Wednesday, April 23, 2014 6:04 PM
Published on: Wednesday, February 18, 2009
As an early Valentine gift, the Washington Ballet gave us a strong program of works associated with Scotland called “Highland Fling.” It showcased several guest artists and two company premieres, but it also gave us a time capsule history of dance.
The opening work was the short two act ballet “La Sylphide” with music by Herman Lovenkiold (not to be confused with “Les Sylphides,” based on the music of Chopin). “La Sylphide” remains the oldest ballet continually danced in the repertory, and one can watch the whole ballet tradition coming out of its shell. This work has it all – a romantic triangle, the supernatural witch’s Sabbath in the woods, the long line of ballerinas en pointe, and that love of exotic locale by setting this tale firmly in Scotland.
In its depiction of Scottish music and supernatural beings, the music to “La Sylphide” is very quaint. The ballet does give guest artist David Hallberg plenty to do in the lead role of James–there’s his big solo full of leaps during the Scottish wedding festival in Act I and numerous solo turns and duets with Elizabeth Gaither’s charmingly aerial Sylph in the second half.
But it was the secondary roles that really shone here. Sorella Englund was great as Madge, a cartoon witch that reveled in this role of supernatural avenger. Best of all was Joel Prouty as Gurn, the third part of this love triangle. Prouty had a few moments to shine as a dancer here but as the naïve and lovesick farm youth, Prouty out acted everyone except possibly Englund.
After this, we skip nearly two centuries to “Celts,” originally choreographed by Lila York in 1996. At first it seemed odd that the shorter 20-minute work would follow a nearly full length ballet, but it made a lot of sense when seeing it live. There is more than a little “Riverdance” here in its use of traditional folk music, very athletic dance styles, and nearly non-stop movement.
The Washington Ballet Company, mostly in the background for “La Sylphide,” really came into its own here with the numerous ensemble pieces. There were some lively duets for Jared Nelson and Maki Onuki and more languid moments for Luis Torres and Sona Kharatian. They all did a great job, but once again it was Joel Prouty who stole the show with several lively solo dance moments that mixed traditional folk dances with a more athletic style had him falling and bouncing off the floor.
There is so much here between the two works to show how dance has changed over the years – just compare the angular warrior dance in the center of “Celts” with the highly stylized wedding dance in “La Sylphide.” Based on the original designs, Peter Cazalet’s costumes for “La Sylphide” use mainly earth tones, to contrast with the ethereal sylphs in white, while Cazalet’s set design is a realistic stage version of country manors and haunted forests. Meanwhile the stage for “Celts” was mostly a blank stage with an Impressionistic moonscape in the back, while Tunji Dada’s costumes emphasized brighter colors – whites for the company, blacks for the soloists except striking red outfits for Nelson and Onuki.
Next up is a revival of the Washington Ballet’s family friendly version of “Peter Pan” at the Kennedy Center, and the season ends at the Harman Center for “Rocketman,” a repertory program including a new piece by Mr. Webre set to the music of Elton John.
For more information on the Washington Ballet 2008-2009 season, call 202-258-6394.