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The Kennedy Center's amazing finale to its Ballet Across America program came so hard on the heels of Part II that series audiences were still high as kites from the Pacific Northwest Ballet's closer of the night before. It didn't seem credible that Part III could be even more exhilarating. Both the individual dances and the program as a whole were deeply satisfying.
The Aspen Santa Fe Ballet opened the evening with Red Sweet, the 2008 work the company commissioned from Jorma Elo, and which ASFB performed during last year's American Dance Festival "Where Ballet Meets Modern" program. It turns out that to appreciate this work you really need to be able to see the stage floor, where a rich light show takes place throughout the dance. Getting a better angle on it completely changed my response to the dance. To see the dancers moving on an ever-shifting color field painting of glowing hues (much red) was thrilling, and the color gave them a world and context I hadn't been able to see in Durham last year. The sprightly music, a mix of Vivaldi and Biber (the Kennedy Center House Orchestra, under James Feddeck, with Oleg Rylatko on solo violin), the red satin costumes, the puppetry, clowning and acrobatic references — all delightful on their own — were given focus and portent by the light. The dancers were very much "on" and the dancing was gorgeous, with the casual physical prowess exhibited by large cats. It was also musical and witty. The dance ends with the four couples in a diagonal line; each woman is lifted, her outer leg crossing her inner at the knee to make a sharp triangle. One pair becomes a bat, gently tapping with that triangle each other pair in turn, knocking them down like dominoes in a gleeful response to the final notes of music; so silly, so red, and so sweet.
Tulsa Ballet loaded the stage with even more color in its presentation of Nacho Duato's Por Vos Muero (For Thee I Die) from 1996, which the Tulsa Ballet has been performing for nearly four years. This performance was both polished and passionate. Set to several pieces of old Spanish music (recorded) from the 15th and 16th centuries and danced in one of Duato's seemingly simple, versatile sets, under lighting (Nicholás Fischtel/Les Dickert) so sensuous you could feel it on your skin, the piece features twelve dancers in jewel-toned costumes styled after clothes of the musical period. Duato's dances are of course tightly calculated and require enormous control and discipline, but they give me such a sense of powerful freedom, of emotion expressed, of conviction lived, that it is hard to remember that they are composed from the vocabulary of other ballets, even while noting this step or that turn. The Tulsa Ballet did full justice to the grandeur of the choreography.
The Joffrey Ballet, located in Chicago, the country's 3rd largest city (Tulsa is No. 46, while Aspen has only about 6,000 people, and Santa Fe, about 72,000.), is one of the finest companies in the US. The superb large company filled the huge stage for an all-white dance by Edwaard Liang. The Age of Innocence, purportedly inspired by Jane Austen's early 19th century novels, is set to contemporary music by Philip Glass (from Symphony No. 3, The Secret Agent, and "The Poet Acts") and Thomas Newman ("Little Children (End Title)"). The versatile Kennedy Center House Orchestra, under Scott Speck, played with a silky control. The dance in my opinion did not get at much of Austen's greatness, or treat seriously on the deep themes of her work, but was in and of itself a wonderful artwork. The second “chapter” is a duet, danced here by the amazingly tall and powerful Matthew Adamczyk and diminutive Allison Walsh. It features an almost incredible array of lifts and inversions and twinings and uncouplings as the young suitors test the possibilities in "First Dialogue." It was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen, in an evening—and a week—full of splendor.