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The Washington Ballet Presents British Invasion: The Beatles & the Rolling Stones

Jordan Wright
March 10, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times

British Invasion. Andile Ndlovu, Corey Landolt, Chong Sun, Jared Nelson. Photo Steve Vaccariello

British Invasion. Andile Ndlovu, Corey Landolt, Chong Sun, Jared Nelson. Photo Steve Vaccariello

Can ballet and British rock music coexist?  The answer, surprisingly, is yes!  And it took an American based ballet company to pull it off.  In an exciting night filled with the music of arguably the two greatest rock bands that ever crossed the pond The Washington Ballet presented their highly original concept at the Kennedy Center.  In the first of a three-part program Choreographer Christopher Bruce took twelve iconic Rolling Stones’ songs and brought them to life.

In “Little Red Rooster”, an old Willie Dixon blues song, the men wore jewel-toned velvet blazers and straight-legged pants strutting about like Mick Jagger and thrusting their chins in and out to lure the women, led by Francesa Dugarte who were having none of it.  When they got to the lyric “dogs begin to bark and hounds begin to howl” they mimicked wild dogs in a piece that was as cohesive as it was splashy.

The dancing, often performed en pointe or incorporating intricately executed duets, included interpretations of different dances of the period from the Jitterbug to the Watusi.  There was even a brief brush with twerking in “Paint It Black”.

Jade Payette, Jonathan Jordan and Nayon Iovino in Rooster by Theo Kossenas

Jade Payette, Jonathan Jordan and Nayon Iovino in Rooster by Theo Kossenas

The sylphlike Morgann Rose was sensational in “Ruby Tuesday”.  With her blazing red hair flowing freely she was captivatingly powerful in one of many such strong female roles throughout the evening’s program.

In “Lady Jane”, starring Brooklyn Mack in the 18th century-styled song, dancers performed a courtly minuet and couples paired off as at a dansant.  In “As Tears Go By” a ring-around-the-rosy dance gave an evocative meaning to the lyrics “I sit and watch the children play”.   Lyrics weren’t always strictly interpreted.  Often the dance referenced the mood or the moment in a dreamlike way.

In the second portion of the program the music of Kurt Weil and Bertholt Brecht, of “Mack the Knife” fame, and the lilting lieder of Frederic Chopin was played on solo piano by Glenn Sales and delivered by soprano CarrieAnne Winter and mezzo soprano Shelley Waite who traded off half a dozen pieces in operatic splendor.  A particularly interesting song selection was the jazzy and tragic ballad ”Surabaya-Johnny”, one of Weill’s songs made famous by Marianne Faithfull, one of Mick Jagger’s early loves, danced by Corey Landolt.  Another melancholy song, also recorded by Faithfull, was “Je ne t’aime Pas”.  Sung in French and danced in a duet, it was an especially harmonious blending of music and motion as the dancers, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon expressed the haunting music.

Rooster (C.: Brooklyn Mack, Jade Payette) by Theo Kossenas

Rooster (C.: Brooklyn Mack, Jade Payette) by Theo Kossenas

Twelve Beatles’ tunes followed interpreted by famed Choreographer Trey McIntyre whose tender rendition of “Mother Nature’s Son” again showed Brooklyn Mack executing massive leaps with a soft and joyful expression.   “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da”, performed by the entire ensemble using angular Gumby doll movements, was perhaps the most comic of the numbers.  In “Strawberry Fields” heightened energy matched the psychedelic era of the Beatles, while “Julia”, the “ocean child”, was danced magnificently by Maki Onuki whose surreal marionette-like motions appeared to make her float above an aqueous stage.

So you might ask, “Does rock music go with ballet?”  Well, if the hootin’, hollerin’ and thunderous applause accompanying the standing ovation was any measure, than that would be a resounding “Yes!”

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