Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
What the Ballet International de Caracas, making its Washington debut Tuesday in the first of a week of performances at the National Theatre, showed us first and foremost was an extraordinary group of dancers. Youthful, vivacious, extremely proficient in technique, sharp, lucid and harmonious as an ensemble and notably versatile in style, they are as impressive a troupe of their size (23, including cofounder and prima ballerina Zhandra Rodriguez) as one can think of anywhere.
Indeed, it's hard to recall any company of chamber dimensions with so many beautifully proportioned figures, male and female, all lean, sleek and beautifully matched in size and contour.
It's the kind of troupe that strikes one as primarily a dancer's company, especially since, at least on this first evening, the performers seemed more imposing than the choregraphic material they had to work with. But these dancers are magnetic enough to counterbalance much in the way of programmatic shortcomings.
Each one has particular qualities of appeal.There's Rodriguez, an exceptionally well-rounded dancer of special tensile force, who projects a distinctive, high-spirited personality; Maryland-born Zane Wilson, like a slimmer, more Dionysian version of Peter Martins and with a similar commanding presence, Marielena Mencia, patrician in mold, slender and aristocratic looking, combining wonderful personal intensity with an exquisite lyric line; Dale Talley, powerful in his urgency and dramatic aura; and numbers of others of outstanding caliber, including Manuel Molina, Gina Bugati and Ivan Michand.
The program opened with Alvin Ailey's "The River," and it was fascinating to see this familiar work performed here for the first time by company other than American Ballet Theatre (which commissioned it for the launching of the Kennedy Center).
The ABT performances in recent seasons had been running stale; the company overused the piece and it showed. The Caracas troupe revivifies the choreography with its own brand of exuberance - Ailey worked with them in staging it, revising certain sections and pulling it back into shape; this too shows.
These dancers have a way of getting the rhythm into their muscles and a muscular thrust into the rhythms that underlines the congruence of the choreography and Duke Ellington's persuasive score. It's also hard to remember seeing dancers who could shift gears more smoothly and convincingly from classic into jazz idioms and back.
Perhaps the most beguiling work of the evening was director Vincente Nebrada's "Nuestros Valses" ("Our Waltzes"), set to music by Teresa Careno, the Legendary Venezuelan pianist of the 19th century. This is a "piano ballet" (with the pianist on stage, behind a scrim in this case) in the mold of Jerome Robbins' "Dancers at a gathering," and it has similar casual romantic charms - swaying giving way to strolling, yielding in turn to swooning, swooping garlands of couples. The difficulty is that the waltzes lack rhythmic and harmonic variety, and the overlong choreography, though fresh and gracious, needs something other than an unbroken series of pas de deux to break the monotony.
Vincente Nebrada's "La Luna y los Hijos que Tenia" ("The Moon and the children It Possessed") again showed the dancers to fine advantage, in this instance in the Indian, African and Spanish folk modes the work purports to fuse. It's tasteful enough in its anatomical rituals, but it's essentially banal ethnic kitsch that doesn't do these artists full justice.