The Washington Ballet debuts Clifton Brown’s “Menagerie.” (Theo Kossenas/Media 4 Artists/media4artists/Theo Kossenas )
Dance critic

What happens when dancers create the dance? The Washington Ballet’s new program, titled “Three World Premieres,” is more than an unveiling of commissioned works. It’s an evening of role reversals. The choreographers — Marcelo Gomes, Clifton Brown and Gemma Bond — are all experienced, world-class dancers, but they’re newcomers to making work. 

What ties their dances together and makes this program at Sidney Harman Hall worth seeing, however uneven the result, is the raw, often exhilarating transference of energy, from one expert mover to another. 

An added luxury is the excellent live string accompaniment with two of the works: Brown’s “Menagerie,” featuring Rossini’s Duet for Cello and Double Bass in D, and Gomes’s “The Outset,” with Dvorak’s String Quartet No. 12 in F.

One extra reversal would improve the program — switching the order. The first work, by Brown, a longtime member of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, is spirited and witty, and it’s a natural closer, while the finale, Gomes’s work, is more muted. 

Gomes is the former American Ballet Theatre principal who is now busy as a guest artist. A Sunday gig with the Mariinsky Ballet in “Giselle” took him away from his own premiere; he was heading to St. Petersburg during Thursday’s opening-night performance. His choreography is the most conventionally balletic of the three works — attention to line, neat formations, sweeping lifts — though he packs a lot into his compressed tale of small-town life. There are quick, clever scenes of play, romance and a wedding in “The Outset,” and the light, simple dresses by Judy Hansen echo the overall charm. Gian Carlo Perez added a note of conflict on Thursday as a man who’s had enough of this sweet setting and wants to head for the horizon.

Yet Gomes’s work is too smooth. Perhaps that’s his motor impulse coming through, the dancer’s desire for flow. Put his fluid choreographic style together with the lyrical but generally inward and restrained Dvorak quartet and you have a pleasant but somewhat colorless experience, especially when it comes at the end of the night.


Gemma Bond’s “Myriad” featuring Brooklyn Mack and Maki Onuki. (Theo Kossenas/Media 4 Artists/media4artists/Theo Kossenas )

Brown’s “Menagerie” is engaging all the way through — it’s full of movement surprises, and you’re half afraid the dancers are going to leap off the stage into your lap. They never do, though they sprint to the lip of the stage at one point and threaten to squeeze under the curtain as it’s lowering. It’s a cast of cutups, alternating knockabout zip with elegance. Jen Gillette’s fun, youthful costumes added just the right note of tease. “Menagerie” is the most accomplished, musically interesting and delightful piece of the evening, and it makes you realize how rare a good dance joke is. If every painting is a self-portrait, is there something of Brown’s yearnings in the ballerina who’s constantly shoving her pals aside to vamp in the spotlight?

Bond, a 10-year veteran of American Ballet Theatre, also drew out her dancers’ personalities for her piece, “Myriad,” with a cast of six women and a man. (On Thursday, this was Brooklyn Mack, who had his hands full and managed brilliantly.) Using Henry Purcell songs and sonatas, Bond gave each woman a beautiful solo, tailored to her strengths — Sarah Steele’s bright high spirits, Kateryna Derechyna’s expansive grandeur, Francesca Dugarte’s approachable warmth. These solos are where Bond’s gifts shine. She allows the women to take up space, to dominate the stage in a thrilling way. The free and full-scale way they use their arms especially caught my eye. Is this the woman’s touch? Bond is simply an interesting artist.

These works may not possess the long view of structure, style and metaphor of more-experienced choreographers (though Brown comes very close). But a love of moving — they have that in spades.


Marcelo Gomes’s “The Outset.” (Theo Kossenas/Media 4 Artists/media4artists/Theo Kossenas )

Three World Premieres by the Washington Ballet, with cast changes, through Sunday at Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F St. NW. Tickets: $25-$118. Call 202-547-1122 or visit shakespearetheatre.org.