Every time I see the Dana Tai Soon Burgess Dance Company perform, I wish I could watch each dance over and over again.

The Company Rehearsing

On Saturday, my wish came true.

My friend Jeanne and I were privileged to observe a rehearsal for the up-coming DTSBDC show, “Portraits.” This June 15th and 16th performance at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater will celebrate the company’s 25th year of delighting audiences as Washington, DC’s preeminent dance company.

The first dance rehearsed was “Confluence,” reviewed in this space on April 19, 2014 when it premiered in the magnificent Kogod Courtyard at the National Portrait Gallery. http://ellenkwatnoski.com/premier-confluence-dana-tae-soon-burgess-at-the-national-portrait-gallery-april-19-2014/

Even though this was a rehearsal, with stops and breaks for Burgess’s and Katia Chupashko Norri’s (associate rehearsal director), inventive notes to the dancers, this piece still took our breath away. Choreographer Burgess was inspired by the moody 1938 portrait of modern dance pioneer Doris Humphrey by Barbara Morgan. The portrait was part of the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery’s show, “Dance the Dream,” which featured portraits of legendary dancers, Burgess himself among them.

Doris Humphrey, by Barbara Morgan, 1938

Fraught with psychological overtones, this dance expresses “an emotional terrain of the mind”—in Burgess’s words—the uncomfortable state brought about by short meetings—trysts—in which unresolved feelings abound.

The dancers became lit from within as they got into character—even though still working out spacing, timing, and minute changes in hand gestures, arm shapes, and where the dancer’s eyes should be focused. These and many other adjustments will ultimately combine to form the intention, emotional content, and musicality of the final performance. We were struck by Burgess’s and Norri’s precise and sometimes amusing notes to the dancers: “After the contact lens moment,” (a dancer plucks something invisible from the floor), “The music is pulling you in,” “Picture lasers in your arms carving the space into a figure eight.”

From the 2014 National Portrait Gallery Premier

The music for this piece is haunting. Ernest Bloch’s “Hebraic Suite” pumps up the emotional content, building tension as the dancers lift each other, fleetingly touch, curl to the ground, and pepper their lyrical movements with highly original hand gestures: pecking, stabbing, caressing, striking, and swooping in crane-like arches.

From the Premier

Next, the company worked on “I Am Vertical,” a dance inspired by Sylvia Plath’s poem of the same name. Again, as the first-ever resident choreographer at the National Portrait Gallery, Burgess took his inspiration from a small but devastating NPG show of Plath’s art and writing. The dance opens with several couples dancing a spirited lindy hop to “Take the A Train.” When the music morphs into a surreal warp, a disembodied voice begins to read Plath’s poem: “I am Vertical…But I would rather be horizontal.” The dance plays with planes – upright and utterly still lying down. Following the poem’s haunting ending, “I shall be useful when I lie down finally,” we hear Plath interviewed about her fateful meeting with fellow poet and husband-to-be Ted Hughes. The role of Plath is danced by Sarah Halzack, with three other women dancers appearing as muses or influences on the poet; they change roles now and then, with each seated, miming typing on an invisible typewriter.

Sylvia Plath 1932 – 1963

Again, the dancing is sublime, the choreography original, and the emotional content utterly riveting.

After the rehearsal when the associate artistic director Kelly Moss Southall began literally to roll up the floor, we chatted briefly with Dana regarding the Plath piece. Jeanne, my friend, is a dance lover and a poet herself. Dana told us a bit about his process in creating a dance, how each dancer has her or his own motivations, inner desires, and character arc, and that each section of the dance corresponds to a chapter in a book, or an act in a play.

Once again, we could have watched for hours – and luckily, we will all get the chance to see these gem-like pieces—among others—performed at the Kennedy Center on Friday, June 15th and Saturday, June 16th at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater, 7:30PM. Tickets are on sale now!

http://www.kennedy-center.org/calendar/event/RSXAL

I hope to see you at this much-anticipated event in celebration of the Dana Tai Soon Burgess Dance Company’s 25th year. We are fortunate indeed to have this stellar dance company performing in Washington, DC, but, in the words of the Washington Post’s dance critic, Sara Kaufman, “This artist is not only a Washington prize, but a national dance treasure.”

I am Vertical
by Sylvia Plath

But I would rather be horizontal.
I am not a tree with my root in the soil
Sucking up minerals and motherly love
So that each March I may gleam into leaf,
Nor am I the beauty of a garden bed
Attracting my share of Ahs and spectacularly painted,
Unknowing I must soon unpetal.
Compared with me, a tree is immortal
And a flower-head not tall, but more startling,
And I want the one’s longevity and the other’s daring.

Tonight, in the infinitesimal light of the stars,
The trees and the flowers have been strewing their cool odors.
I walk among them, but none of them are noticing.
Sometimes I think that when I am sleeping
I must most perfectly resemble them —
Thoughts gone dim.
It is more natural to me, lying down.
Then the sky and I are in open conversation,
And I shall be useful when I lie down finally:
Then the trees may touch me for once, and the flowers have time for me.

 

 

 

 

 

D.M.J. 1953-1977

D.M.J. 1953-1977

Until this past Thursday evening, I had never seen the Boston Ballet and suspected the company might be some blue-stockinged poor relation of New York’s acclaimed companies. Not so! My friend Susan and I were blown away by the quality of the dancing, the startlingly original choreography, and the inventive staging.

The program opened with “D.M.J. 1953-1977,” which was created in 2004 and set to music by three Czech composers, Dvorak, Martinu, and Janacek (the D, M, and J of the title). Choreographed by Petr Zuska, the piece opened with the haunting largo section of “New World Symphony.” Roses were suspended against a deep cobalt blue background and the dancers were positioned near large stele-like slabs. These vaguely tomb stone-like pieces (which put both Susan and me in mind of “2001, A Space Odyssey”) moved throughout the performance, allowing dancers to slide on them, sit on them, or be hidden by them. The roses—red hardly seemed a funerary choice, but more an homage to lost love or passion—appeared and disappeared throughout the

D.M.J. 1953-1977

D.M.J. 1953-1977

piece. Lyrical and beguiling, the opening section evokes love, loss, and regret.

The mood changes in the middle section—becoming frantic and furious, with dancers moving between the now upright stele with urgency, breathtaking leaps, and an astonishing jump in which a woman leaps into space, parallel to the stage, and is caught in mid-flight, arms reaching straight ahead.

D.M.J. 1953-1977

D.M.J. 1953-1977

The final section was stripped, literally, of the flowing white and soft grey costumes. Here, the stunning Lia Cirio and Lasha Khozashvili appear in flesh-colored undergarments, sitting, rolling and collapsing on the slabs like broken puppets. In the end, Cirio greedily gathers up masses of roses, allowing them to fall to her feet, and, holding one against her haunted face, lies upon the slab as the curtain comes down.

In comparison, Balanchine’s “Rubies” seemed, after its first dazzle—a huge sparkly starburst set against the burgundy curtain—a tad musty in comparison. In its day, Balanchine’s choreography was likely sensational (the full piece, “Jewels,” premiered in 1967 and was created to showcase the history of classical dance. “Rubies” demonstrated ballet’s French foundation, “Diamonds” embodied Russia’s imperial style, and “Emeralds,” the new American version.)

Rubies

Rubies

Susan put it well, “Pretty, but perky.”

The final piece, “Bella Figura,” choreographed by Jiri Kylian, was a standout, although the recorded music (Lukas Foss, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, Alessandro Marcello, Antonio Vivaldi, and Giuseppe Torelli) was a let-down—all wonderful music, but one missed the orchestra.

Bella Figura

Bella Figura

First seen in 1995, the piece opens with the house lights up, the dancers engaging in what appeared to be aimless warming-up on a bare, stripped down stage, in silence. As the house-lights come down and the audience quiets, the opening strains of the music seem to cause the dancers to freeze. The curtain comes down partially to frame a single male dancer to the right of the stage. Clad only in flesh-toned briefs and in an impossible shoulder stand, he writhes with the energy of a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. A female dancer on the left scrabbles forward and backward, uttering a silent scream, as the black curtain embraces her, then bella2releases her to dash forward again.

The choreographer makes each movement so economical, yet so full of brimming emotion, that you’re riveted to the many small stories emerging, collapsing, and flowering again. The overarching emotion is longing—a tender yearning for love and connection, a kind of lamentation. Danced on a dramatically lit bare stage with a molten surface, much of the piece is  crisply matched to the music. Sharp arm movements, and flexed feet are balanced by sensuous hip swivels and undulating backs; marvelously inventive slides and percussive slaps climax in an extraordinary lift, in which the woman, caught by the man, falls limp in his arms and, melting onto the floor, walks, lynx-like, on all fours, with the man’s hand resting lightly on her back, as if tethering

Bella Figura

Bella Figura

her. Halfway-across the stage, they switch, he on all fours, she resting a hand on his back.

Bella Figura

Bella Figura

The appearance of a crimson-skirted, bare-chested woman is as startling as one of the male dancers crash-landing on the stage at a particularly percussive moment in the score. The duet which follows has it all: percussive hand and foot movements, off-kilter flexed feet, even a vampire bite. Soon our herky-jerky duo are banished from the stage by a majestic line of the red-skirted women, who stand, arms extended at the elbows, to catch the

Bella Figura

Bella Figura

descending curtain, then fling it over their heads. Evocative of Balinese dancers crossed with Samuri warriors, bare-chested men join the procession.  At the close of this ravishing section, two women approach the curtain, and leaning into it, swoon onto the stage repeatedly—another of the inventive uses of the curtain as prop, or as a seemingly living part of the dance. In the end, they shed their skirts, leaving them bunched at their feet as their bodies wave like sea anemones, blown this way and that by unseen currents.

Bella Figura

Bella Figura

In the final section, two couples are flanked by flaming sconces. When the haunting vocal solo ends, you can hear the muffled sound of the flames as the dance continues in silence, ending with a touching sequence in which the male dancer, his face stricken, gently moves the raised shoulder of his partner down, and she returns the gesture, as if soothing the anxiety out of the other’s body. And so it ends.

See Bella Figura here, in full: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFg8DUjEH0o

 

 

 

Doris Humphrey, by Barbara Morgan, 1938

Doris Humphrey, by Barbara Morgan, 1938

Under the floating roof of the National Portrait Gallery, old and new fans of Washington DC’s preeminent dance company, Dana Tai Soon Burgess (DTSB), were treated to a new piece, “Confluence,” once again inspired by the on-going show, “Dance the Dream.” For this piece, Burgess took his inspiration from the moody 1938 portrait of modern dance pioneer Doris Humphrey by Barbara Morgan.

dana8 Fraught with psychological overtones, the image led Burgess to make this new dance expressing “an emotional terrain of the mind” whose predominant theme is the uncomfortable state brought about by short meetings—trysts—in which feelings are unresolved.

Ten dancers enter from “off stage,” elegant in Judy Hansen’s black costumes, and walk with great ceremony to stand at the far edge of the performance space. In silence, one of the figures swoops away from the others, then another, and another, until they’re briefly united, circling a spot at their feet. When the opening notes of Ernest Bloch’s “Hebraic Suite” breaks the silence, the viewer is swept away. Divided into four movements that flow into one another seamlessly, the sense of portent is palpable from the outset.

dana6In this piece, Burgess’s characteristic spare, clean lines are punctuated with sharp, pecking arm and hand gestures, and an idiosyncratic pulling motion that seems to draw an invisible thread from inert figures on the floor. Fluid, organic movements mingle and merge in hypnotic ways, the dancer’s faces showing more and more eye contact and emotion—ranging from wariness to openness to outright fear—as the dance progresses. This churning intensity propels the dancers upward into spectacular lifts and downward into curled resting positions. Twice, male dancers lift women and hold them aloft, straight as exclamation points, like “pillars of emotion,” to use Burgess’ words.

dana14While exploring the uncertainty of short relationships that “are not love, not trusting,” the dance shows us the various effects of touch—it can soothe and it can hurt. Hands caress, appear to strike, swoop in crane-like arches, and, in staccato bursts, express frustration and tension between partners. Dancers also leaned their heads on their partner’s shoulders, backs, and arms, allowing momentary respite from the mood of suspended anxiety and bringing a fleeting sweetness into the mix. Not that this sustained emotion is hard to watch. Quite the contrary. It would have been impossible to look away.

dana16The complex choreography, seemingly propelled by the swirling, eddying music, conjures bodies of water meeting, joining and flowing in sometimes gentle and sometimes turbulent ways. I was particularly struck by the complex whorl of movement in which the woman lifted the man, and another pairing in which the woman rolls her head and upper body along the outstretched arm of the man. The work is filled with many such strikingly original moments.

confluence3“Confluence” ends with a woman placing her hand on a fallen man’s body. Her expression is unreadable—does she feel victorious, dominant, or tender? It’s a moving end to a piece in which the viewer is pulled into a darkly absorbing psychological space. Doris Humphrey would have loved it!

Being able to see such exquisite work in such a fabulous setting is a privilege and a gift. We who are DTSB fans look forward to seeing this new piece performed in a traditional setting. If you’re not familiar with this treasure of a dance company, do visit their website at http://dtsbdc.org/ and make a point to see an up-coming performance. To echo, Amy Henderson, the adventurous curator of “Dancing the Dream,” you can’t have a static museum show about dance. We hope this exciting collaboration between museum and choreographer-in-residence will endure and flourish.

confluence2And, if you haven’t seen it yet, “Dancing the Dream” is on view in the National Portrait Gallery until July 13, 2014. http://www.npg.si.edu/exhibit/exhdance.html

Photos by Jeffrey Malet of WUSA/Channel 9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dana5

Ceiling, Kogod Courtyard, National Portrait Gallery

Ceiling, Kogod Courtyard, National Portrait Gallery

We gathered under the floating glass and steel roof of the Kogod Courtyard. Encircled by the Portrait Gallery and the American Art Museum in Washington, DC, the courtyard, with its filtered light and lacey trees, is always magical. But on Saturday, November 16, it bloomed in a new way when the Dana Tai Soon Burgess Dance Company took to the floor to perform a new site-specific work, “Homage.”

Inspired by the show now on display, “Dancing the Dream,” the piece drew from the work of the greats of American dance: Katherine Dunham, Martha Graham, Alvin Ailey, and Bill T. Jones, to name just a few. The accompanying music drew from the show as well, and flowed into spoken commentary by dance sages: Merce and Martha, Bob Fosse, and others’ voices I didn’t recognize. No matter—the combination of music and spoken word blended well and reminded the audience that dancers are smart, and that dance is about ideas, emotion, and idiosyncratic expression as much as it is about supple, rigorously trained bodies.

Rehearsal, "Homage," at National Portrait Gallery, Dana Tai Soon Burgess Company

Rehearsal, “Homage,” at National Portrait Gallery, Dana Tai Soon Burgess Company

But oh, those bodies! Burgess’s dancers are highly skilled performers of his fluid, organic, choreography. Theirs is a quiet strength, never flashy, but delivering the emotional depth and joy this piece demanded.

Opening with a bang and declaring right off the bat that the piece was to celebrate and explore the heart of what makes American dance American—a “regular guy” burst onto the stage in a blue shirt and bow tie. Dancing along to an exuberant “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” he was joined by eight dancers who performed duets, solos, and ensemble dances. Accompanied by classical music, blues, rock, Elvis, and possibly Shirley McLaine, the choreography suggested rather than mimicked the greats of Broadway, ballet, and modern dance. Love duets were particularly fresh and charming. The dancers moved in perfect unison even when dancing to the spoken word. They were counting in their heads, you knew that, but their rapt faces never betrayed anything other than the spontaneous joy of the dance.

"Homage"

“Homage”

Judy Hansen’s costumes were perfect. In a range of blues and blacks, they included a swingy ingénue dress, simple work-out clothes, and a jaunty Busby Berkeley-like culottes dress with a pale blue collar.

After the performance, “Dancing the Dream” beckoned from inside the Portrait Gallery. The show “tells the story of performers, choreographers, and impresarios who harnessed America’s diversity and dynamism into dance styles that defined the American experience,” through “experiment and lack of truck with the past.” Organized by rooms devoted to Pop, Ballet, Broadway, Hollywood, and Choreography, all painted in vivid colors–Chinese red, lime green, peacock blue, fuchsia, and a deep marigold–the show presents portraits of dance greats in all media: film, photography, drawings, paintings, posters, and video clips.

The photographs drew me most powerfully.

Suzanne Farrell and Peter Martins (from "Chaconne"), by Max Waldman, 1976

Suzanne Farrell and Peter Martins (from “Chaconne”), by Max Waldman, 1976

Here are the sweetly paired Peter Martins and Balanchine muse Suzanne Farrell, by Max Waldman, 1976, accompanied by this quote from Martins: “. . . We were literally dancing the music. I felt like a violin.”

Michio Ito, pictured in an image by Nickolas Murray, 1921, has a fascinating story. He visited Paris in 1911 where he saw Isadora Duncan and the Diaghilev Company perform. Profoundly affected by this experience, he formed his own troupe and went to Hollywood in 1929. After Pearl Harbor he was interned, nay imprisoned, at a relocation camp in New Mexico until 1943 when he was repatriated to Japan in a prisoner of war exchange. After the war, he choreographed revues for the soldiers of the American occupation in Tokyo.

Doris Humphrey, by Barbara Morgan, 1938

Doris Humphrey, by Barbara Morgan, 1938

After studying at the pioneering Denishawn School, Doris Humphrey developed her own technique that emphasized breath, balance, “fall and recovery,” using weight and spatial orientation in new ways. She left the dance world her invention– “labanotation”–a system for recording dance which allows choreography to be passed along to future performers. Here she is, as photographed by Barbara Morgan in 1938.

Judith Jamison, upon taking over as head of the Alvin Ailey Company, said, “I don’t feel I’m standing in anyone’s shoes. I’m standing on Alvin’s shoulders.” This gorgeous image taken by Max Waldman in 1976, shows her own formidable shoulders and strong presence.

Judith Jamison

Judith Jamison, by Max Waldman, 1976

Gregory Hines, who raised tap dancing to a high art and believed it to be the true American dance form, started off performing as a child with his brother and father in “Hines, Hines and Dad.” I love this barefoot image by Robert Mapplethorpe taken in 1985.

Finally, the incomparable Bill T. Jones, as captured by Robert Mapplethorpe, again in 1985. Founder of a highly experimental dance company with Arne Zane in the 1970s, Jones used improvisation and an individual style to shape his works, among them Tony award winning “Fela!”

Gregory HInes, by Robert Mapplethorpe, 1985

Gregory HInes, by Robert Mapplethorpe, 1985

While I was delighted to see a portrait of our own Dana Tai Soon Burgess (Mary Noble Ours, 1978) I could have done without Beyonce’s video of “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” and sorely missed seeing an image of one of the most important modern dance pioneers, Erick Hawkins, my great teacher in New York.

Still, there is much to love here: the mind-blowing Nicholas Brothers leaping down stairs and landing in the splits, a campy Busby Berkeley water ballet, the irrepressible Josephine Baker in her banana skirt, John Travolta’s oddly robotic “Saturday Night Fever” disco performance, and much more. The footage from “Soul Train” juxtaposed against that from “Dance Party” speaks volumes.

Bill T. Jones, by Robert Mapplethorpe, 1985

Bill T. Jones, by Robert Mapplethorpe, 1985

On view until July 13, 2014, this show is not to be missed if you’re a dance lover, or simply an appreciator of this wildly diverse and creative country we live in.

Click here for more information:

http://www.npg.si.edu/exhibit/exhdance.html

To learn more about the Dana Tai Soon Burgess Company, please click here:

http://dtsbdc.org/

 

 

 

 

Kirov Academy of Ballet of Washington performance in honor of Ballets Russes

Kirov Academy of Ballet of Washington performance in honor of the Ballets Russes

As an accompaniment to this fabulous show at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, students from the Kirov Academy of Ballet of Washington, DC performed excerpts from L’apres-midi d’un Faune (Afternoon of a Faun) and The Firebird on July 13, 2013 in two standing-room-only performances on the mezzanine just outside of the gallery where show is mounted.

 

The performance was introduced by Martin Fredmann, artistic director of the Kirov Academy who was justifiably proud of the young dancers. Offering a high school diploma in addition to dance studies, the Academy places an astonishing 75 percent of its graduates in major dance companies around the world. After this performance, it’s easy to see why.

 

Kirov5

Nymphs from L’apres-midi d’un Faune (rehearsal photograph)

Fredmann told the audience that Claude Debussy, in creating music for L’apres-midi d’un Faune, was inspired by the French symbolist poet, Stefan Mallarme’s poem of the same name, while Nijinsky took the naturalistic choreography of Michel Fokine in a new direction, devising “archaic” movements recalling the stylized front-facing figures on ancient amphorae. Fredmann invited the audience, lacking a curtain, to close their eyes and “await the magic.” As the music began, there was young Emerson Moose atop a large rock apparently sunning himself until the gauzily-clad nymphs appear. A beguiling Faune dressed in skin-colored leotard and tights, Moose was a lithe sprite to the nymphs’ more reserved progress across the stage. Bailey Anglin, as the lead nymph, carried a raspberry scarf as enticement to the Faune. Once the nymphs have vanished and our Faune is left only with the scarf, he mounted his rock with deliberate steps, lay face-down upon it, and turned to extend one leg in an insouciant way, as if to say, look at my beautiful leg. I alone am enough!

 

Kirov6During the interval between performances, Fredmann talked about Natalia Gonchorova’s complete redesign of the Firebird set (see my earlier blog post http://ellenkwatnoski.com/2013/07/07/lush-life-part-ii-when-art-danced-with-music-diaghilev-and-the-ballets-russes-1909-1929/) with the vast onion-dome backcloth and brilliant costumes. Her version was the standard until Marc Chagall did new sets for a 1949 performance with Maria Tallchief as Firebird. Based upon a Russian folk-tale, The Firebird tells the tale of a prince who climbs a wall and finds an enchanted garden owned by an evil wizard. Golden apples hang from the trees, but they pale in comparison to a half-woman, half-bird creature—the magical Firebird he sees there. Dashing Prince Ivan, again danced beautifully by Emerson Moose, spies the exquisite Firebird and hides behind a tree to watch her flit and preen and enjoy being a fiery bird-girl. But, alas, watching is not enough and he must capture the bird, danced by fifteen-year-old Riho Sakamoto. With costumes worthy of Leon Bakst, these lovely dancers made the old folktale come to life without sets, lights, or onion domes. Sakamoto is an astonishingly mature dancer, delicate yet strong, with her bird-like head movements, gorgeous extensions and beautiful line. Her struggle with the Prince was complex dramatically—one had the sense she enjoyed being caught, even as she fights against capture. Perhaps this notion is confirmed when she plucks an enchanted feather from her plumage and bestows it upon the dazzled Prince. Sakamoto and Moose enjoyed a standing ovation from the appreciative audience, both on the mezzanine and literally hanging from the stairwells. Balletomanes: remember those names: Riho Sakamoto and Emerson Moose!

 

Kirov4If you come to the August 11, 2013 performance by Dana Tae Soon Burgess you’ll see original choreography premiered in a suite of dances “inspired by the spirit of the Ballets Russes.” Come early! There will be two performances at 1:30 and 3:30, best seen from the front rows or standing in the back of the performance space. The riser is low enough to provide a limited line of sight much further back than the third or fourth row.

Learn more about Dana Tae Soon Burgess: http://www.dtsbco.com/home/home.html

There’s still time to see the show: http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/exhibitions/2013/diaghilev.html

On view until October 6, 2013, the exhibition is well worth seeing, with or without a dance performance accompanying it. Bravo to the National Gallery, the Victoria & Albert Museum (owners of the costume collection), and now, the Kirov Academy of Ballet of Washington, DC. https://kirovacademydc.org/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carousel (A Dance)

Carousel (A Dance)

My fellow balletomane and dear friend Susan and I enjoyed last night’s performance by the New York City Ballet at the Kennedy Center–a feast for all senses, and in all senses, a masterwork. The program opened with “Carousel (A Dance),” music by Richard Rogers, choreography by Christopher Wheeldon. Under carnival lights, a coltish Lauren Lovette, pursued by partner Robert Fairchild, swoons her way through young love while cheerleader-skirted girls romp with athletic guys on an imagined fairway.

Glass Pieces

Glass Pieces

The stand-out performance of the evening was the stunning “Glass Pieces,” music by Philip Glass, choreography by Jerome Robbins. The piece opens against a stark background, like an enormous sheet of graph paper, and as the music bursts forth, the entire corps is purposefully striding on and off stage, bodies crisscrossing, a pedestrian melee moving to Glass’s hypnotic pulses. Amidst this throng, suddenly couples unite, their matching leotard colors signaling that they are mated in some way, and fated to meet, even as the crowd continues to churn around them. In the second movement, solos and pas de deux take place against a black-silhouetted line of female dancers, swaying, stepping, marching, like a frieze on a Greek vase brought to life. Yet, that allusion aside, there’s nothing classical about this piece. It is an utterly modern fusion of art, dance, and music. We could have sat through it again and again, riveted.

 

The final piece, “Vienna Waltzes,” set to music by Johann Strauss II, Franz Lehar, and Richard Strauss with choreography by George Balanchine, was equally engrossing and demanded the same level of athleticism of its dancers who are constantly on stage and constantly moving. A full-blown romantic confection, this piece is strikingly different in its classicism and exquisite period costumes. The first act evokes the sweetness of a youthful prom taking place in the Vienna Woods, all swirling pink and cream. The woods part to reveal a flock of wood sprites in hellebore colors. Next comes a burlesque polka in which the couples—girls in saucy frocks dishing it up with their partners (in striped pants and

Vienna Waltzes

Vienna Waltzes

pompadour wigs that Susan described as “Bob’s Big Boy meets Liberace”). We gasped as the next scene was revealed: the last of the woods melt away and we’re in an elegant Belle Époque interior; a mysterious and seductive black-clad woman appeared among the swirling couples. She, pursued by all, chooses the natty red-jacketed cavalry officer as number one on her dance card. Finally, the scene shifts again, and, stag-horn chandeliers lit, the whole company explodes into an exuberant crescendo of whirling ivory skirts and black tuxedos, like calligraphy set in motion.

The same program will be performed today at 1:30 and again at 7:30. If you can make it, go!

http://www.kennedy-center.org/events/?event=BNBSH