Webre, ushering David Palmer onstage, who choreographed “Dangerous Liaisons,” the world premiere of which we were all gathered there to see: “Now we’re going to introduce the characters . . . blah blah . . . acts of social revenge . . . yada yada . . .”
Me, many minutes later, struggling to remember who was who among the dozen or so dancers in wigs, puffy shirts and pastel chiffon, and feeling the same dread that preceded algebra tests in my math-phobic youth: “I’m already lost. And the dancing hasn’t even started yet.”
Do you want to know what I was telling myself a full hour later, as the romantic entanglements derived from the knotty, naughty 18th-century French novel “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” had gotten only tanglier? No? I don’t blame you.
I’ll say only that Jared Nelson performed the arduous and thankless role of that rascal, the Vicomte de Valmont, with admirable humor and devilry. Sona Kharatian as the Marquise de Merteuil set out with cool detachment upon her path to deceit but seemed as bewildered as I was about how to react as the ballet wore on. And as the virtuous Madame de Tourvel, Emily Ellis tried hard to distinguish each pas de deux with Nelson from the many that had come before it, but she looked wrung out in the end from the effort.
Not that there was anything wrong with Ellis’s execution. But the choreography, spinning dizzily around as it was for her, for him, for all the other hers and hims, told us nothing essential. And no amount of program notes (and these fill a page) or verbal introductions can solve the problems that have eluded the choreographer.
(Don’t ask me about the music. I prefer to forget that ever such a misfortune befell Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.”)
But the evening wasn’t lost. The program was titled “L’Amour (love, baby . . .),” and wouldn’t you know, I found love in it after all. In “Opposites Distract,” Elaine Kudo, the company ballet master and former American Ballet Theatre soloist, gave us a brilliant lesson in how to craft a smart, short and sassy switcheroo for two couples. Not a moment was wasted in moving us swiftly from two unhappy hookups through some hot-and-heavy sweetheart swaps and on to a clever and well-substantiated resolution. Ottmar Leibert’s piquant flamenco guitar set the perfect tone, and Aurora Dickie, Nicole Haskins, Zachary Hackstock and Luis R. Torres answered it with zest. Dickie, in fact, almost shimmied her ruffly skirt off. But the slight wardrobe malfunction only underscored the up-tempo rush of this utterly engaging work, which Kudo created in 1999. May she be so inspired again.
By the time Amy Seiwert’s closer came around, however, it felt like a pas de deux overdose. Her “Under Covers,” also a world premiere, featured adorable bedroom romps accompanied by cover versions of pop songs (Johnny Cash’s rumbling “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” among them) and was a pleasant enough finale. But I’d already met enough cute to last a good long time.
L’Amour (love, baby . . .)
through Sunday, with cast changes, at Sidney Harman Hall, 450 Seventh St. NW. $32-$112. Call 202-547-1122, or go to www.washingtonballet.org or www.shakespearetheatre.org.