Washington Ballet's 'High Lonesome' and 'Rooster': Rock-and-roll in toe shoes
Saturday, February 19, 2011
Classical dance, known for its buttoned-up elegance, and rock music, the perennial emblem of boisterous defiance, may not be an obvious artistic match. But increasingly it's become a common one, with prominent ballet companies mounting works set to songs by George Harrison, U2 and Radiohead, to name a few. Whether this trend is simply a reflection of the tastes of the baby-boom and Gen-X choreographers or a gambit to bring younger, hipper audiences into theaters is open for debate. But with its performance Thursday at the Sidney Harman Center for the Arts, the Washington Ballet served up two of the best of the genre: Trey McIntyre's "High Lonesome," a family portrait accompanied by the music of Beck; and Christopher Bruce's "Rooster," a moody salute to the Rolling Stones.
The movement and tone of "High Lonesome" have a creeping sense of detachment and apathy that is the perfect complement for its similarly-themed alt-rock score. With tightly clenched fists and arms frequently crooked into an L-shape, the dancers are deliberately tense and mechanical, arriving at each position with stops so fast and hard that the movement appears to reverberate through their bodies.
McIntyre previously served as Washington Ballet's resident choreographer, and it's clear that the company is comfortable with his uber-contemporary style. Although the piece's protagonist is a boyish loner played capably by Jonathan Jordan, the most interesting character in "High Lonesome" is easily the mother figure, danced by Sona Kharatian. In a climactic solo section, we see her completely unravel, shedding an aloof, Stepford Wife-like exterior to reveal someone achingly vulnerable. Kharatian could afford to be a little more brazen and gutsy here, since this moment is the dance's emotional fulcrum.
In contrast to the McIntyre piece, "Rooster" favors slick over stark. Men in velvet sport coats are paired with women in slinky black dresses for a vignette-style stream of fluid, sensual movement. The dancers excelled at capturing the subtle sense of humor that permeates this piece, particularly in the recurring instances of abrupt chin thrusts meant to mimic the animal in the work's title. But Bruce's choreography seemed to call for a lyrical quality that was largely absent. Mick Jagger's mournful vocals in "Ruby Tuesday" begged for a more tender, woeful treatment, and the hypnotic "Paint It, Black" needed a dash of brooding anguish.
Another work on the program, Artistic Director Septime Webre's "Fluctuating Hemlines," was a rumination on humans' more animalistic tendencies. It began with dancers clad in flouncy dresses and poufy wigs, primping and preening. Soon, they stripped down to camisoles and briefs to get to the business of showing what dance can be like in its most wild and ambitious form.
Though the male and female dancers were probably onstage for comparable amounts of time in this work, it was the men who dominated it. They were assured, sturdy and energetic, and made some difficult jumping sequences look unified and effortless. Company veteran Jared Nelson was commanding in a solo role, exhibiting bravura but not melodrama and control but not restraint.
All three works were carefully crafted and satisfyingly danced, but missed the mark ever so slightly in terms of character development.
The Washington Ballet's "Rock & Roll" continues at 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturday and at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Sidney Harman Center for the Arts.