Forget flowers. Candy is passé. What most mothers want on their special day is to be taken someplace special. This weekend you couldn’t do better than The Washington Ballet which is premiering Hemingway: The Sun Also Rises at The Kennedy Center through the weekend.
Moments before last night’s performance, Artistic Director Septime Webre bounced onto the Eisenhower Theater stage as he has done so many times before. Dressed in a spiffy white shirt and jacket, much like the 20’s attire of the Hemingway character, Jake Barnes, Webre thanked supporters, especially William and Eve Liley who underwrote the ballet, and Composer Billy Novick whose score captures the essence of that lost generation.
Getting the music right is half the battle,” stated Webre. “The guest artists, not only help tell the story but create the mood and atmosphere of the time period.”
Lots of drama, adventure, laughter, boozing, bedding and high-kicking chorines kept the capacity crowd delighted throughout the two-act show. Add to this authentic flamenco dancing by local artist Edwin Aparicio, gorgeous guys showing off their muscles in a staged fight scene, and Hugh Landwehr’s innovative sets – loved the high-flying panels of typewritten notes from Hemingway’s book. These clips kept us abreast of the underlying tale of the American ex-pat and his adventures in Paris and Spain, yet offered ample space for the bravura dancing. You need a lot room for Brooklyn Mack’s toreador solo with his signature leaps and pirouettes.
It’s worth the price of a ticket just to see dancer Luis R. Torres shimmy with chanteuse extraordinaire E. Faye Butler in the show-stopping number, “You Gotta Give Me Some.” Nobody does Josephine Baker better, plus Torres totally sizzles as the Greek aristocrat character with a funny name. Or catch NPR’s White House correspondent Ari Shapiro sing and dance a la Maurice Chevalier. Or feast your eyes on the ballet’s femme fatale, Lady Brett Ashley, performed with flair and panache by the Washington Ballet’s own Sona Kharatian.
Webre is a master storyteller through dance. Years ago, he created a highly regarded Romeo & Juliet for the New Jersey Ballet. More recently his personal tales of family and Cuba; his children’s works, especially Alice (in wonderland); and that other book ballet, The Great Gatsby have earned him accolades from Washington balletomanes.
With Hemingway: The Sun Also Rises, Webre continues a tradition of an innovative look at old works. This new production is big and glossy, more a show than a ballet. Still there are those quiet, introspective moments when Jake Barnes (Jared Nelson) bears his soul at his typewriter, carefully lit by Clifton Taylor. With sweeping arm gestures and modern dance falls to the floor, Nelson hardly falters and never fails to grab our attention. With Lady Brett Ashley (Kharatian) the couple develops a less sexual, more caring relationship in their duets. She, on the other hand, has seething dance moments with Torres – they seem so natural together – with Mack (who wouldn’t have a wild fling with a bullfighter?) – and Robert Cohn, the Princeton educated writer and former boxer, skillfully danced by Corey Landolt. Casts will change over the weekend, so it’s likely we’ll see more of Maki Onuki, a French prostitute in last night’s show, Emily Ellis, a jilted girlfriend, Jonathan Jordan, Jake’s friend from the war, Tamas Kriza, a knockout in the fight scenes, and Turkish delight Melih Mertel whose smile brightened this dark work.
Webre’s choreography sometimes has to fight for attention with the wit of costumes and staging, especially the Chandelier Lady entrance (Aurora Dickie with a sky-high headpiece), designed by Helen Q. Huang. She arrives on the shoulders of a half dozen French characters, smack in the middle of a cancan! The closing of act one? Nope, Webre goes one step further with a bathtub splashing scene that leaves the stage wet and, perhaps, some of the musicians in the pit wondering if they should take cover.
Running Time: Approximately two hours, including a 15-minute intermission.
Hemingway: The Sun Also Rises plays today at 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, May 12, at 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. at The Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater- 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 467- 4600, or purchase them online.