Ballet choreographer has eye on beauty

September 24, 1997|By Judith Green | Judith Green,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WASHINGTON -- On the face of it, Krzysztof Pastor looks radical, with the manic hair and two-day growth of beard that's obligatory these days among Euro artists.

But the Polish-born choreographer-in-residence with the Washington Ballet this season is actually mild, humorous and eager to explain that he thinks ballet should be beautiful.

He admits this is old-fashioned, even reactionary.

"Maybe this sound terrible," he says in Polish-accented English, "but in a good sense, conservatism delivers something that people can feel."

Pastor, 41, has spent most of his career with the Dutch National Ballet, which he joined in 1985.

"In Holland, we went too far," he says of the European avant-garde. "We are losing audience. It's like modern music: Nobody goes to listen to the concerts."

So the piece he's readying for the Washington Ballet for its 1997-1998 season opener at the Kennedy Center this week, "Gershwin's Piano Concerto," is both jazzy and lyrical, like the Piano Concerto in F itself. The dancers move with flexibility and freedom, yet Pastor, rehearsing them, calls out the steps in French ballet terms.

This is what he thinks modern ballet should be: academic technique that gives shape to music. "They have pleasure to do it," he says of the dancers. "And for the public, it's a dancing piece."

Pastor made the piece earlier this year for the 30th anniversary of the Israel Ballet, which premiered it in Tel Aviv in February.

He decided to use it as his calling card at the Washington Ballet because it allowed him to concentrate on the dancers, rather than on the making of steps. Instead of leaving the second cast (which dances alternate performances) to a rehearsal assistant, he is giving equal time to both casts.

"I want to be getting to know whole company," he explains.

For each of the two remaining concerts of the Washington Ballet's repertory season, Feb. 18-21 and May 13-17, he will create a new work, keyed to its dancers and challenging their skills, about which he now has firsthand knowledge.

Born in Gdansk, Poland, Pastor danced with the Polish Dance Theater in Poznan and the company of the Grand Theater in Lodz before moving to France in 1983 to dance with the Ballet de l'Opera de Lyon, one of Europe's most nontraditional companies.

Two years later, he went to the Dutch National Ballet, where he found the balletic style of Hans van Manen and Rudi van Dantzig more to his taste, as both dancer and choreographer. In 1995, he retired as a dancer to concentrate on choreography.

The commission from the Israel Ballet came as a personal as well as an artistic challenge. Pastor's father was a Jew who concealed his religion and survived the Holocaust.

"He let me know about this very late. I was 20 years old," says the choreographer. Making the ballet to music by a Jewish composer for an Israeli company was like an artistic pilgrimage, and working in Israel was a kind of homecoming, especially after the anti-Semitism of Poland, he says.

And the music itself took on new meaning in this context. "I love this piano concerto," he says simply. "I had it for years in my head. And I had thought to save it for special occasion." For that company, in that country, for the Jewish connection between the composer and himself -- it all came together.

He hasn't chosen music yet for either work he'll produce for the Washington Ballet, but one thing is certain: It will be music appropriate for modern ballet, like the Gershwin.

"If I was able to bring the enthusiasm," he says of his dancers, "they were able to bring more to my choreography."

Washington Ballet

What: "Sync," "Mysteries" and "Gershwin's Piano Concerto"

Where: Terrace Theater, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington

When: 7: 30 tonight through Sunday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. At 4 p.m. Saturday, after the matinee, anyone with fall-series ticket stubs may hear "The Choreographers Speak," a discussion with choreographers Krzysztof Pastor and John Goding at the Kennedy Center.

Tickets: 202-362-3606

Pub Date: 9/24/97

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