Washington Ballet's moves meet challenges of the music

September 26, 1997|By Judith Green | Judith Green,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WASHINGTON -- It's amazing that one piece of music can extract such different reactions from choreographers.

Though not a household word like his "Rhapsody in Blue," George Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F (1925) is familiar territory to most Americans and has been set at least four times as a ballet.

Gene Kelly (yes, that Gene Kelly) called it "Pas de dieux" for the Paris Opera Ballet in 1960; and John Clifford -- who is currently working with students at Goucher College -- made a version for the Deutsche Oper Ballet in 1972. The one I know best is by Billy Wilson, a hot-summer-night-in-the-city interpretation for Dance Theater of Harlem.

Krzysztof Pastor, 41, created "Gershwin's Piano Concerto" for the Israel Ballet's 30th anniversary in February and has reset it for the Washington Ballet. It's the opposite of Wilson's: cool, dreamy and -- in halter dresses for the women and tank tops for the men, designed by Joan Lynch -- a vision in midnight blue.

Originally for eight couples, it has been reconfigured for five in order to fit on the small stage of the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater, where the Washington Ballet performs.

On opening night Wednesday, it looked a little ragged, probably because the dancers still were trying to figure out how to cut their corners on the cramped stage. In several passages, the outside couples ended up in the wings.

But the Polish-born choreographer's delicious blend of classical steps and jazzy contours never lost their relationship to the syncopated energy and throaty sonorities of the music.

Compared to Wilson's street-smart ballet of dudes and uptown women, Pastor's is almost abstract. But it contains tiny dramas: a couple who find their way to each other, again and again, only to return to their designated partners; a pair of men whose physical interchanges are just this side of homoerotic.

It's a lovely introduction to a choreographer who has stories to tell and a vocabulary in which to tell them, and it makes me look forward to the pieces Pastor will create for the company's February and May programs.

Two 1995 works complete this season opener: "Mysteries" by company charter member John Goding; and "Sync" by the Dutch choreographer Nils Christe.

"Sync," to a score by Ludovico Einaudi that's like Philip Glass with a hard edge, is a bold ballet mecanique, cold and steamy as dry ice. The dancers throw themselves into its impersonal yet sensuous choreography, some of which occurs on and around a metal catwalk (actually a lighting tower turned on its side) that stretches across the back of the stage.

Goding's piece is as beautiful as its music -- six wonderful songs by Sweet Honey in the Rock -- and is greatly enhanced by resident designer Lisa L. Ogonowski's lighting.

In the first, for instance, "Mystic Oceans," she crosses two diagonal swaths of light on the floor, and the dancers surge and ebb, like the tide, unpatterned yet inevitable, as they follow these paths to whatever awaits them. And in "Breaths," she slowly compresses a quartet of women into a circle of light, as their arms shoot up and sink down like tongues of flame in a ring of fire.

Goding's choreography is as imaginative as the songs, which explore primal rhythms, spiritual need, human struggle ("Would You Harbor Me?") and other questions outside the usual realm of dance.

Dance

What: Washington Ballet; discussion with choreographers Krzysztof Pastor and John Goding, after tomorrow's matinee, free

Where: Terrace Theater, Kennedy Center, Washington

When: 7: 30 tonight, 2 p.m. and 7: 30 p.m. tomorrow, 2 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: 202-362-3606

Pub Date: 9/26/97

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