Simplicity in art can be so rewarding, but achieving it is not simple at all. Yet this quality is what leaps out at me, time and again, in the choreography of Jessica Lang. It may be unorthodox to kick off a list of dance highlights with an opera, but Lang’s choreography for the Washington National Opera’s “Aida,” at the Kennedy Center Opera House on Sept. 9-23, directed by Francesca Zambello, deserves attention. I hope it signals more collaborations among contemporary choreographers and major live music productions.
Lang’s last appearance here, three years ago, was in just such a collaboration, when her dancers carried out clever and piercing mini-movement dramas — largely through gestures alone — in the chorister seats of the Kennedy Center Concert Hall while the National Symphony Orchestra played John Adams’s Violin Concerto. This past July, I caught a performance of Jessica Lang Dance at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Becket, Mass., and my regard for her restraint and the subtle beauty of her aesthetic deepened. These qualities are good counterpoints for a big opera; I’m hoping “Aida” does justice to Lang’s dancers, and her style.
Restraint is also at the heart of the biggest ballet event of the fall season: the Mariinsky Ballet’s production of “La Bayadere,” at the Opera House on Oct. 17-22. Like “Aida,” it’s a grand spectacle, a sprawling, heavily perfumed fantasy of India with golden gods and Brahmins and not-exactly-pure temple dancers. But the section of this ballet that matters most, and that ranks as one of the most powerful in all ballet, is a display of exquisite simplicity. It’s the “Kingdom of the Shades” scene, in which a seemingly endless line of ballerinas in ghostly white descends a winding ramp on the stage. If all goes well, they will have the light, buoyant quality of mist on the Himalayas. All the physical firepower of these superbly trained dancers will be laser-focused on a few slow, unembellished and repeated steps, making for a mesmerizing and even transcendent experience.
Russian ballet also will be on view in the Washington Ballet’s “Russian Masters” program, at the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater on Oct. 4-8, featuring a sampling of that country’s influence on the art form: the pas de deux from Marius Petipa’s “Le Corsaire,” Michel Fokine’s “Les Sylphides,” Balanchine’s “Prodigal Son” and, skipping up to the present, Alexei Ratmansky’s “Bolero.”
Ballet’s strong presence this fall continues in the touring productions of ballet-powered Broadway shows. I have never seen a Matthew Bourne treatment of a classic work that hasn’t revealed something new, so I’m eager for his version of “The Red Shoes,” the story of an ambitious ballerina and the men who try to control her, coming to the Opera House on Oct. 10-15. (Did you, too, fall in love with ballet through the magnificent 1948 film, as I did? I get goose bumps recalling the first time I saw it, bloody tights and all.) American Ballet Theatre star Marcelo Gomes is slated to dance in some performances.
Christopher Wheeldon’s Tony-winning “An American in Paris,” with Gershwin music, fantastic tapping and a sweeping, romantic ballet reverie, makes a good, long stop here, Dec. 12-Jan. 7.
So much for the glossy, big-ticket fare. Returning to the idea of simplicity, three fierce and funny women join forces in LMnO3, at Dance Place on Oct. 28-29. Their show, called “B.A. N. G. S.: Made in America,” fuses elements of rap, body percussion and game shows, and the brief clips of it I’ve seen have completely drawn me in. Also small scale, but big impact: Retired New York City Ballet star Wendy Whelan teams up with contemporary choreographer Brian Brooks for duets accompanied by the string quartet Brooklyn Rider on Dec. 9 at the Clarice, at the University of Maryland.
Okay, I know that February isn’t fall, but I can’t resist adding this group, appearing waaaay at the end of the season, Feb. 3-4, at Dance Place. It’s an all-male troupe performing works by male choreographers. The name: 10 Hairy Legs. Basic, blunt, unvarnished. And that, alone, is enough to get me in the theater.
Read more from the Fall Arts Preview: