‘Ballet Across America III-Program A’ at The Kennedy Center by Carolyn Kelemen

Ballet Across America III-Program A: Opening Night:  A Trio of Top Troupes Takes The Stage

For the return of Ballet Across America at The Kennedy Center Opera House, last night’s audience included dozens of dancers, directors, choreographers, producers, and family members of the three companies that kicked off the six-day celebration. With nine companies participating in BAA III, those not dancing usually watch one another’s performances. During intermissions, it was a kiss and hugfest – fun for fans wondering what ever happened to whomever.

Richmond Ballet's Shira Lanyi, Jess Bechard, and Kirk Henning in 'Ershter Vals.' Photo by Sarah Ferguson.
Richmond Ballet’s Shira Lanyi, Jess Bechard, and Kirk Henning in ‘Ershter Vals.’ Photo by Sarah Ferguson.

That said, these balletomanes can also be overly sensitive when it comes to a critique of their favorite company. After watching three top-notch dance companies from Massachusetts, Oregon, and Virginia take the stage, my first thought was, “What has become of the ballet tutu? I must confess that I longed for a wannabe Margaret Fonteyn in The Rose Adagio from The Sleeping Beauty. Then again, she was British, not American.

Each selected company chooses one work to showcase at The Kennedy Center – it was designed to include as many ballet troupes from all over the country. Especially rewarding this time around, two female artistic directors were represented in the first night program.

Since 2008 when the BAA began at The Kennedy Center, a merging of modern dance and ballet has boomed. And that’s okay, especially since American dance represents so many aspects of our culture.

A good example is the Richmond Ballet’s performance of Ershter Vals, choreographed by an artist to note, Ma Cong.

Here is a sweeping, lyrical, and, at times, uplifting ballet a la Paul Taylor or Jose Limon or some other choreographer who works in the modern vein. Danced in soft, ballet slippers to tuneful Yiddish songs (some taken from lyrics by Holocaust victims), the work set the tone for an evening of unusual dance choices. Kudos to Tamara Cobus for her costume designs – flowing orange and golden dresses for the women that served as a comfort blanket for the guys in the more somber moments and a gathering of fabric to shake at them in more playful dance scenes.

Oregon Ballet Theatre's Damian Drake, Paul DeStrooper, and Alison Roper in Almost Mozart. Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert
Oregon Ballet Theatre’s Damian Drake, Paul DeStrooper, and Alison Roper in ‘Almost Mozart.’
Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert

Almost Mozart with choreography by international artist James Kudelka, was even more puzzling. Only five talented and physically fit dancers were chosen to represent the Oregon Ballet Theatre in this “completely experimental work,” as described by the choreographer. Hey, I would have preferred a bevy of these buffed bodies, dressed in what looked like black leather briefs and bras. Much more European in tone, the work opens to strains of Mozart, performed live by The Kennedy Center Orchestra. Then it’s dead silence and the dancers whip off wildly imaginative combinations, first as a male duo, then a trio with the ballerina on pointe – a dominatrix, of sorts, who controls her men by pushing them to the ground. Then the music begins again, stops, and a duet ensues – fabulous dancing but certainly mystifying.

Under the masterful baton of Jonathan McPhee, the full orchestra was needed for Symphony in Three Movements, Balanchine’s rarely seen masterpiece, set to Stravinsky’s score of the same name. With apologizes to T. S. Elliot, the Boston Ballet’s closing piece ended with ‘a bang not a whimper!’

Picture a stage filled with a huge corps de ballet, the ballerinas in white leotards and the men in black tights, white t-shirts, joined by two couples and yet another line of young dancers. Then suddenly Jeffrey Cirio flies past the group as he turns multiple times in the air, landing ever so softly. Misa Kuranaga joins him for another round of bravura dancing and the fun continues until the final curtain.

Boston Ballet in 'Symphony in Three Movements.' Photo by Rosalie O'Connor.
Boston Ballet in ‘Symphony in Three Movements.’ Photo by Rosalie O’Connor.

Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes, including two 20-minute intermissions.

Ballet Across America‘s Program A continues tonight at 7:30 PM at The Kennedy Center’s Opera House – 2700 F Street, NW in Washington, DC. Purchase  tickets online. 


Program B (June 6th at 7:30 PM; June 8th at 1:30 PM and 7:30 PM

The Sarasota Ballet performs Sir Frederic Ashton’s dashing skating ballet, Les Patineurs. D.C.’s own The Washington Ballet showcases Edwaard Liang’s Wunderland, performed to a score by Balanchine. Pennsylvania Ballet tackles The Four Temperaments, created by George Balanchine to Paul Hindemith’s commissioned score, performed live by The Kennedy Center Orchestra.

Running Time: 2 hours, 7 minutes, including two 20-minute intermissions.


Program C (June 7th at 7:30 PM and June 9th at 1:30 pm).

North Carolina Dance Theatre performs Rhapsodic Dances to Rachmaninoff’s music. Ballet Austin dances Hush, set to a spiraling score by Philip Glass. Dance Theatre of Harlem (Virginia Johnson, Artistic Director) returns to the stage after closing in 2004. The company brings Robert Garland’s urban/post-modern/neoclassical confection Return, making use of the music of Aretha Franklin and James Brown, in a tribute to American social dances of the ’60s and ’70s.

Running Time: One hour, 46 minutes, including two 20-minute intermissions.


Explore the Arts

Free Post-Performance Discussions feature artistic directors from the participating companies offering insights into their creations and eliciting your comments and reactions after Program B (June 6th) and Program C (June 7th).


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Carolyn Kelemen
Carolyn Kelemen is an award-winning arts critic and feature writer for the Baltimore Sun, Howard County Times, and Columbia Flier - 45 years and counting. The Columbia resident earned her Masters Degree in Dance at Mills College in California and has taught college and graduate courses at Goucher College, Loyola, the College of Notre Dame and Howard Community College. A professional dancer throughout the East Coast in the late 50s and early 60s, she was trained in classical ballet, modern dance, jazz and tap. Her TV/film career includes MPT’s “ weeknight Alive” and years of local productions in the Maryland/DC area. Carolyn is a longtime member of the Dance Critics of America, the American Theatre Critics Association. She has proudly produced the “A Labor of Love” AIDS benefits since 1988.


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