British Invasion: The Beatles & The Rolling Stones
A Day in the Life, Rooster, There Where She Loved
Washington, Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater
6 March 6 2014
Just after the 50th anniversary of the first appearance of The Beatles in the United States, at the beginning of March, the Washington Ballet brought to the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater its new program titled British Invasion: The Beatles & The Rolling Stones to mark the occasion. Two rock ballets – Christopher Bruce’s Rooster and Trey McIntyre’s A Day in the Life – bookended a lyrical and passionate There Where She Loved by British choreographer Christopher Wheeldon.
Created for the Geneva Ballet in 1991, Rooster is both an entertaining rock‘n’roll romp and a nostalgic glimpse into the ebullient 1960s. Eight classic songs from the Rolling Stones’ earliest years, including such hits as Lady Jane, Paint It Black, and Play with Fire, provide the text and beat for this curiously engaging work. Through it, Bruce winks at the social and sexual attitude of the young generation of the sixties, infusing the dance with flashy poses, unfettered bravura and divo attitude. When Rooster was premiered in the United States nearly 20 years ago by the Houston Ballet (at that time Bruce was their resident choreographer and also artistic director of Britain’s Rambert Dance Company), it proved an undeniable audience-pleaser and an instant hit.
As the soundtrack seamlessly moved from one song to the next, the Washington Ballet dancers unleashed their inner rock stars. Dressed in the sixties-inspired attire (the men in suits and ties, the women in black dresses adorned with red), the cast of ten recreated the street and night-club scenes of the age with blazing vitality and bravado. Ramping up the action, the dancers wholeheartedly embraced the comic antics and sly irony of the entire affair, playing the mating games, 1960s style, with bracing exuberance and conviction, thus keeping this somewhat aged Rooster still buoyant and alive.
The outstanding Jared Nelson demonstrated that he definitely had “the moves like Jagger.” With self-confident swagger, the dancer rocked the house in the opening song Little Red Rooster, strutting, prancing, and preening onstage, his movements as droll as the song’s lyrics.
A fascinating dancer, Morgann Rose delivered a poignant and tormented story of the Girl in a Red Dress in Ruby Tuesday, twisting and spinning herself with power and suppleness as if trying to release sorrow from her heart. The willpower contest between opposite sexes found its amusing resolution in a comic duet set to Play With Fire, performed with dazzling vitality and innate fun by Maki Onuki and Andile Ndlovu.
One of the most prominent dance-makers of today, choreographer Christopher Wheeldon is a more recent British export. His evocative ballet, There Where She Loved – a suite of seven dances set to alternating songs by Frederic Chopin and Kurt Weill – was created for and premiered by Britain’s Royal Ballet in 2000.
Wheeldon is a master of contemporary pas de deux. With a vivid emotional palette and fluid movement lexicon, he creates a compelling collage of romantic encounters, capturing the couples at the breaking point of their relationships. Each dance is an exquisite miniature, full of sweeping, inventive lifts and unpredictable partnering.
The Washington Ballet dancers felt at home with the knotty complexity of Wheeldon’s choreography. Luis R. Torres gave the best performance of this season, dancing as if living in the world of his leading characters in Surabaya-Johnny, Nanna’s Lied and Je Ne t’Aime Pas.
The live musical accompaniment made this piece all the more remarkable. Pianist Glenn Sales created a world of his own, playing the music of Chopin and Weill with utmost lucidity and eloquence. Soprano Carrie Anne Winter delivered the light and breezy Chopin songs wonderfully; and mezzo soprano Shelley Waite truly stood out for her superlative rendering of the emotionally intense, even fatalistic, songs of Weill.
Trey McIntire’s A Day in the Life brought the evening to a climactic close. I like the sunny atmosphere and revitalizing energy of this dance. Set to a medley of 12 classic songs by The Beatles, it brims with sweetness, soul, and inventive movement, completely pulling the audience in emotionally. The choreography is engagingly direct and clear; and the life-affirming power of The Beatles’ music prominently reverberates throughout the piece.
McIntire made this dance specifically for the Washington Ballet in 2006, when he was the company’s choreographer-in-residence. At the time of its premier, the piece was curiously called Always, No Sometimes. Over the next few years, McIntire streamlined the choreography and came up with a better title, naming the work after the final song of the soundtrack.
Though there is no plot, A Day in the Life doesn’t feel like an abstraction. Even if each song stirs its own emotional undercurrent, the dance as a whole never feels fragmented or disjointed. From the opening number, the lyrical Mother Nature’s Son, to the culminating ensemble set to the eponymous song A Day in the Life, there is an inescapable sense of a journey – of emotions, friendship, and spirit – towards attainment of peace and happiness in life.
The excellent cast of eight dancers, clad in white summer attire, delivered a rousing performance, effortlessly conquering McIntire’s intricate movements and bringing the charming wit and playfulness of The Beatles’ songs to the fore. The superb Brooklyn Mack made a memorable turn in the central role; the power and intensity of his movements richly echoed his hero’s sense of inner struggle, bewilderment, discovery and triumph. Evoking a broken doll, Maki Onuki was touchingly beautiful and fragile in a poignant solo dance to Julia. And the upbeat and exhilarating ensemble inspired by Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da would persuade even a non-believer that The Beatles are forever.