The Washington Ballet Balanchine Review
February 26, 2023 | Kennedy Center – Washington, D.C., USA
There were plenty of enjoyable moments to savor during the performance of the The Washington Ballet at the Kennedy Center in February. The company brought on the stage of the Eisenhower Theater a new quadruple bill, titled “Balanchine!” which Julie Kent, Artistic Director of the company, described as
“a dream program celebrating the genius and beauty that Mr. Balanchine brought to our art form.”
This sophisticated and ambitious program included some of the most beloved classics created by the great choreographer: Concerto Barocco, Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, Apollo, and Theme and Variations.
It’s no small task for the dancers of the Washington Ballet to tackle a program of such high degree of stylistic and technical complexity. Yet the company rose to the occasion. Watching the performance, one could feel that the dancers were striving for perfection and cherishing every moment of being on the stage.
There was so much youthful vitality and joy in their dancing – it felt captivating. No wonder the audience gave a standing ovation at the end of the show.
The Washington Ballet Balanchine Review
Concerto Barocco is one of Balanchine’s shining gems. Set to the celestial sounds of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Concerto in D minor for Two Violins, this ballet brilliantly reflects in motion the knotty polyphonic structure of the music, offering a visual interpretation of Bach’s dazzling interplay of the two solo violins with the chamber orchestra and with each other.
In the Washington Ballet’s rendition, Concerto Barocco had a special air of vulnerability and ingenuousness, evoking the occasion for which the ballet was originally choreographed. (This piece was created in 1941 as an exercise for the students at the School of American Ballet.)
In the leading roles, mirroring the voices of the two violins, Brittany Stone and Adelaide Clauss beautifully captured the innate musicality and buoyancy of the choreography as they glided through the steps with precision and fine articulation.
Even if at times their performance looked more cautious than spontaneous, the dancers made an admirable effort to convey the invigorating spirit and airiness of Balanchine’s masterpiece. In the long, languid pas de deux, partnered by Ariel Martinez, Stone looked particularly graceful and eloquent.
Yet the ensemble performance on Sunday matinee came across as somewhat tentative and bland. The eight-member all-female corps de ballet holds a very important place in this piece: the supporting ballerinas almost never leave the stage and often do the same steps as the leads.
Alas, however enthusiastic and vibrant, the young dancers of the corps looked too timid and restrained to do full justice to the piece, their footwork often lacking crispness and polish.
After a short pause, Ayano Kimura and Gilles Delellio delivered a splendid account of Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, a sparkling jewel of a ballet, set to musical excerpts from Swan Lake. Dancing with authority and élan, the effervescent Kimura stole the audience’s hearts. Her vitality and exuberance, together with her impeccable technique and clarity of her dancing, made this duet a standout of the program.
Balanchine considered his Apollo – a ballet created for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in 1928 – as a turning point in his life. This piece changed the great ballet master’s view about ballet as an art form and launched his legendary collaboration with Igor Stravinsky.
Over the years, Balanchine would continuously revisit Apollo, fine-tuning the choreography with regards to personal qualities and strengths of his dancers. He also would revise the ballet in its relation to the music, streamlining and eliminating what he deemed as “extraneous layers of visual and narrative elements.”
The most significant editing of Apollo was done in 1979 when Balanchine discarded the ballet’s original Prologue which depicts Apollo’s birth and eliminated the ballet’s finale in which the young god ascends to the Mount Parnassus as a leader and protector of the arts.
It was this abbreviated version of Apollo that The Washington Ballet presented in this program.
On Sunday matinee, in the title role, the stately Masanori Takiguchi brought to his character loads of composure and introspection. He was a wise and dignified Apollo from the start.
A muscular and finely built dancer, Takiguchi turned his hero to a symbol of strength and might. The sculptural poses and high-flying leaps – a trademark of this ballet – in his performance made a particular impression.
The lively and petite Maki Onuki as Terpsichore danced with a great sense of musicality and timing. A technical marvel, she stood out for her impeccable footwork and the vividness of characterization, her duet with Apollo filled with gentleness and lovely delicacy.
Nicole Graniero was an animated and charismatic Polyhymnia; and the supple Victoria Arrea as Calliope brought a charming playfulness and sparkle to her role.
The program culminated with Balanchine’s 1947 masterpiece Theme and Variations. The 26-member strong cast, led by Eun Won Lee and Gian Carlo Perez, navigated the demanding choreographic inventions of Balanchine with assurance and aplomb. Lee and Perez delivered an especially memorable performance, wonderfully accentuating in their dancing the regal nature of the ballet.
Featured Photo for this Washington Ballet Balanchine review of Gian Carlo Perez, Adelaide Clauss, and company in George Balanchine’s Apollo. Photo by xmbphotography.
Leave a Reply