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

Ballet Across America III-Program B: Cheers for the Home team, the Washington Ballet

While George Balanchine was again celebrated in Ballet Across America III at The Kennedy Center Opera House, last night belonged to our home team. The Washington Ballet soared in Wunderland, choreographed by Edwaard Liang, a former dancer of the New York City Ballet and Balanchine disciple. Conductor Scott Speck, pianist Lisa Emenheiser, and members of The Kennedy Center Orchestra kept the 10 dancers on their toes (literally) with their bright, lively rendition of the Philip Glass score.

The Washington Ballet dancers Corey Landolt, Jared Nelson, Nicole Haskins, Morgann Rose, Sona Kharatian, Maki Onuki and Emily Ellis. Photo by Linda Spillers.
The Washington Ballet dancers Corey Landolt, Jared Nelson, Nicole Haskins, Morgann Rose, Sona Kharatian, Maki Onuki and Emily Ellis. Photo by Linda Spillers.

Wunderland is one of those fascinating-to-watch ballets, set somewhere faraway where snow falls, as it actually does during the ballet. The choreographer suggests that he was looking at a snow globe in Moscow when he began the process. Mostly, though, it’s a tribute to beautiful bodies. The opening finds five ballerinas wearing red, backless, and, definitely plunging, leotards – their torsos hunched over spindly legs and outstretched arms. It reminds one of a prehistoric reptile or, perhaps, a creature from outer space. The guys look sleek in their pale beige attire. Costumes are credited to Monica LelandJoan Lynch, and Emily Vallozzi, and the cool stage lighting to Jeff Bruckerhoff for the design and Robert I. Fabrizio for the re-creation.

Maiki Onuki and Luis R. Torres brought down the house following their acrobatic pas de deux, their bodies curling and unfurling while her arms fluttered like a swan queen. We held our breath when Torres swung her around his back with one arm while somehow managing to guide her to the floor with the other.

Still it was Sona Kharatian, who dominated the piece just standing perfectly still and glaring at the audience. If only Balanchine had lived long enough to see this Armenian beauty command the stage, he would have surely chosen her as the Siren in his Apollo ballet. As her partner, Jared Nelson proved that he’s a guy you can always count on for lifts and support plus his own eye-catching dance style.

The Sarasota Ballet kicked-off the evening with the perennial favorite, Les Patineurs (The Skaters) and proved that these dancers could hold their own. Sir Frederick Ashton’s 1937 ballet is still crowd-pleasing from the first entrance of the Victorian costumed skaters to the finale – a tip of the hat to designer William Chappell. Staged for the company by Margaret Barbieriand Iain Webb (who worked with Ashton at the Royal Ballet School and danced at the Sadler Wells where the ballet premiered), Les Patineursglides to the lively tunes of Meyerbeer music.

Sarasota Ballet's Danielle Brown and Ricardo Graziano in 'Les Patineurs.' Photo by Linda Spillers.
Sarasota Ballet’s Danielle Brown and Ricardo Graziano in ‘Les Patineurs.’ Photo by Linda Spillers.

Standouts include the two “Blue Girls” who cross the stage in a huff, slipping and sliding but managing to remain on pointe. Kate Honea is amazing with her endless fouettes), mixed in with double pirouettes. Though it was Logan Learned as the “Boy in Blue” who blew us away with his turns that went on and on and one as the curtain closed, then opened, then closed for the first intermission.

As for that previously noted Balanchine nod, The Pennsylvania Ballet performed The Four Temperaments, a perfect finale to a fine show. While there is an underling theme that the body possesses four humors: Melancholic, Sanguinic, Phlegmatic, and Choleric, this work is starkly abstract and meant to be absorbed, not analyzed. It showcases the large ensemble in black and white, a trademark of a Balanchine ballet – the company looked terrific on stage.

All in all, it was a fine evening of dance, capped by The Pennsylvania Ballet’s crisp dancing and on-the-money musicality. Only a few slips kept it from perfection. It was also nice to see a female conductor, Beatrice Jona Affron, tackle the Paul Hindemith score. One fan suggested the Pennsylvanians “still hold the edge” on this neo-classic masterpiece. Fortunately there are a number of upcoming performances to enjoy another viewing, at The Kennedy Center, as part of the 2013-14 Ballet Series, or we can travel north in October when The Pennsylvania Ballet celebrates its 50th anniversary, Balanchine, and more.

Pennsylvania Ballet Company Members Lillian Di Piazza and Lorin Mathis in 'The Four Temperaments.' Photo courtesy of The George Balanchine Trust.
Pennsylvania Ballet Company Members Lillian Di Piazza and Lorin Mathis in ‘The Four Temperaments.’ Photo courtesy of The George Balanchine Trust.

Ballet Across America‘s III Program B repeats tomorrow afternoon and evening at 1:30 PM and 7:30 PM at The Kennedy Center’s Opera House – 2700 F Street, NW in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office (202) 467-4600, or purchase them online.

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 tonight’s Program C (June 7).

Read  Ballet Across America III-Program A at The Kennedy Center.

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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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