Yes, even classical ballerinas let their hair down once in a while. They relish tossing off those stiff upper body movements and tapping their feet to a syncopated beat rather than a 3/4 waltz. Mainly, though, ballet dancers enjoy shaking up the expectations of serious balletomanes, especially during these winter doldrums.
The Washington Ballet presented The Jazz/Blues Project at the Harman Center for the Arts last night, shaking loose and getting down, precisely what director Septime Webre had in mind for his talented troupe. Smack in the middle of its three-part program, the company premiered PRISM, a work that stretches the definition of ballet. Sexy in a dorky kind of way – the guys wear black socks with their black boxer shorts and the ballerinas in colorful slips a la Pina Bausch – there’s a European feel to the ballet. Indeed modern and ballet has merged, and this piece captures the best of both.
Standouts in PRISM, set to a rare recording of pianist Keith Jarrett of piano improvisations, include Luis R. Torres (seemingly enjoying every moment on stage); Maki Onuki (her red hair was flying this way and that as she spun around and around on pointe); Tamas Kriza (the handsome Hungarian gets better in each performance), and a star-in-the-making, Kateyna Derechyna from the Ukraine. Another shout goes out to Ekaterina Oleynik of Belarus in her first season with the Washington Ballet and to the male ensemble who know how to make one’s heart beat just a little faster.
Choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, half Columbian and Belgian, took her bows after the debut of this avant-garde work in a feathered skirt and high heel boots. Currently called the “It Girl” in her home countries, Ochoa was all grins and certainly appreciated by the standing ovation.
Brooklyn Mack sizzled in Val Caniparoli’s Bird’s Nest, set to the music of Charlie “Bird” Parker, who is claimed to have ushered in the modern Jazz Era. Performed live by the fabulous Howard University Jazz Ensemble under the direction Fred Irby III, the music added extra power to this tribute to the post-war bebop era in the big city night clubs. Loved the female bass player and the sweet sax solos. Sona Kharatian soared in the arms of her favorite partners, Luis, Tamas, and especially Jared Nelson, or all alone on stage, sensitively lit by Clifton Taylor.
The Washington Ballet premiered Blue Until June in 2000 and showcased the work on the company’s signature trip to Havana that same year. I had the opportunity to travel to Cuba with the company where this work was received with fanfare and rave reviews. It remains in the company’s repertoire and proved to be an upbeat way to end last night’s program. How could you go wrong with fine dancing to the music of Etta James!
If you’re looking for that special pre-Valentine date – take your sweetie to the ballet. Hurry, though, as last night ‘s performance was sold-out.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with two 15-minute intermissions.
The Washington Ballet performs The Jazz/Blues Project tonight, Friday, January 31, at 7:30 PM, Saturday, February 1, at 1:30 and 7:30 PM, and Sunday, February 2, at 1:30 and 6:30 PM at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall – 610 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, purchase them online.