George Balanchine’s “The Four Temperaments” presents its dancers with an extraordinary challenge. The body angles are so precise, the lines are so clear-cut and the staging is so spare that it leaves virtually no room for error.
In their Tuesday performance at Wolf Trap, the dancers of Ballet West took up this mission with evident enthusiasm, ably demonstrating their athleticism with deep, slicing lunges and sharp, nose-skimming kicks. But they hadn’t mastered the pristine accuracy that makes the 1946 classic so spellbinding. The ensemble sections were dotted with occasional missteps such as a wrist that wasn’t fully flexed or a shoulder that was overly rotated. Typically, these flaws would be fairly negligible, but in a dance grounded solidly in the display of shape, contour and form, even slight imperfections become jarring.
As the work’s title suggests, the dance features four segments, each embodying a different mood. But in the Utah-based company’s performance, there weren’t obvious distinctions in how movement was approached from section to section. The “Choleric” part called for a greater sense of abandon and impetuousness, while “Melancholic” could have been more weighted.
The dancers settled in nicely to the tenderness and fluidity of “Sinfonietta,” the 1978 work that helped put Czech choreographer Jiri Kylian on the map. The score, composed by another Czech artist, Leos Janacek, seemed to propel them to take risks: Their jumps got only crisper and their partnering more emotional as music built to its climax.
In between the high-octane Balanchine work and the earthy Kylian work was “Grand Synthesis” by Susan Shields, a local choreographer and professor at George Mason University. The piece aims to juxtapose moments of meditative mindfulness with ones of frantic exultation. The quiet sequences shine thanks to slow, simple arm gestures, and careful balances have a ritualistic and hypnotic feel to them. But the bursts of energy came off as chaotic. The series of crisscrossing exits and entrances unfurled so quickly that it became difficult to focus on or invest in any of the characters.
Furthermore, the work’s candy-colored costumes and keyboard-heavy score didn’t lend the dance any edginess or elegance; instead, they called to mind the froth and cutesiness of the Ice Capades.