Washington Ballet, the In Series portray a fun-loving Mozart in 'WAM!'

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Even his initials connote power.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Even his initials connote power. (Sean Gallup/getty Images)
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By Stephanie Merry
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 22, 2010

When piecing together the story for "WAM! Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart," Washington Ballet associate artistic director David Palmer wanted to introduce a side of the 18th-century wunderkind that fans of his symphonies and concertos might not have met: a whimsical genius with a penchant for late-night revelry.

Among the hundreds of letters Palmer perused while doing research was one Mozart wrote about going to a party at 6 p.m. and leaving at 7.

"As in . . . the next morning," Palmer says.

That fun-loving vibe pulses through "WAM!," the third collaboration in as many years between the up-and-coming dancers of the Washington Ballet's Studio Company and opera singers from the In Series. In fact, the title alone serves as a telling onomatopoeia.

"You get the sense this isn't a dusty, old interpretation of Mozart. His initials become this great, powerful word," says Emily Morrison, general manager of the In Series.

This year's joint performance -- the biggest so far -- features 11 dancers, six opera singers and two pianists, including Juilliard-alum-turned-Mozart-expert Carlos César Rodríguez. The production is the most linear of the collaborations, although both groups, known for their nontraditional interpretations, have no designs on a straight historical narrative. Washington Ballet Artistic Director Septime Webre describes the show as a "scenic" retelling of history and a chance to see Mozart for what he really was: "A barrel of energy [who] lived life like a pistol."

Although the production hits the major events, including some darker moments, in the composer's life -- his emergence as a child prodigy, travels abroad to London and Paris, the death of his parents and the moment he met his wife -- the emphasis is on experiencing Mozart's music in a new way.

In that vein, the performance deviates from the yarn on multiple occasions, and the presence of both singers and dancers onstage gives the sense of "two parallel realities," says Carla Hubner, In Series artistic director and founder. Sometimes the groups mingle, and sometimes they work on separate planes. This also allows the dancers to pass the baton as the singers take the spotlight, becoming the main players in such operas as "The Magic Flute" and "The Marriage of Figaro" or reading selections from Mozart's letters.

This scenario gets to the heart of the collaboration, as Webre gives cues to In Series singers and Hubner makes suggestions for stage directions. But the two groups are unified when it comes to their focus on the fanciful: Sean Pflueger as Papageno from "The Magic Flute" making theatrical figure eights around his fellow singers; an interlude with the love-potion-toting magician from "Bastien and Bastienne"; and the set change to an aquatic adventure, complete with breaching dolphins.

Palmer sees these elements as reflective of Mozart's eternal good humor, adding, "This guy was a bit wacko at the same time as being absolutely brilliant. . . . There was this boyishness that never really left him."

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