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Steve Sucato
Performance Reviews
The Kennedy Center
Pacific Northwest Ballet
United States
Washington D.C.
Washington, DC

Ballet Across America - Program 2: Pacific Northwest Ballet, Kansas City Ballet, The Washington Ballet

by Steve Sucato
June 12, 2008
The Kennedy Center
2700 F Street, NW
Washington, DC 20566
(800) 444-1324

Featured Dance Company:

Pacific Northwest Ballet
Pacific Northwest Ballet (office)
The Phelps Center
301 Mercer Street
Seattle, WA 98109

The return of Ballet Across America to The Kennedy Center brought together again some of this country's finest regional ballet companies for a series of three programs showcasing the art form's diversity.

Program 2 featured performances by Pacific Northwest Ballet, Kansas City Ballet and hometown favorites The Washington Ballet.

Based on Catalonian folk tales with music by Maria del Mar Bonet, Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato's award-winning "Jardi Tancat" (1983) is a contemporary dance work paying homage to peasant hardship and fortitude. Pacific Northwest Ballet's performance of the work however evoked hardship of another sort, an initial lack of spirit.

In silence six barefoot dancers arose from bowed prayer-like postures, unfolding into standing positions then arched backs. This simple movement phrase was repeated several times with a calm deliberation. But instead of embodying Duato's understated choreography, PNB's dancers appeared to be simply going through its motions.

Duato's choreography for the work does not rely on feats of technical prowess to achieve its brilliance. More so it demands an immersion of its dancers in a way of thinking, moving, and breathing to reveal its uncanny honesty and elegance. Fortunately by the end of the work's second movement PNB's dancers found their legs and the work's spirit. Perhaps just needing the passionate cries of del Mar Monet's recorded singing to awaken them.

PNB's dancers shuffled along hunched over and compacted in short fast walks spreading their bodies open and bounding into synchronous group dances that were tempered with emotional angst. By work's end PNB had given a respectable, if uninspired showing of the work.
While PNB's performance failed to inspire, William Whitener's Kansas City Ballet was absolutely luscious in Todd Bolender's 1955 classic "The Still Point".

Set to excerpts of Claude Debussy's String Quartet and performed live by a house orchestra, Kansas City Ballet's compliment of six young dancers in the ballet moved and reacted with a maturity most twenty-something dancers are incapable of. The dancers wonderfully revealed Bolender's emotional characters in "The Still Point's" tale of love and heartache.

The neo-classical gem comparable in style to an Antony Tudor ballet, centered on an anguished young woman, danced superbly by Kimberly Cowen, whose heart lay in turmoil and whose friends whispered of her plight behind her back. The ballet's trio of women sprinkled soft footwork across the stage like raindrops and melted comfortably into Bolender's supple choreography with their male counterparts.

The evening's finest offering was highlighted by a delicate and dreamy pas de deux performed expertly by Cowen and partner Juan Pablo Trujillo that was so delicate it felt as if it could shatter from the slightest bit of unintended pressure.

Closing the program was The Washington Ballet's performance of Twyla Tharp's popular "Nine Sinatra Songs" (1982) which was at best patchy.

Tharp's overexposed dance work that has been performed by over a dozen ballet companies in the past few years, mixed her grounded brand of modern ballet with ballroom dance.

Washington Ballet's troubles with the piece began with the first number "Softly as I leave you". In it a visibly constricted Runqiao Du, looking as if his suit were too tight, partnered Jade Payette in a clumsy waltz. In a ballet where elegance and tongue-in-cheek humor are often paired, even Tharp could not have envisioned the lack of grace several of Washington Ballet's dancers showed in trying to waltz.

Of the nine vignettes in the ballet, each set to a Sinatra classic such as "Strangers in the Night" and "My Way"; two stood out (as they always do). The first, "One For My Baby (And One For The Road), featured an inebriated couple danced charmingly by Erin Mahoney-Du and Luis R. Torres, cleverly fawning and falling over each other. The second pitted dancers Brianne Bland and Jared Nelson grappling in "That's Life", Tharp's gum-smacking, push and pull domestic dispute where attitude and Bland were aggressively yanked about the stage with delightful results.
Kansas City Ballet's Kimberly Cowen and Juan Pablo Trujillo in The Still Point.

Kansas City Ballet's Kimberly Cowen and Juan Pablo Trujillo in The Still Point.

Photo © & courtesy of Carol Pratt

The Washington Ballet's Morgan Rose and Jonathan Jordan in Nine Sinatra Songs.

The Washington Ballet's Morgan Rose and Jonathan Jordan in Nine Sinatra Songs.

Photo © & courtesy of Carol Pratt

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