This past weekend, The Washington Ballet again partnered with the Shakespeare Theatre Company for the debut of “Three World Premieres” of contemporary ballet at the Harman Center. The very different works offered a sampling of the wide range of innovative choreography happening today.
The most traditional of the three was the leadoff “Wood Work,” choreographed by Ethan Stiefel. Set to an arrangement of Nordic folk music, and in costumes by Derek Nye Lockwood that evoked a rather dark fairy tale, the dancers moved throughout a forest scene with clean movements that ranged from sleepily slow to frenetically upbeat. The moods shifted frequently and sometimes surprisingly, and the talented performers kept the pace.
The second and most interesting of the piece was “Shadow Lands,” choreographed by Dana Genshaft and set to “Omnivorous Furniture” by Mason Bates. The dissonant music captured the jarring tone of the piece, which sometimes seemed like “West Side Story” as conceived by Fritz Lang. Dancers clad in intentionally drab yet metallic futuristic garb by Reid & Harriet Designs moved in Orwellian unison until interrupted by the male and female principals, who etched out a love story amid the dystopian mood. The lighting design by Joseph R. Walls was a performer itself, shifting the mood with an array of colors.
“Three World Premieres” concluded with “Teeming Waltzes” by Trey McIntyre, around which much of the marketing was centered. McIntyre is the most prolific of the three choreographers, and the piece’s use of a large ball pit promised whimsy. Where “Shadow Lands” brought Lang to mind, the first movements of “Teeming Waltzes” evoked his contemporaries the Marx Brothers, with brilliant and precise physical comedy and even a wink to the “Duck Soup” mirror scene.
However, the use of the ball pit was brief and uninspired. Other than a bit of rolling around and ball-tossing, it was ignored and was soon shifted offstage. The latter two-thirds of “Teeming Waltzes,” performed mainly to Strauss played by a string quartet and piano, is more serious and less fun. While it was well-danced and still a satisfactory piece of choreography, the piece never fully recovered from the sudden shift from joy to seriousness.
The very existence of “Three World Premieres” is to the credit of TWB Artistic Director Julie Kent, who has been striving to take the company beyond the traditional canon that is her own background. While this year’s results were uneven, TWB should continue the world premieres series next year and beyond.
Running Time: Two hours with two intermissions.
The Washington Ballet’s “Three World Premieres” closed at the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Harman Center for the Arts on April 7, 2019. For more information on The Washington Ballet, click here.