More than one of the dances in the Washington Ballet’s program of excerpts required the ballerina to bang a tambourine.
Sadly, none called for her to stomp on it.
At times during Thursday’s “Tour-de-Force: Serenade” program, I thought I was at an audition for Ballerina Star Search. There was a recurring drive to outdo, to hold a balance for the longest time, to kick the highest. True to the title, force was the theme of this evening of gala-style fare. Its sequence of pas de deux and small ensemble works was designed to impress through physical power.
But then a kind of power streamed onto the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater stage that we hadn’t been expecting: a rolling, gentle motion, like something out of a dream.
It was Michele Jimenez, the company’s former star. I’d know her anywhere, though she’s been gone for nearly a decade. She still has those fluid arms, supple footwork, slow, sustained turns and an exceptional quality of smoothness. In a brief, shadowy section of a work called “A Sweet Spell of Oblivion,” by British choreographer David Dawson, movement poured out of her. The music was by Bach, from “The Well-Tempered Clavier.” Jared Nelson lifted Jimenez as easily as if she were some creature made of silk and smoke.
Jimenez left the Washington Ballet in 2006 for HET Nationale Ballet in the Netherlands, where she became a principal dancer. She recently moved back to this area with her husband and two children, and a company spokeswoman said the ballerina was discussing returning to the troupe in some capacity. What a boon it would be for her to dance here again; with her combination of control and ease, she is one of the few members of any company to transcend steps and elevate her movement to something approaching the spiritual.
There were other intriguing moments in the evening’s rather long chain of works. David Palmer’s new “Suite Nancy” gave us a good look at Esmiana Jani, a sly newcomer who looked darling in her white minidress and swingy, teased 1960s hair. (This work was a tribute to Nancy Sinatra and her songs of that era.) But a few works later, Christopher Bruce’s “Paint It Black,” from his Rolling Stones homage called “Rooster,” featured a somewhat similar trio of women in mid-century shifts, and they were decidedly more interesting and dangerous. It was all in their gestures, the way they sliced an arm overhead or rolled their hips in a sophisticated go-go way.
The “Je ne t’aime pas” section of Christopher Wheeldon’s “There Where She Loved” featured the deliciously agonized vocals of mezzo-soprano Shelley Waite, with Glenn Sales on piano. Aurora Dickie expanded herself with a kind of proud melancholy, with Luis R. Torres her rock and tormentor. Yet their dancing, lovely as it was, was bittersweet. Dickie, along with Nelson, Zachary Hackstock and a few others, is leaving the company, Artistic Director Septime Webre announced to the audience.
Francesca Dugarte and Brooklyn Mack injected that most weary of warhorses, the “Le Corsaire” pas de deux, with a fresh energy and appealing warmth. It was a mix-and-match night, with so many varying styles tossed together so casually, which made the finale, Balanchine’s grand and intimate “Serenade,” feel like an afterthought. The company gave it due credit, and Dickie was again marvelous and touched lightly with sorrow.
“Alice (in Wonderland),” 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 1:30 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. $25-$135. At the Kennedy Center, 2700 F. St. NW. Call 202-467-4600 or visit www.kennedy-center.org.