One of the most appealing traits of the Central Ballet of China is the dancers' ability to make you like and appreciate them on their own terms. What they dance and how they dance it are not in tune with current trends and tastes in American ballet, but the dancers don't let you dismiss them as quaint or even exotic. They don't try to sell what they do, they present it; and after several viewings their shy persistence becomes most winning.
At performances this weekend at the Kennedy Center Opera House the company presented a dizzying array of cast changes. It soon became obvious that company strengths and weaknesses were distributed evenly among the dancers.
Strength at first-soloist and principal level is astounding. Every dancer given a feature role deserved it; though some were technically stronger than others, they all had star allure and presented themselves as individuals. Feet, as a whole, were a problem. The men often forgot to point theirs; the women's lacked arch. Their legs were often sluggish, seldom taut. The dancers don't strive for speed, and one can't help but feel that the repertory's Russian emphasis, with its big effects at the expense of subtlety, does injustice to the dancers' serenity and delicacy.
On the plus side, the men are extraordinary jumpers and the women use their arms and hands beautifully. They're good actors, and the men are excellent partners, strong without being intrusive.
Particularly noteworthy last weekend were Ou Lu's expansive style in the "Don Quixote" pas de deux and "Variations for Four"; Zhang Dandan's delicate line in "The Maid of the Sea" and as the girl in "Three Preludes"; and Wang Pingping's expressive limbs as Xiang Lin's wife in "The New Year's Sacrifice." The only real disappointments came in "Swan Lake," where both Zhang and Guo Peihui, the Sunday matinee and Saturday evening Odettes respectively, gave tenuous performances, dancing to draggy tempos.