An article in one of the Washington papers this week reported how Jeb Bush’s campaign was permanently damaged by Donald Trump’s damning judgment that he was ‘low energy’. In a country which is cultic about extroversion and enthusiasm, the article went on to say, to be ‘low energy’ is the worst of sins, the most un-American of faults. By that same token, The Washington Ballet under Septime Webre must surely be the most American of companies, for the company is never anything less than supremely energetic, exemplary of a cheery, ‘feel-good’ , ‘can do’ philosophy of dance. It might be good energy, it might be energy gone too far, but it is, in any case, the distinctive stamp of the Weberian artistic directorship. He has, incidentally, recently announced he will step down in June. 

Venus Villa and Corey Landolt © Media4artists | Theo Kossenas
Venus Villa and Corey Landolt
© Media4artists | Theo Kossenas
So tonight, as the opening gambit in the last of his 17 seasons, we had his 'Director’s Cut', a programme of dance accompanied by a recording of Jarret's jazz piano, a live playing of Bach on the harpsichord and piano, and the blaring electronic music of Thom Willems.

Keith Jarret’s famed piano improvisations in Cologne in 1975 has become in the hands of choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, PRISM, a journey of dance evoking identifiable moods. The male-female binaries, expressed through balletic power-play are strong throughout, and here they were energetically and indeed passionately expressed. In the central, more introspective section, Sona Kharatian created tension with the sharpness of her turns and her finely-expressive hands. The last section showed forth pliant bodies in fast-paced abandon. Perhaps they could have got to the point of absolute stillness in movement rather more in some of the tableaux. It might be a matter of a micro-second hold, but it makes a difference.

In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated sent all the best kind of shockwaves through the ballet world when it was choreographed by William Forsythe in 1987. Seeing it again with fresh eyes, one recognizes why it became so justly famous. Both progressive and classical, the work shows a preoccupation with form and style, not the evocation of mood. Nothing is allowed to take away from the dancing itself; the dancers remain emotionally aloof from each other. Punctuation reigns supreme here - the punched-out electronic music, industrial, aggressive and even explosive at times, demands from the dancers an equivalence in physical rigour. I was impressed at what this drew out of the company. They took control over the classical forms – the work has the whole lexicon of traditional steps – but were also committed to the edgier, less conventional physical demands. Their trademark energy served them well here, but I was particularly pleased to see that it was kept, as it ought to be in this work, in pressure-cooker mode. There was no self-indulgent letting off steam. I think of the absolute precision of Ayano Kimura for instance. In short, the company got under the skin of this one and gave it their best.

© Media4artists | Theo Kossenas
© Media4artists | Theo Kossenas
Sandwiched in the middle of the program, more delightfully down-to-earth than elevated, was Webre’s own State of Wonder, a joyous physical commentary on Bach’s Goldberg Variations, the gun-metal grey leotards giving way to decidedly unLutheran brightly-coloured bustle skirts. (Bach would, no doubt, have turned in his grave at the costumes, but this is beside the point). This boldly assertive juxtaposition comes out of Webre’s commitment to breaking boundaries between dance and the other arts: the evocation of literature and fine art in his 2015 Sleepy Hollow, and the classical music canon here. He is apparently, and rightly, keen that we should not be po-faced about our sacred traditions, that we interact with them, that we bring them to life in novel combinations. Webre is nothing if he is not about ballet being allowed to be fun.

Playfulness therefore abounded, not least when the dancers interacted with the instrumentalists on stage, even rotating the pianist’s dais out and the harpsichordist’s in and vice versa somewhat later: a kind of musical box where the dance made the music turn rather than the other way around. Webre is a busy choreographer and the 30 bijoux variations gave him ample opportunity for lithe pas de deux, pas de quatre, and larger ensembles, all parading in dazzling succession. He had them running across the stage a few times. The style privileged especially extrovert dancers, like Gian-Carlo Perez, but all of them were clearly enjoying themselves. I did feel that there were a few variations which could have allowed for a less busy choreography, partly for balance, and partly also to show off depths of movement and feeling. That said, one has to appreciate the sheer exuberance of joyful creativity in this wonderfully idiosyncratic dance that is Webre's.