Latin Heat does what the Washington Ballet does best: spotlight its dancers’ strengths and individual personalities. However, Latin Heat also illumines the WSB unhinged and unrestrained. Never before has principal Maki Onuki shouted, on stage, at her partner to exit before her, used her hand to pull her mouth into a twisted grimace, then shuffled away. Ms. Sugar Plum Fairy was certainly nowhere to be found; yet the absence, the change of costume and character, seemed liberating.
Brooklyn Mack’s solo emerged as the most memorable moment in 5 Tangos and even summoned subdued gasps of awe. His long arms and hands punctuate each step; his strength is matched by a diligent awareness to these smaller details. A powerful dancer, he operates at a constant rate of allegro; it would be welcome to see him sit in the stillness a little longer between beautiful bursts of power.
Jonathan Jordan and Venus Villa (in her first season with the company) brought, above all, control, to the Don Quixote Act III pas de deux. Jordan, an expert and longstanding member of the company, consistently delivers the role of the gallant, gentle prince with a winning combination: his technical prowess and earnest personality. Villa’s technique shone; she reveled in her balances, smiled for the length of the variation, and made her fouete and chainé turns look cinchy.
La ofrenda pas de deux, la llorona began, and finished, with Sona Kharatian at her best, in her characteristically lyrical and emotional style and long, romantic white skirt. Time stopped when she entered the stage, for it felt as if we were invading an intimate meeting. Her graceful walks were enough to completely quiet the audience. Rare is the dancer whose striking presence signals the start of a dance, before her steps do. Rarer is the dancer who channels her feeling through her feet—be it a tortured sense of loss or love—and tells a story when she dances.
It was as if someone had heard my thoughts—let us see another side of Brooklyn Mack—for he was there at once to partner Sona but also to torment her—in a more contemporary, raw and expressive exchange. In one moment, their waists, magnetically drawn together at their cores, torqued right together—a churning sign of upheaval. Their final pose, Sona running toward him, back to the audience, then Mack lifting her above his head only for a second, until she glided down and away from him to the floor, spoke tragedy.
Then, the volume dial cranked clockwise in Sombrerísimo, allowing the male dancers, black hats in hand, to hold nothing back. These men were a group of friends, or perhaps, one body, doing circles around each other, lost in their own circle of hell. They passed their hats, and through each other, with loyal precision. From the opening image, a male dancer moving toward a yellow light, alone, to the sound of a reeling machine, we understood that dance, their movement, fought isolation. Footsteps over solace.
Though the gifted members of the Washington Ballet have their sweet spots—be it allegro or adagio—the world premiere of Mauro di Candia’s Bitter Sugar let them move outside themselves for a spell. Perhaps a slightly odd twist for many longtime WSB-goers, the piece was exhilarating, funny—a lark, but certainly a well-choreographed, complex one. Was that Maki Onuki screaming at her partner? “No, you go!” Was that newcomer Ashley Murphy and the lithe Andile Ndlovu “pretending” to miss their entrance? Were others shuffling, seated, across the stage and gaping their mouths open? It was lovely, in its strangeness, not to know the WSB, and yet to meet them all over again.
Running Time: 2 hours, including one intermission.
The Washington Ballet: Project Global: Latin Heat has four more performances left: October 17-18 at 1:30 p.m. and 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.