In the heels of a successful production of Giselle came a contemporary offering from The Washington Ballet, staged in the Harman Center for the Arts. The program brought together works of Jirí Kylián, Justin Peck and William Forsythe. Both the outer two works are in the company's repertoire; Peck’s In Creases was a company première.

<i>In Creases</i> © Media 4 Artists | Theo Kossenas
In Creases
© Media 4 Artists | Theo Kossenas

I had seen them perform Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated last year, and as the ballet has come under new leadership since then in Julie Kent, it was interesting to attempt to discern new emphasis. The company has never lacked for energy – Septime Webre was a whirlwhind force – but tonight had a greater crispness about it, a tighter rein perhaps. The style suited this industrial, edgy work very well. The turquoise-clad dancers performed with street ‘attitude’ and gave off the requisite cool – sizing each other up, randomly coming together, breakaway solos and couples, the partnerships that don’t quite happen, the desacralisation of conventional physical encounters which dissipate into nothing at all. This was physical street theater, powerfully conceived and executed. Particularly impressive was the dancers’ great sensitivity to that pounding, punctuated electronic score, which pushes classical ballet into uncomfortable and challenging forms. I thought Kateryna Derechyna gave a particularly full-blooded performance here, projecting power through sharp lines and fabulous elevations.

Justin Peck’s In Creases was an attractive work, set to the music of Philip Glass ‘Four Movements for Two pianos’. The pianos and their pianists are on stage, and the communion between dancers (in white with black trim) and their contrasting accompaniment was made even more obvious – and intimate – by the occasions during the work where they pose by or huddle alongside the instruments. This was a nice revelation of a relationship we so often take for granted – a relationship that most often happens with anonymous musicians buried in an orchestra pit, mediated by the just about visible head of a conductor and his/her baton. The work is full of such light touches – the back and forth swaying of two female dancers against the darkling light as the second movement begins, and then the charming stage business where the ensemble ‘prep’ their final positions, chopping and changing, and getting into place, before finally resting in tableau before the lights black out. For the rest, there are lively, engaging formations, mixing refreshing asymmetries with more conventional symmetries between the 8 dancers. Gian Carlo Perez and Eunwon Lee stood out in their central roles.

Jirí Kylián’s Petite Mort is a thought-provoking work, with its 6 men and 6 women, each given the stereotypical props of its gender. The men have swords and show off with them at the start; the women are concealed by preposterous ball-gown dummies, which rotate across the stage, and are the only things left at the end, without the living women behind them. It is only in leaving the stereotypes that the dancers can get together (at least that is my reading), and the sensual shape formations that result from these interactions are revealing of the complementarity between the sexes. The sexual connotation of the work’s title is indeed unmissable, as is the scoring of Mozart (piano concerto extracts in A and C), which evokes a sort of artistic transcendence. Mozart alone gives the choreography a certain repose, and it is a fitting background on which to concentrate on the sheer flux of beautiful bodies in motion as dancers move over, under, in between, and alongside each other. The sand colored costumes invite a kind of abstraction of thought – if one half-closes one’s eyes, the dancers appear like sands in the dunes, shaping and reshaping themselves, sifted by the wind. It's good to 'get there' in contemporary ballet - it breaks down our conventional view of what's happening on the stage.