ballet's BALANCHINE, RATMANSKY, THARP a Brilliant Evening of Dances Old and New
The Washington Ballet's latest program, on view through this weekend, is especially rich with the work of three great choreographers on display; this talented ensemble has never looked more lively and inspired, and it is a joyful evening not to be missed.
It all begins auspiciously with George Balanchine's Allegro Brillante, a celebration of the maestro's love of dance set to Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto #3. Led by Eunwon Lee and Brooklyn Mack, the ensemble leaps and flows its way through a truly romantic score, compressing (or so it seems) the entire repertoire of classical ballet's gestural vocabulary into a single movement. As a stand-alone piece it offers everything traditional ballet-lovers could possibly hope for, and Washington Ballet delivers with a faithful revival of this piece. Unfortunately, the reliance on recorded music may have marred its full impact.
To my mind the highlight of the evening came next, hard on Balanchine: Alexei Ratmansky's Seven Sonatas. Set to the music of Baroque composer Domenico Scarlatti, Ratmansky begins with the classical repertoire as his foundation but then takes it to the stratosphere. The familiar gestures and tropes are still there but are delivered with such delicacy, precision and passion that it completely revises your idea of what ballet is, and what it can be. Along with everyone else I found myself transfixed, gasping with each nuance and smiling with every revelation as Gian Carlo Perez and Sona Kharatian led a spirited ensemble through an exotic, modern wonderland of movement. The piece was accompanied by Ryo Yanagitani on piano, a reminder of just how indispensable live music can be to the ballet's reception.
What was especially strange was to realize that Ratmansky took a highly technical, dare I say technocratic piano score (the Baroque abounds in this stuff) and gave it more passion and emotion than I had seen in the Allegro, which had a passionate orchestral score but seemed to lack emotional specificity. When Tchaikovsky was at his most emotional, directly quoting Beethoven's "Pathetique" Sonata for example, I noted that Balanchine seemed to take little notice of the shift, instead preferring to emphasize fluidity and virtuosity to do the communicating for him. Classical ballet's system of symbols may still resonate with traditional audiences, but can come off as little more than show to the untrained eye. As a result Balanchine's seemed the more abstract approach, whereas Ratmansky's was far more direct and, because of its direct expression of emotion, more compelling. It's rare to see audiences jumping to their feet after just the second piece on the program, but this one brought many out of their seats in appreciation.
Rounding out the evening was the crowd-pleasing Nine Sinatra Songs, Twyla Tharp's suite dedicated to the musical genius of "Old Blue Eyes." With men and women decked out in Oscar de la Renta's fine formal wear (with, yes, high heels for the women), it was high ballroom for the rest of the program. There were many fine turns here, so many that it seems unfair to single out a single pas de deux; but the most hilarious by far was Sona Kharatian and Tamás Krizsa's drunken romp through "Set 'em Up Joe" which had them adopting the clumsy moves of a couple deep into the evening and, like Frankie himself, clearly reaching that 'quarter to three' moment when you really should be packing up but can't help yourself. Santo Loquasto's setting, with massive mirrored ball and sequined curtain, were a perfect match, creating a distinct Vegas-like ambiance. Tharp's moves haven't aged a bit, and it was a joy to see the Washington Ballet cut the rug.
This evening of dance was one of the most satisfying I've seen in some time, and I look forward to where Artistic Director Julie Kent will take this company in the coming years.
Production Photo: the ensemble of Ratmansky's Seven Sonatas, from left to right: Gian Carlo Perez, Sona Kharatian, Corey Landolt, Maki Onuki, Jonathan Jordan and Venus Villa.
Photo by Theo Kossenas for Media4 Artists.
Performance Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes with one intermission.
Balanchine, Ratmansky, Tharp will be performed April 26-30 at the Warner Theatre, 513 13th Street NW, Washington, D.C.
Tickets can be purchased at the Warner Theatre, by calling (202) 397-7328 or by visiting: http://www.ticketmaster.com/promo/o3jy0c (if online, be sure to ask for Balanchine, Ratmansky, Tharp).