Listed prosaically as Program B, the second bill of the John Curry Skaters' season at Kennedy Center is poetry. Just as dancing differs from walking, running and jumping, what these performers do is more than skating. And, with the ice itself finally under full control, one can focus on the dance skaters and skate dances without distraction.
Curry, with this program, emerges not just as a technical innovator but as a true choreographer. He uses the entire body to create design and style. Hands and head are more than ballast. It's in the heightened articulation of the arms that he tells us this is a woman dancing. Character is revealed in the ways the shoulders are held and the neck protrudes.
In matters of style, Curry is the heir of Sir Frederick Ashton more than any choreographer of Britain's Royal Ballet. Last night's opening work, "Glides" (to Glazunov's "Four Seasons" score) and the brand new "Six Debussy Pieces" showed a penchant for linearity and lyricism that is totally Ashtonian because its means are simple and its effect so expressive. For instance, in the "La Plus Que Lente" section of the Debussy work, Gabriella Galambos and James Bowser dance an entire duet built on a push-me-pull-you principle. And their relationship is defined more by their dance contact than by any superimposed romance. In fact, the only unsure thing about Curry's lyric ballets is the occasional insertion of explicit dramatic gestures. They're not necessary. The dancing itself is anything but cold and abstract.
Character dancing, though, is a thing Curry can fashion, and again there are signs of Ashton's match of subtlety and flair in "Nightmare," a solo for David Santee, and the brusque "Presto Barbero." As to technique, Curry the choreographer loves glides, makes noble displays of balance by explicitly rotating the direction of the extended leg, and flexes the raised foot in ways that make the skate boot seem almost as invisible as the ballet slipper.
Works by three other choreographers closed the program. Jean-Pierre Bonnefous' "Meditation," with Catherine Foulkes dramatically lifted by Mark Hominuke, is a stylized but successful example of passion explicitly built into the action. Patricia Dodd showed that high-energy skating can suit Gluck's serene "Blessed Spirit" music, though the trick steps were inappropriate. Laura Dean's "Burn" gave Curry the skater the chance to contrast balletic line with basic turning. The exciting young Nathan Birch was featured throughout the program.