'Phrygia' ballet enthralls

May 14, 1993|By J.L. Conklin | J.L. Conklin,Contributing Writer

Monica Levy's new ballet, "From the White Edges of Phrygia," featured in Washington Ballet's weeklong engagement at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater, is brilliant choreography that wonderfully evokes a physical and spiritual rush and displays fine ensemble dancing.

According to the program notes, Ms. Levy drew inspiration from the Greek doctrine of Ethos, in which an "ethical character" was assigned to each musical mode. The Phrygian mode that runs from E to E on the keyboard was described as ecstasy and passion, and Stephen Montague's music of the same title is a spiraling swell of sound that frames Washington Ballet's 12 dancers.

The movement vocabulary for this work is an inspired blend of ballet, ethnic and modern phrasing. Folk-dance motifs flicker through the dance, juxtaposed against strict classical and modern forms. Ms. Levy skillfully combines the plasticity of form with surging staging. Waves of dancers run toward each other only to crystallize into tight parallel diagonals. When the music softens, the women sink to the floor and extend their arms as if to lure the unwary.

This dance is greedy for space, and at times the size of the stage impedes the flow of energy. The space felt cramped, specifically at the dance's closing coda, where onrushing sextets, quartets and duets recap the action. But, Ms. Levy's work complements artistic director Mary Day's repertoire.

Other dances on the program included John Cranko's brief and succinct "Des Pas sur la neige" ("Footsteps on the Snow"). It was danced with emotional acumen by Julie Miles, John Goding and Charles Calhoun. The bleak and morbid "Quartet 2" by Nils Christie featured the fine talents of Janet Shibata, Francoise Thouveny, Christopher Doyle and Sean Murphy. The opening ballet, "Summerset" by Ron Cunningham, was the only thing that was complacent about the Washington Ballet.

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