Washington Ballet's 'Rock & Roll' at the Harman
Ballet is dedicated to structure, technique and tradition. Rock-and-roll suggests freedom and rebellion, experimentation and immediacy. The marriage of the two is what makes the Washington Ballet's upcoming triple bill at Sidney Harman Hall so intriguing.
"Ballet's roots are in form and make a statement about harmony in our world," said Septime Webre, the company's artistic director. "But ballet is also a language . . . pliable enough to express stories about a swan princess and also reflect our contemporary lives, including the subversive thoughts that led to rock-and-roll."
The "Rock & Roll" program features a Rolling Stones-inspired ballet, "Rooster," by British choreographer Christopher Bruce. The work explores contemporary male-female relationships accompanied by such classic Stones tunes as "Lady Jane," "Little Red Rooster," "Not Fade Away" and "Ruby Tuesday." To music by alt-rock post-modernist Beck, there's choreographer Trey McIntyre's autobiography of family dysfunction, "High Lonesome." Rounding out the bill is Webre's "Fluctuating Hemlines," a heady take on stripping away artifice (the dancers cavort in their underwear), set to an all-percussion score by New Jersey composer Tigger Benford, who will be in the house with his ensemble.
Readying the 18 company members and two apprentices to dance to Stones, Beck and drums, Webre said, is a continuous process. "It begins with ensuring that the foundation is as strong as can be, that the classical technique has to be at a very high level," he said. "With the foundation secure, straying from it becomes easy, especially for this cadre of dancers."
Two of the dancers, Jonathan Jordan and Corey Landolt, have found that their wide-ranging musical tastes have helped them take to a variety of dance styles - classic ballet to modern works to the contemporary style Webre favors.
"I love all music," Jordan said during a quick rehearsal break recently. "As a kid, I definitely started out with classic rock from my parents - Zeppelin, the Doors, Clapton. . . . Then, of course, I started listening to rap when I was a teenager and hard-core metal," which, he says, is the best motivation for working out and lifting weights.
With "Ruby Tuesday" blaring in the background, Landolt added: "I like most forms of music and I feel like it drives me in some way. . . . In Septime's piece, when I'm getting tired and when I really have to dig deep, the music, the beat will push me through and pump me up. My goal is for you to see the music in my dancing."
Both men are also fans of the "Rock Band" and "Guitar Hero" video games, which they play on weekends to wind down after dancing up to 45 hours a week.
"While I think there are a lot of differences between pop culture and classical arts, at the same time it's all part of the human experience," Jordan said. "I let both genres influence each other. The more human, contemporary things that I feel dancing to Beck or to the Stones, I allow that to influence my classical work. I keep the integrity, but I let that human side show. For me that makes the performance more real, and I connect better with the audience."
Traiger is a freelance writer.
Rock & Roll Wednesday through Feb. 20 at Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F St. NW. 202-547-1122. www.harmancenter.org. $20-$87.