The Washington Ballet introduced the final program in its spring series at Lisner Auditorium this past weekend (there'll be two additional performances next Friday and Saturday), and in so doing, afforded a splendid overview of the company's distinctive artistic traits.
The spirit of choreographic discovery was trenchantly represented by the world premiere of a commissioned piece of Jan Van Dyke, long a leading Washington exponent of modern dance who now resides in New York. Called "Washington Suite," the new opus is Van Dyke's first work for a ballet troupe, and it's a notable success on several counts. The exemplary classical training that has become a Washington Ballet trademark was handsomely; displayed in a standard pas de deux performed by Amanda McKerrow and Simon Dow, who are soon to compete in this year's prestigious international ballet competition in Moscow. And "early" (1975) work and a recent one by Choo San Goh, the company's assistant artistic director and resident choreographer, were reminders of the creative ferment that has spurred the troupe to unprecedented growth over the past half-decade. And a revival of James Clouser's flamboyant, if tediously bloated, "Carmina Burana," demonstrated the company's preparedness for radical changes of pace.
As music for the "Washington Suite," Van Dyke made the ambitious choice of Beethoven's "Disabelli" Variations, though she uses less than a third of the full set for her purposes. The choreography takes its cue, however, not from the expressive implications of the score, but from Beethoven's structural concerns. Van Dyke, in fact, pursues in this piece the same interest in athletic vigor, spatial design and abstract formal and rhythmic elements exhibited in others of her recent works.
The four women and two men, in stylized studio attire plus sneakers, interact like teammates, and some passages have them kicking, strutting or trotting in ways that suggest the playing field. The linear pattern introduced toward the start, then fractured and energized in a variety of ways and reassembled with intensification for the close, gives the work a satisfying symmetry. Though the dancers bestow more of a balletic cast on the movement than may have been intended, the Van Dyke idiom stretches their stylistic reach in beneficial ways, and they in turn perform the piece with convincing buoyancy.
In the "Sleeping Beauty" duet with Dow as a sturdy partner, McKerrow again showed the purity and melodiousness of line that have made her such a standout. It was a somewhat overly deliberate performance, however; perhaps the excitement of competition will get her back to risk turning up the voltage a bit. Both the Goh pieces -- the moddily "continental" "Impressions Passed," with Lynn Cote, Dow and John Goding, and the impudently American "Casual Moments" with Kacy O'Brien and Malcolm Grant -- bespoke the advantages of meticulous coaching from the choreographer. "Carmina Burana" seemed interminable, but it did testify to the company's theatrical resourcefulness.