The surreal, yellow post-storm sky over the Kennedy Center on Tuesday night, glimpsed at intermission, felt like an extension of the ballet atmosphere in the Eisenhower Theater. There, the Polish National Ballet unspooled a flickering, disquieting view of humanity, with dancers as light and fleet as wrens but burdened with unnameable psychic ills.
Yet just as nature’s turbulence can leave unsettling beauty in its wake, the two dozen dancers on the company’s debut tour to Washington combined dark and light into an ultimately elevating picture of humanity.
Krzysztof Pastor, the company’s artistic director and a former resident choreographer of the Washington Ballet, has an eye for refinement that felt at once Old World elegant and fresh. This was clear in his two works on the program, “Adagio & Scherzo” and “Moving Rooms.” It was evident in the ballerinas’ beautifully shaped feet and the lithe, weightless look of the group (just a sampling of the 80-strong full company). There was refinement, too, in Pastor’s use of the dancers’ flexibility, always with a juicy, elastic stretch rather than emphasizing extreme disjointedness and aggressive hyperextension. The range of motion was fully liberating while staying on an artful human scale.
Warmth was the overriding impression of Pastor’s pieces, displayed in the lighting design, shifting from amber to copper, and in the way the dancers engaged with one another. They looked one another full in the face, making intimate connections whether the mood was disconsolate (in “Moving Rooms”) or yearning (in “Adagio & Scherzo,” accompanied by Schubert’s String Quintet in C, composed when Schubert knew he was dying). Pastor overindulged in his fascination with his dancers’ melting physical facility, however, at the expense of developing his themes. Each piece felt more meandering than focused.
Emanuel Gat crafted a sharper focus in his “Rite of Spring,” the program’s centerpiece. Israeli choreographer Gat fit salsa steps to Stravinsky’s thunder and made the moves look surprisingly natural, helped along by the five dancers’ confidence, edge and slight touch of hostility. This fluid predatory dance kept you guessing about its prey. Would the three women converge upon the two men? Would the group gang up on the odd woman out? Its ending was a surprise, and a victory for one self-directed loner who refused to be a victim.