‘Tour-de-Force: Serenade’ at The Washington Ballet at The Kennedy Center

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The dancers, dusted in long, white tulle, reflect—shells on a dark beach. It is an opening, a closing, a commencement, an ending. Arms raise. Hands flex. Heads turn, diagonally, toward a common beacon—solitary in their togetherness. Tchaikovsky’s wistful chords summon each movement, each breath.

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These are the starting phrases of the final piece in the Washington Ballet’s Tour-de-Force: Serenade at The Kennedy Center this week. Balanchine’s iconic, lyrical Serenade, originally performed in 1934, was a fitting choice finale, as it cast the entire evening as an ode in itself—an ode to the WSB dancers, whose individual strengths, styles and personalities were illuminated by the variation-style program (shorter pieces, or excerpts from ballets).

Style oozed from Suite Nancy. Four men, almost Mad Men in their retro suits and ties, swirled around the pained and precise Esmiana Jani, who even remained in character to brush hair from her eyes. Legs shot forward in striking grand batmans. Pointe shoes evoked weapons when Bang Bang rang out, then flicked for These Boots Are Made for Walkin’.

It was almost just as captivating to witness Luis Torres thank Aurora Dickie for their tormented pas-de-deux, as it was to watch them dance.” Applause erupted; Torres knelt to one knee, took Dickie’s hand, and seemed enlivened by the emotional journey that had taken place just minutes before. The choice to have Shelley Waite, mezzo soprano, onstage with the couple enhanced the intimacy of the whole encounter. The resistance in Dickie and Torres’ partnership—her suspensions, wrapped around him, leaning, tearing away, on her back across his shoulders—amplified each time the lyric “Je ne t’aime pas” repeated. It was trespassing into a love that wasn’t, or perhaps more heart-wrenching—that still was, but shouldn’t be.

Andile Ndlovu manipulated every digit with control, down to his finger bones, in the evocative, staccato solo he choreographed. Inspired by the political turmoil in Somalia, his movement rippled, then snapped, then—paused—with seamlessness, all against a pumping tempo. Jonathan Jordan brought a similar level of palpable energy to Balanchine’s Tarantella. Between his characteristically springy jetés, he would let a laugh or two free, until he finally snatched his partner, the lithe Maki Onuki, in a playful clutch.

Between these bursts of joy, though, a more melancholy happiness ebbed and flowed. Michele Jimenez, a star with the WSB from 1999-2006, returned to dance with Jared Nelson (Artistic Director Septime Webre announced in his welcome speech that Nelson will leave the company this year after sixteen seasons). Jimenez, still armed with her subtle flair and mastery of character, continues to accent each step with a striking, beautiful flourish. Their dance offers a reflection on cycles, on the passing of time—on inertia—but on the capacity of ballet to reappear and reconnect us. It was a pleasure to see Jimenez and Nelson’s footprints in the sand again.

These themes flowed into Rooster (Suite), which showcased Morgann Rose’s gentle, lyrical strength as The Rolling Stones’ Ruby Tuesday cascaded into the space. Rose speaks through her arms and gaze. Her transitions are so smooth she almost melts into the floor from lift to landing.

Gian Carlo Perez, photo by Theo Kossenas/media4artists.
Gian Carlo Perez, photo by Theo Kossenas/media4artists.

And then, it is an opening, a closing, a commencement, an ending. Arms raise. Hands flex. Heads turn, diagonally, toward a common beacon. Balanchine’s Serenade closes the show and laces, like a romantic tulle skirt, the preceding images with nostalgia. That beacon, for The WSB, seems to be each other. Departures can be returns; the end of the dance can become intra-dancer gratitude; the concurrent run of Alice and Wonderland can inspire, rather than impede, a chance to share, to re-summon the family.

Running time: 2 hours, including one intermission.

The Washington Ballet’s Tour-de-Force: Serenade is being performed tonight- Friday, May 15, 2015 at 7:30 p.m. in the Eisenhower Theater at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts – 2700 F St. NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the Box Office at (202) 467-4600, or order them online.

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