Emo­tions in mo­tion for bal­let pro­gram

The Washington Post Sunday - - THIS WEEK - Wren is a free­lance writer. Cham­ber Dance Pro­ject June 2428 at the Lans­burgh Theatre, 450 Sev­enth St. NW. Tick­ets: $18-$70. 202-547-1122. www.cham­ber­dance.org. (Note: Luz San Miguel and Davit Hovhan­nisyan per­form June 25.) BY CELIA WREN

Luz San Miguel and Davit Hovhan­nisyan know about jour­neys. Born in Madrid and in Yere­van, Ar­me­nia, re­spec­tively, the two are lead­ing dancers with the Mil­wau­kee Bal­let. This sum­mer, they are in Washington to per­form with the Cham­ber Dance Pro­ject, a con­tem­po­rary-bal­let com­pany headed by Diane Coburn Bruning, in a mixed-reper­tory pro­gram at the Lans­burgh Theatre.

On a re­cent af­ter­noon in a re­hearsal room in Falls Church, how­ever, San Miguel and Hovhan­nisyan were fo­cused on a trip that didn’t in­volve ge­o­graph­i­cal dis­place­ment. They were work­ing on “Jour­ney,” a pas de deux Bruning chore­ographed to Sa­muel Bar­ber’s “Ada­gio for Strings.” As Bruning watched, the dancers worked their way through move­ments that evoked the moods of a trou­bled re­la­tion­ship — love, trust, clingi­ness, rest­less­ness, yearn­ing for in­de­pen­dence.

Some­times, the pe­tite, dark­haired San Miguel clung to her part­ner like a grace­ful limpet; other times, Hovhan­nisyan sup­ported her in a tri­umphant lift. Of­ten, one or the other seemed so del­i­cately bal­anced as to be on the verge of fall­ing.

Bruning, an ath­letic woman wear­ing dan­gly ear­rings printed with the letters “D.C.,” watched the piece through and then gave notes. “Can this be more of a drop, al­most emo­tion­ally?” she asked, speak­ing of a mo­ment when a kneel­ing San Miguel seemed to float up­ward, then sub­side, then float up again, en­cir­cled in the arms of the kneel­ing Hovhan­nisyan. The dancers re­peated the se­quence— with more drop.

Other bits of feed­back were con­grat­u­la­tory: “You know that ride in the amuse­ment park? You’re do­ing ‘ The Scram­bler’! I love it!” Bruning said of a spin­ning move­ment.

This is the sec­ond year in a row San Miguel and Hovhan­nisyan have worked with the Cham­ber Dance Pro­ject, which op­er­ates in the sum­mer and re­lies on per­form­ers who are on break from their full-time com­pa­nies. Bruning founded the pro­ject in 2000 in New York; she sub­se­quently moved to the D.C. area and brought the troupe with her. It’s an in­ti­mate un­der­tak­ing: The com­pany has only seven dancers, plus the string play­ers who pro­vide ac­com­pa­ni­ment for per­for­mances.

Bruning has worked with dance, opera and theater com­pa­nies across the United States and abroad, chore­ograph­ing pieces in­clud­ing “Ram­blin’ Suite,” a col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Red Clay Ram­blers that was an At­lanta Bal­let com­mis­sion.

Dur­ing a stint with the Mil­wau­kee Bal­let, shemet San Miguel and Hovhan­nisyan, who went on to par­tic­i­pate in the Cham­ber Dance Pro­ject’s 2014 Washington de­but at the Kennedy Cen­ter.

The two Mil­wau­kee dancers per­formed Bruning’s duet “Berceuse,” and the chore­og­ra­pher liked their part­ner­ing so much that she cast them this year in “Jour­ney,” a piece she cre­ated more than a decade ago.

“I’m re­ally happy to bring it back,” Bruning says.

San Miguel, 38, trained in Madrid and An­twerp, Bel­gium. She danced in Ger­many for six years and in 2000 moved to the United States, where she has per­formed with the Tulsa Bal­let and other com­pa­nies. With the Mil­wau­kee Bal­let, she has per­formed such big-gun roles as Odette/Odile in “Swan Lake” and Juliet in “Romeo and Juliet.”

Hovhan­nisyan, 33, be­gan study­ing Ar­me­nian folk danc­ing when he was 6 and was en­rolled at the Na­tional Bal­let School of Ar­me­nia four years later. As a 17year-old ap­pren­tice at the Ar­me­nian Na­tional Bal­let Com­pany, he went on tour to Los An­ge­les. When his col­leagues went home, he stayed. Had he gone back to Ar­me­nia, he says, he would have found him­self obliged to serve in the mil­i­tary for two years, which didn’t bode well for his dance ca­reer.

“Your body changes at that age, and if you don’t take bal­let for two years, you don’t know what’s go­ing to hap­pen,” he says.

Life in Cal­i­for­nia was tough. Hovhan­nisyan pieced to­gether a liv­ing with odd jobs — in­stalling wa­ter­pipes, work­ing in a car wash, wait­ing ta­bles at a night­club.

Af­ter he made a bal­let video­tape and sent it round to com­pa­nies, a San Diego troupe hired him. In 2004, he joined the Mil­wau­kee Bal­let, where he has danced such prin­ci­pal roles as Prince Siegfried in “Swan Lake.”

He­and San Miguel have danced to­gether of­ten the past decade, which gives them an edge in ap­proach­ing a duet such as “Jour­ney,” and they say they ap­pre­ci­ate the col­lab­o­ra­tive ethos that gov­erns Cham­ber Dance Pro­ject’s work.

“Ev­ery­body has a say in it. Ev­ery­body is very open,” Hovhan­nisyan says.

Bruning, San Miguel adds, “gives you the struc­ture. But she en­cour­ages you tomake it your own.”


Luz SanMiguel, left, and Davit Hovhan­nisyan in “Jour­ney,” chore­ographed by Diane Coburn Bruning of the Cham­ber Dance Pro­ject. The com­pany will per­form at the Lans­burgh Theatre.

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