The Washington Ballet
Balanchine, Ratmansky, Tharp: Allegro Brillante, Seven Sonatas, Nine Sinatra Songs
Washington, Warner Theater
28 April 2017
There was so much to enjoy in the Washington Ballet’s triple bill featuring works by George Balanchine, Alexei Ratmansky, and Twyla Tharp. Not everything went smoothly in this program, yet the dancers’ dedication and their eagerness to engage the audience were impossible to resist. In all three ballets of the evening – Allegro Brillante, Seven Sonatas, and Nine Sinatra Songs – each member of the cast looked passionately enthusiastic, radiant, and even euphoric.
Their hunger for dance – that sense of palpable excitement to be onstage and in the moment – was particularly evident during the company’s premiere of Ratmansky’s Seven Sonatas.
It was a risky undertaking for artistic director Julie Kent to program this work in her first season as the company’s artistic director. Until now, the choreographic lexicon of Ratmansky, who is artist in residence at American Ballet Theatre (ABT), was uncharted territory for the Washington Ballet, but it was the risk worth taking. The dancers cherished every moment of this exquisitely poetic piece, delivering a compelling, memorable performance, which justly received a standing ovation.
Created in 2009 for ABT and inspired by Domenico Scarlatti short keyboard pieces, Seven Sonatas is a tender meditation on the themes of love, longing, and loss. The rapturous yet delicate choreography flows directly from the picturesque music of Scarlatti, sending six dancers – three men and three women – in motion. The ballet unfolds as a series of intricately-layered miniatures, in which ensembles seamlessly yield to solos, duets, and trios, now playful and energetic, now serene and meditative. There is no plot, yet in Ratmansky’s masterly hands even a pure abstract piece like Seven Sonatas has a story always present. The ballet is rich with emotional connotation: every step is colored with meaning; every dancer becomes a character. What we see is a tight-knit group of friends; their personal stories folding into a continuously evolving narrative about their lives and relationships, joys and struggles, all intricately woven into a fascinating tapestry of dance.
On Friday night, the excellent cast rose to the challenges of this complex work, dancing in utter harmony, with emotional sensitivity and fine nuance.
Sona Kharatian and Gian Carlo Perez infused their turbulent romance with a special Spanish flavor as if to mirror Scarlatti’s passages that echo the sound of castanets. The sparkling Venus Villa was all effervescent charm in the role created on Xiomara Reyes, former ABT star, who is currently leading the Washington School of Ballet. And the vibrant Maki Onuki, in the role originated by Julie Kent, brought an extra jolt of dramatic poignancy to her part, her happy duet with Corey Landolt weighed down by an ever-present sense of tragedy and grief.
Live music made their performance sparkle even brighter. Special kudos to pianist Ryo Yanagitani, who played with delicacy and articulation, skillfully unearthing the poetic sound, brilliant rhythms, and animated character of Scarlatti’s mesmerizing sonatas.
Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante (1956), alas, wasn’t so fortunate. The recorded music – Tchaikovsky’s iridescent Piano Concerto No. 3 – sounded thin and muffled. The inferior acoustics of the Warner Theater didn’t help. The dancers did their best; and the leads, EunWon Lee and Brooklyn Mack, deserve nothing but praise. Buoyant and sweet, Lee effortlessly breezed through a torrent of spiraling turns and pirouettes as if it was nothing. Mack’s dancing was polished and elegant throughout. There was also fantastic chemistry between the two – an unmistakable emotional connection – that turned their central duet into a beautiful story of blooming love. Still, the canned sound totally ruined the perception of this dazzling work.
Tharp’s Nine Sinatra Songs (1982) closed the evening in style. A perennial crowd-pleaser, this dance for seven couples is many things: a ballroom extravaganza, a fashion show of Oscar de la Renta, and a hit parade of Frank Sinatra. It’s also a probing yet humorous look into human relationships. Watching this dance, delivered with appropriate flamboyance and panache, I couldn’t help thinking how much the choreography and the dresses have faded over time, but how Sinatra’s songs still feel so relevant, moving and fresh.