GIVEN THE prodigious escalation of activity in recent seasons, Washington has been loaded with dance events on many occasions. The coming week, however, is something new, even for these bustling times.
In addition to the now normal rash of indigenous dance concerts around town, we will have American Ballet Theatre, our biannual visitor from the Big Apple, returning for its spring engagement. But at the same time, two of the nation's most venturesome and exciting modern dance troupes -- Meredith Monk/The House and Laura Dean Dancers and Musicians -- will be appearing here in successive three-night stands. All three troupes -- and this is the kicker -- will be performing at the Kennedy Center: ABT at the Opera House, starting Tuesday evening and running through this and the next two weeks; Monk and Dean at the Terrace Theater, starting Tuesday and Friday nights, respectively. For the first time, the Center will be hosting simultaneously both the classical ballet establishment and front-ranking representatives of modern dance.
The "conflict" was one of those unavoidable coincidences of booking that are increasingly invading our dance calendars -- theaters and companies both have limited availability, and presenters are obliged to take what dates they can (another such collision is in store this summer, when England's Royal Ballet at the Kennedy Center and the Netherlands Dance Theater at Wolf Trap will vie for attention during the week of July 14). In the present case, Kennedy Center is, in a sense, "competing" with itself. iABT appears on the Center's own ballet subscription series.Monk and Dean, moreover, are included in this year's Dance America series, under the joint auspices of the Washington Performing Arts Society and the Center.
ABT will be returning here for the second time since Mikhail Baryshnikov's accession to the post of artistic director. Among the hallmarks of his leadership, visible during the troup's December visit, was the conspicuous assignment of dancers from junior ranks -- soloists and members of the corps de ballet -- to major roles throughout the repertory. From what is already known about the casting for the spring season -- the first two weeks -- it's clear the same policy is to continue or even expand. As one notable example, we'll be seeing soloists Cynthia Harvey and Ross Stretton making their Washington ABT debuts as principals of "Swan Lake" during this Saturday's matinee.
The spring series, however, will differ from the December engagement in two major respects. To start with, ballerina Natalia Makarova, having signed a renewal contract with ABT in the interim, will rejoin the roster of principal dancers, who will also include Cynthia Gregory, Magali Messac, Marianna Tcherkassky and Martine van Hamel, and on the male side, Baryshnikov, Alexander Godunov and Kevin McKenzie.
The second change will be the addition of five new works to the Washington repertory and the restoration of five other ABT staples not seen for a while. Among the new acquisitions will be "Airs," the first dance work by modern dance choreographer Paul Taylor ever to be performed by ABT; Vaslav Nijinsky's history-making "Afternoon of a Faun," newly restored to the ABT repertory by Elizabeth Schooling; Balanchine's "La Sonnambula," with new decor by Zack Brown and costumes by Theoni Aldredge; the pas de trois from August Bournonville's "The Guards of Amager," in a staging by Stanley Williams; and a new production of Kenneth MacMillan's "Concerto."
Three of these repertory revivals -- "Sonnambula," "Airs" and "Bournonville Pas de Trois" -- will be introduced on Tuesday evening's opening "gala" program, which will also include a bonus -- a pas de deux from "La Fille Mal Gardee" to be danced by Cheryl Yeager and Danilo Radojevic. Revived repertory includes Ashton's "Patineurs," Tudor's "Jardin aux Lilas" and "The Leaves Are Fading," and Tetley's "Voluntaries" and "Sphinx."
Meredith Monk, who has carved out a unique niche for herself at the intersection of dance, music and theater arts, has presented her work previously in the Washington area -- in a memorable opus called "Tour: Dedicated to Dinosaurs," created in 1969 especially for the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History; at the University of Maryland; and most recently in a concert of her own haunting, primitivist music at the Washington Project for the Arts. The Terrace Theater performances, marking her first Kennedy Center appearance, will feature a work entitled "Paris/Venice/Milan: A Travelogue," the outcome of a collaboration with another noted multimedia artist, Ping Chong. The performance, involving elements of dance, mime, music and decor, will be by Monk, Chong and members of The House, the troupe of dancers and musicians Monk established in New York in 1968.
Like Monk, with whose company she worked for a time, Laura Dean composes her own music for her dances, including scores for the two works to be seen at the Terrace Theater, "Song" and "Tympani." Like Monk also, Dean has had some previous Washington exposure; she presented an evening of her work at the Renwick Gallery in 1974, and since then her troupe has had two residencies at American University. A recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship for her innovative choreography, she was recently commissioned to create a work specially for the Joffrey Ballet -- the resulting composition, "Night," had its premiere in New York this past winter. "Tympani," which will receive its first Washington performances on the Kennedy Center programs, was jointly commissioned by the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the American Dance Festival. During a performance at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, the work was taped for national broadcast by public television later this year.