How do you excite an audience that may not be connoisseurs of the art of ballet? When jetes and plies thrill serious ballet devotees, to appeal to a broader audience, please mix a little drama and story telling flair with the arabesque and batterie.
No slave to tradition, Washington Ballet’s Artistic Director Septime Webre introduced the final Sunday, May 12, 2013 performance of his latest choreographed effort at the Kennedy Center, “The Sun Also Rises, ” acknowledging how the guest artists helped to “create the mood and atmosphere of the time period.” The Hemingway classic translated well to the stage with the help of rich costumes, a New Orleans’ style jazz singer, a can can number, and local artist Edwin Aparicio a gifted flamenco dancer.Overall the effect was more Broadway than ballet.
The ballet tells the story of what is considered one of Hemingway’s greatest work. A group of American and British expatriates who meet in Paris and travel to Pamplona, Spain, to watch the running of the bulls and the bullfights. Jared Nelson is Jake Barnes, the flawed hero of the novel. The company and its guest artists kept the audience enthralled with lots of drama, adventure, laughter, boozing, bedding and high-kicking chorines. Although many people have not read Hemingway’s most famous novel since they were in high school, this extravaganza kept the capacity crowd delighted throughout the two-act show.
Hugh Landwehr’s innovative sets including screens showing excerpts from the book kept the audience abreast of the underlying tale of the American ex-pat and his adventures in Paris and Spain. Those quiet, introspective moments when ex-pat Jake Barnes bears his soul at his typewriter, carefully lit by Clifton Taylor. Jake’s pain and unrequited love for Lady Ashley is beautifully expressed and the final scene of the first Act includes a nearly nude bathing scene filled with frustration and splashing water to punctuate his pathos.
Aside from the acrobatic dancing by the wonderful dance company, chanteuse extraordinaire E. Faye Butler stopped the show with her number, “You Gotta Give Me Some.”NPR’s White House correspondent Ari Shapiro sing and dance a la Maurice Chevalier. Or feast your eyes on the ballet’s femme fatale, Lady Brett Ashley, performed with flair and panache by the Washington Ballet’s own Sona Kharatian.
Of note is dancer Maki Onuki, a French prostitute whose acrobatic efforts renders her seemingly weightless. Also beautifully evocative performances include those by Sona Kharatian as Lady Brett Ashley, Jonathan Jordan, Jake’s friend from the war, Tamas Kriza, a knockout in the fight scenes, and the shimmering Chandelier Lady (Aurora Dickie).
According to Webre, this ballet is part of a ten year project he calls the American Experience. His next project to celebrate American literature and culture is with the Howard University Jazz Ensemble.
Webre’s choreography sometimes has to fight for attention with the wit of costumes and staging. But if you are new to ballet and want to be entertained, this performance is the perfect entryway to the world of dance.