The stage at Harman Hall was hardly big enough for all of this perkiness, but scale and proportion were not the point of the evening. As Washington Ballet Artistic Director Septime Webre announced before the curtain rose Friday, this presentation was the launch of the company’s occasional series of “gala-style” programming — that is, punchy excerpts from popular ballets, anchored by a showpiece like “Stars and Stripes” — collected under the label “Tour de Force.”
Force is the idea here. You could also call it the business end of ballet. (Or just the end of ballet? I admit, that thought came to me once or twice.) Balanchine knew audiences would go mad for the marches, for his ballerinas in bobby socks and pointe shoes, for lines of men in uniform popping up into air turns. Bright music, bright costumes, high jumps: The formula can’t fail to whip up excitement.
In the same way, the slew of virtuoso pas de deux that preceded “Stars and Stripes” — among them, excerpts from “Don Quixote,” “Swan Lake” and from contemporary works such as Trey McIntyre’s “Blue Until June” and Nacho Duato’s “Cor Perdut” — were a tool, guaranteed to extract shouts and cheers.
If the stage looked cramped during “Stars and Stripes,” it looked cold and vacant during the classical duets. Mood, atmosphere, emotional range: These weren’t part of the package. Ji Young Chae and Jonathan Jordan didn’t conjure romance in the “Don Quixote” spot, and tragedy didn’t make its way into the second-act “Swan Lake” snippet led by Aurora Dickie and Hyun-Woong Kim. If the excerpts portion of the program smacked of a ballet competition — and it did, a dubious distinction — at least it met all the competition standards. The poses and jumps were nailed.
Warmth and expression isn’t meant to fit into this equation. But there was one piece with soul: the “Valley of Ashes” scene from Webre’s “The Great Gatsby.” This was an unexpected addition, with its sullen gang of men in trousers and undershirts, raising their hackles to early Duke Ellington. In a program of relentless exclamation points, here was a welcome element of depth.
The Washington Ballet’s “Tour de Force: Stars and Stripes” continues, with cast changes and varying excerpts, through Sunday at Sidney Harman Hall of the Harman Center, 450 7th St. NW. Tickets $32-$111.25 at washingtonballet.org, or shakespearetheatre.org, or by calling 202-547-1122.