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From carnations in the arms of cousins to the decoupage Tinker Bell toe shoes up for auction in the lobby, a reunion atmosphere energized Friday evening. Slawson assembled a company of 23 local and returning alumni dancers for the gala. They performed best when the motion was refined rather than manic. Two poignant numbers, the Aileyesque "Spiritual Light" (1992, to Michael Jackson's "Will You Be There") and "Bridge Over Troubled Water" (2000, as sung by the late local songbird Eva Cassidy), prominently featured Kesha Johnson, a rising Gaithersburg dancer on break from her senior year of college in Chicago.
Several numbers could have been cut: the dated faux moon suits, the campy tapping and a vulgar vocalist who ended his R&B number by advertising his MySpace page.
There also were occasional amateur gaffes, like falling out of turns and throwing sluggish grand jetes, but these dancers smiled through the slip-ups. While all styles of dance require mastering technique, Motion Mania's endurance as a studio demonstrates that, in Washington, there should always be a stage for dancers that move to the music of the day.
-- Rebecca J. Ritzel
Enso String Quartet
The Enso String Quartet, a polished young group formed in 1999 at the Yale School of Music, gave an impressive program on Sunday afternoon at the National Academy of Sciences.
Joined by soprano Rosa Lamoreaux, the program featured the rarely heard Quartet No. 3 by Alberto Ginastera. As with predecessor works by Schoenberg and Barber, the problems of adding a voice to the perfect (and perfectly self-contained) classical music ensemble are hard to overcome. When the objective is simply to support and project a setting of text, one gets the feeling that any group of instruments will do, and the result is something other (and lesser) than a string quartet, even including the instrumental interludes. Also, at this point late in his career, the Argentine master had begun to rely a little too heavily on cliches such as unisons that slowly dissolve into dissonant harmonies, and ensemble passages in a tessitura so high that nearby dogs are summoned. Still, it was good to hear this challenging, multifaceted piece again.
Lamoreaux, a longtime Washington favorite, exhibited admirable command of her difficult part, with perfectly sustained lines. She could not solve all the diction problems in the upper register, but that was likely more the composer's fault. The Enso coped well with the grueling string writing.
In standard repertoire by Haydn and Dvorak, the quartet's strengths and weaknesses were both underlined by the venue's wretched acoustics. Ensemble, pacing and intonation were of the highest caliber, but the group needs to learn to project a fuller range of dynamics.
-- Robert Battey