Ballet in the big-band era

February 21, 1997|By J. L. Conklin | J. L. Conklin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Washington Ballet has jumped on the big-band wagon with company member John Goding's newest ballet, "Rhapsody Swing" -- one of three world premieres on the program during the company's run at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater.

But unlike Miami Ballet's "The Big Band Supermegatroid," Goding's ballet doesn't merely resuscitate old dance forms. Instead, he follows the choreographic dictates of George

Balanchine and uses the well-worn steps as a springboard to illuminate the well-known music of Glenn Miller and others.

"Moonlight Serenade" introduced the ensemble -- Jeanene Jarvis, Tristi McMaster, Heather Perry, Cheryl Sladkin, Runqiao Du, Chip Coleman, Alvaro Palau and Roger Plaut -- as they slowly revolved under spinning reflections of a mirrored ball. As the four couples slowly dipped and swirled, the images were soft and elegant, in spirit with the era they represented.

In the following duet, "King Porter Stomp," McMaster and Palau were lightfooted as they effortlessly re-interpreted the Jitterbug and Lindy swing. As their weight was never allowed to sink into their steps, the couple looked as if they were gliding over the surface of the dance.

"String of Pearls" featured Jarvie, Coleman and Plaut in series of flashy lifts. It was followed by the cooled-down, slinky "Always," with Perry and Sladkin. The closing section, "Sing, Sing, Sing," was delightfully understated and brimming with spatial interplay between the dancers.

While "Rhapsody in Swing" doesn't have the pizazz of a show piece, it is nonetheless an artfully crafted ballet.

Simon Dow, the Washington Ballet's assistant artistic director, presented "Eclipse," a surreal work that wonderfully created a mysterious dance that explored the rhythms of nature and cause and effect.

Deftly performed by Carman Rosario and Palau to a tapestry of sound that included the droning of Tibetan monks, the piece makes Rosario the rising moon to Palau's setting sun, or a circling moth to his burning flame. Dow beautifully changed the space with a simple and elegant device, large pieces of fabric that at times floated above the couple.

"Eclipse" is the kind of dance that depends heavily on the dancers, and Rosario and Palau perfectly embodied Dow's ideas as Rosario subtly reflected Palau's actions. Their movements incorporated the fine hand movements of temple dance with bold and striking sculptural definition. Permeating the dance were the dynamics of a circle, underscored by the unceasing chant of the monks.

Lynn Cote's contribution, "Subterranean," was a dance noir filled with an odd assortment of characters who play out their destiny in a subway station. While Cote's premise is interesting, the dance is too lengthy, and characters are underdeveloped. The work could benefit from both judicious snipping and more attention to who these people are.

The program opened with George Balanchine's "Allegro Brillante," which was given a dutiful and somewhat overstudied performance. Washington Ballet is a company without stars, and while the dancing is generally above average, this performance felt homogenized.

Washington Ballet

Where: Kennedy Center Terrace Theatre, Washington

When: 7: 30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Tickets: $30

Call (202) 467-4600

Pub Date: 2/21/97

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