“All the Little Boxes,” choreographed by Dana Genshaft. Photo by xmbphotography.
Alone on stage or with a partner who is sensitive to her extraordinary moves, The Washington Ballet’s adored Maki Onuki mesmerizes an audience no matter the technique nor the style of dance. She’s pure and cerebral in the ballet classics and feisty and fun in more modern works. This was evident in the latest installment of “NEXTsteps” which opened on October 12 at the Sidney Harman Hall in DC.
Julie Kent is a visionary and has taken lots of risks since she first took over the role of Artistic Director in 2016. Longtime fans of the company were skeptical of the prima ballerina from American Ballet Theatre and feared she might re-work old warhorse ballets like “Swan Lake” and “Giselle.” As it turns out, Kent did choose these classics for early programs at the Kennedy Center, but they were much more diverse with her own imprint and a vitality that still lingers in our memories.
…it was a sunlit and sparkling triple bill with a touch of autumn warmth.
She brought in new dancers from diverse backgrounds and technical skill. She maintained her association with American Ballet Theatre and former director, Kevin McKenzie. She introduced “NEXTsteps” that offers the dancers the chance to explore new ideas and a different approach to choreography. The result is well-rehearsed performances with much appreciation from the audiences.
Before curtain, she bounded onto the stage and shared her enthusiasm with her supporters as she addressed the audience from her program notes, “This season’s NEXTsteps program heralds the vigor and energy of the year ahead. Not only do we welcome the return of three brilliant choreographers in Silas Farley, Dana Genshaft, and Andile Ndlovu, we also introduce eight new dancers to our Studio Company! The continued evolution of the company is on full display, as artists, both new and seasoned, come together for a diverse and engaging program of new works.” For this writer, it was a sunlit and sparkling triple bill with a touch of autumn warmth.
The curtain rose on “All the Little Boxes,” a fascinating collaboration between the choreographer, Dana Genshaft and Lighting Designer Brian Jones. Spaces for the dancers were outlined and provided a close look at specific moves and gestures. Perhaps the essence of the piece is about how we recover from the challenges of the pandemic, what we do to get through, and how we meet the challenges day-to-day. Set to a jarring soundscape followed by inspirational music and a dedication to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the costumes, created by Lauren Starobin with sheer material that you see in today’s fashion world. It should be noted that they shaped the dancers’ bodies but didn’t hinder the slides, falls, turns, and leaps across the stage.
The emerald green costumes by Cassia Farley in Silas Farley’s “Dowland Dances” are stunning and eye-catching as the dancers frolicked to John Dowland’s tunes that reminds one of the Renaissance Festival. One couple, Giancarlo Perez and Adelaide Clauss, danced a lovely duet to “Come Again,” while “My Lord Willoughby’s Welcome Home” featured the aforementioned ballerina Maki Onuki. “Downland Dances” ended with “Fine Knacks for the Ladies” with a full cast and dedication to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The program was a delight for Anglophiles.
“re:member,” choreographed by Andile Ndlovu. Photo by xmbphotography.
Andile Ndlovu of Johannesburg, South Africa is in his 10th season with The Washington Ballet. His delightful “re:member” closed the program with gaiety and frivolity. Small yellow balls that turned into gigantic beach balls were the main props for the six dancers who focused on play as an important aspect of life.
“In ‘re:member,’ we are tapping into nostalgia and reclaiming joy, putting back that which is broken,” notes Ndlovu in the online program. The work features three men and three women crossing space and time, interacting ping ponging off each other as if they were characters on a playground. Brian Jones’ lighting design worked magic in the closing dance. In a word, this work is FUN and much needed in the ballet world.
A note of congratulations goes to Jie-Siou Wu from the Studio Company who performed with the senior troupe in the opening ballet. We saw his talent at the Jim Rouse Theater in Columbia as a guest artist in L’Etoile’s classical program.
Running Time: Two hours with one 20-minute intermission.
The Washington Ballet’s “NEXTsteps” ran October 12-16, 2022 at Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F St NW, Washington, DC 20004. Stayed tuned for details on Julie Kent’s introduction of ABT’s Misty Copeland at the Smithsonian in November. “The Nutcracker” is the next production for the Company dancers. For more information on upcoming events and tickets, please click here.