Will Wash­ing­ton Bal­let land its am­bi­tious leap?

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPRING ARTS PREVIEW | DANCE - Sarah L. Kauf­man sarah.kauf­man@wash­post.com

There’s quite a dif­fer­ent feel to the Wash­ing­ton Bal­let these days, and it’s ex­cit­ing to wit­ness. At a re­cent re­hearsal of “Giselle,” which the com­pany will per­form March 1-5, I watched Artis­tic Di­rec­tor Julie Kent and her hus­band, As­so­ci­ate Artis­tic Di­rec­tor Vic­tor Bar­bee, metic­u­lously mold the fine de­tails of ex­pres­sive­ness and form as their dancers prac­ticed the open­ing min­utes of the bal­let.

In­stead of taped mu­sic, the ex­cel­lent con­cert pi­anist Glenn Sales played the score, a so­phis­ti­cated new de­vel­op­ment. With such en­cour­ag­ing signs from the new direc­tors, I’m ea­gerly await­ing each of the com­pany’s four pro­grams this spring. It’s so dif­fi­cult to pick a sin­gle upcoming pro­gram as a fa­vorite, in fact, that I’m rec­om­mend­ing them all. Given the am­bi­tion, va­ri­ety and sheer num­ber of works the Wash­ing­ton Bal­let will of­fer, this is a sea­son of his­toric reach and artis­tic sig­nif­i­cance.

Hav­ing only re­cently closed out long per­form­ing ca­reers at Amer­i­can Bal­let The­atre, both Kent and Bar­bee have in­ti­mate con­nec­tions to most if not all of the bal­lets sched­uled this sea­son. This, too, raises ex­pec­ta­tions for es­pe­cially sen­si­tive per­for­mances stem­ming from the direc­tors’ ex­pe­ri­ence and coach­ing.

“Giselle,” the beloved ro­man­tic-era bal­let steeped in heart­break and the su­per­nat­u­ral, will fea­ture a wel­come lux­ury: the re­turn of the Wash­ing­ton Bal­let Orches­tra, con­ducted by Charles Barker of the ABT and Pitts­burgh Bal­let The­atre. “In Creases,” a 2012 work by the gifted young chore­og­ra­pher Justin Peck, is the cen­ter­piece of the com­pany’s “Kylian, Peck, Forsythe” pro­gram March 29April 2 at Sid­ney Har­man Hall. This was the first work Peck cre­ated for New York City Bal­let, the com­pany for which he’s now res­i­dent chore­og­ra­pher. The mu­sic is Philip Glass’s “Four Move­ments for Two Pi­anos,” which Sales and Eric Himy will per­form live for the Wash­ing­ton Bal­let. Along with “In Creases” (a com­pany pre­miere, and also new to the area), the pro­gram reprises Jiri Kylian’s witty, the­atri­cal “Pe­tite Mort” and Wil­liam Forsythe’s sharp, as­trin­gent “In the Mid­dle, Some­what El­e­vated.”

An­other com­pany pre­miere by an im­por­tant con­tem­po­rary artist — Alexei Rat­man­sky’s “Seven Sonatas” — an­chors the “Balan­chine, Rat­man­sky, Tharp” pro­gram April 26-30 at Warner The­atre. Rat­man­sky cre­ated his po­etic and deeply mu­si­cal work for Amer­i­can Bal­let The­atre, and Kent starred in the orig­i­nal cast, a rare, deep con­nec­tion to a bal­let that is bound to of­fer ben­e­fits for the dancers and au­di­ences. Ryo Yanag­i­tani will per­form the tit­u­lar key­board sonatas by Domenico Scar­latti that ac­com­pany Rat­man­sky’s work. Balan­chine’s sparkling clas­si­cal feast “Al­le­gro Bril­lante” and the sass of Tharp’s “Nine Si­na­tra Songs” round out the bill.

The sea­son’s fi­nale, May 25-27 at the Kennedy Cen­ter Opera House, fea­tures a world pre­miere by for­mer ABT prin­ci­pal Ethan Stiefel, with an orig­i­nal score by Amer­i­can com­poser Adam Crys­tal. Of equal in­ter­est are Fred­er­ick Ash­ton’s “The Dream,” the Bri­tish master’s lively dis­til­la­tion of Shake­speare’s “A Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream” (mu­sic by Men­del­sohn), and fel­low English­man Antony Tu­dor’s “Li­lac Gar­den,” a qui­etly ruth­less ex­cur­sion through the flam­ing emo­tions and sup­pressed agony of lovers forced to part, with mu­sic by Ernest Chaus­son. The Wash­ing­ton Bal­let Orches­tra per­forms for all three works, con­ducted by Martin West.

Will these be the great­est per­for­mances of the sea­son? They will un­doubt­edly be the most con­se­quen­tial, given Kent’s and Bar­bee’s goal of el­e­vat­ing the com­pany’s abil­i­ties and rep­u­ta­tion.

Also worth not­ing

Other stand­out com­pa­nies com­ing to town in­clude Mark Mor­ris Dance Group, at Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity Feb. 24-25, with four works, in­clud­ing Mor­ris’s new “Pure Dance Items.” The Martha Gra­ham Dance Com­pany makes two ap­pear­ances: at the Smith­so­nian Amer­i­can Art Mu­seum on March 3, in con­junc­tion with the ex­hi­bi­tion “Isamu Noguchi, Ar­chaic/Mod­ern,” and at Ge­orge Ma­son on April 28. For its first visit in 13 years, Ger­many’s Ham­burg Bal­let of­fers a dark, mys­te­ri­ous, highly imag­i­na­tive but de­cid­edly non-Dis­ney ver­sion of “The Lit­tle Mer­maid,” cre­ated by Artis­tic Di­rec­tor John Neumeier, at the Kennedy Cen­ter March 28-April 2. And the sam­pler se­ries Bal­let Across Amer­ica, one of the Kennedy Cen­ter’s best ideas ever with its shared pro­grams of re­gional troupes, re­turns April 17-23. The com­pa­nies and reper­toire have been se­lected by ABT bal­le­rina Misty Copeland and Peck.

DEAN ALEXAN­DER

Dancers Venus Villa, left, and Brook­lyn Mack will star in “Giselle,” one of the four spring pro­grams from the Wash­ing­ton Bal­let. Given the works’ as­pi­ra­tion, va­ri­ety and quan­tity, the com­pany might reach a new level of in­flu­ence and im­por­tance.

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