The Washington Ballet NEXTsteps Review: Haunting, Uplifting, and Playful
The Washington Ballet NEXTsteps Review Review October 12, 2022 | Sidney Harman Hall – Washington, D.C., USA
The Washington Ballet opened its fall season at the Sidney Harman Hall in Washington D.C. with a new installment of NEXTsteps, a program that presents brand-new ballets created specifically for the company by established and aspiring choreographers. Over the past few years, this annual series has become an anticipated and beloved event of the Washington dance season.
NEXTsteps is a brainchild of Julie Kent, a former American Ballet Theatre star who assumed the leadership of The Washington Ballet after retiring from ABT in the summer of 2015. For Kent, who has curated this series from the start, the most important aspect of NEXTsteps is
“shedding light on and making space for new talents while celebrating the magic and mystery of creative process.”
By inviting talented choreographers to create original work for The Washington Ballet’s dancers, Kent fosters their professional growth and provides them with a unique chance “to interpret and explore their artistry through developing and expanding their artistic range and point of view.”
Three ballets, all varied in mood, style, and music, comprised this season’s eclectic NEXTsteps: the somber and haunting All the Little Boxes by Dana Genshaft, the sunny and uplifting Dowland Dances by Silas Farley and the witty and playful re:member by Andile Ndlovu.
All the Little Boxes is an eerie piece, accompanied by a cacophony of electronic sounds, its choreography pierced with undercurrents of parting and goodbyes. Themes of melancholy and anguish are intrinsically woven into the fabric of the dance.
This is the third work created for The Washington Ballet’s dancers by Genshaft, a former soloist with San Francisco Ballet who is currently on the faculty of the San Francisco Ballet School.
Dressed in chic gray costumes (solid pants and sheer shirts), the cast inhabits Genshaft’s enigmatic and solemn world with astute fortitude and determination, their movements alternating from ragged and jerky to fluid and silky.
The lighting designer, Brian Jones, illuminates the darkened stage with a kaleidoscope of geometrical shapes, mostly squares and rectangles; the stage design echoes the ballet’s title and create a wondrous atmosphere of its own.
“All the Little Boxes” is an intriguing piece, abound with interesting concepts and ideas. But I wasn’t particularly moved by it: the ballet felt emotionally hollow. And the choreography looked somewhat generic, betrayed even more by the gloomy pulsating electronic score.
Airy, bouncy, and uplifting, Silas Farley’s “Dowland Dances” felt like a breath of fresh air and a welcome contrast to the previous piece.
Farley, a former New York City Ballet dancer, has chosen a winning soundtrack for this work: a collection of Baroque songs and poems from Songs from the Labyrinth, a studio album recorded by British superstar Sting featuring music by John Dowland (1563–1626).
Dowland Dances unfolds in a series of vignettes, each accompanied by a song or spoken words, performed by Sting, his voice rasping and marvelous.
Here the choreographic lexicon is thoroughly classical, inspired and influenced by the genius of George Balanchine. Farley, who had spent his dancing career at NYCB, shows a solid grasp of the Balanchine’s trademark style of neoclassical ballet with its impeccable architectural geometry and astute musicality – a style in which only music and movement express essential meaning, soul, and beauty of the choreography.
The Washington Ballet dancers reveled in this finely crafted ballet. I particularly admired the virtuosic turns of the entire ensemble in the opening section titled “Can She Excuse My Wrongs.”
There was a visible emotional spark in a lovely duet set to “Come Again,” performed with a wonderful sense of lyricism by Adelaide Clauss and Gian Carlo Perez.
And the wispy and pliant Maki Onuki danced with admirable precision and spirited abandon in “From thence I went to the Landgrave of Hessen…” and “My Lord Willoughby’s Welcome Home.”
Andile Ndlovu’s “re:member” culminated the evening on a cheerful note.
Ndlovu is a veteran-dancer with The Washington Ballet, and this ballet is his fourth commission for the company.
In re:member, created for a cast of six dancers (three women and three men), the choreographer taps into his childhood memories, recalling the time when “play and fun were as natural as breathing.”
There was so much to admire in this charming ballet. Here the choreography looked at once comic, playful and intimate, with the dancers visibly enjoying all the fun activities and evoking children at play.
I thought that the middle section of the piece somewhat lost its momentum and focus.
But in the ballet’s invigorating finale, the action literally bounced back to life with the dancers unleashing their inner child as they scattered around the stage in a witty whirl of movement, a bright yellow ball in hand.
The wonderful cast was comprised of Nardia Boodoo Gilles Delellio, Lope Lim, Ashley Murphy-Wilson, Onuki, and Isaac Soriano.
Featured Photo for this Washington Ballet NEXTsteps review of Nicholas Cowden and Ayano Kimura in Dowland Dances, choreographed by Silas Farley. Photo by xmbphotography.
Oksana Khadarina is a Washington, DC–based dance writer. She has been covering dance at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, as well as in New York City and internationally, since 2006. She has written for Dance Magazine, Pointe , DanceTabs, and Fjord Review, among other publications.