We are family season ticket subscribers to The Washington Ballet and were surprised to find that one the performances this year was going to be held on Easter Sunday. The timing was OK for us so we didn’t worry about switching tickets.
I received a call from the ticket office, however, a few weeks prior to the performance that they were cancelling the Easter matinee performance due to schedule conflicts with the cast but they were still holding the evening performance. We switched tickets to the evening show.
The ballet is an event that my girls and I enjoy attending as mother and daughters. This was a real treat for me. My son is showing some interest in attending when he gets a little older. He climbed into his car seat and was ready to join us on the adventure until my husband pulled him out to stay home for a boys night in.
When we arrived at the Kennedy Center, we found that our cheap seat tickets had been upgraded to the fifth row! We were off to the side but still had a wonderful, close-up view!
Septime Weber, the Artistic Director, came on stage to personally welcome everyone. He is such an engaging personality and everyone loves him. I loved that he especially acknowledged the “boys and girls” in the audience of which there were many, adorably dressed in their Easter outfits. Often children in formal venues like the Kennedy Center are viewed by the audience members as a bit of nuisance. Mr. Weber’s welcome seemed to say “You are not a nuisance to us. This performance is for you.”
I have never seen Peter Pan as a ballet before. It is a marvelous choice for small children! Some of the performers are on wires and really “fly” during the performance. This so excited my children. There were many animated discussions over whether they were really flying or if there were wires attached.
There were also some wonderful choreographic moments (courtesy of Septime Weber) made with children in mind, especially Nana the Dog and the boogying Crocodile. My children and the many children in the audience were laughing with delight at so many of these moments.
It has been about a year since I last saw The Washington Ballet perform and I was amazed by the progress that has occurred in that time! It’s not as though The Washington Ballet was shabby before but they are really on fire right now.
Last year, I remember feeling a bit disappointed in some of the performances if Maki Onuki, the prima ballerina, was not performing. She is so much fun to watch. Well, Maki Onuki did not perform at all in this performance and the show was still electrifying! Tinkerbell was danced by Francesca Dugarte and she blew the audience away with her super tight turns and precision. She was the clear audience favorite ballerina of the night. Morgann Rose as Tiger Lily was wonderful as well. Although you couldn’t see much of the precision of her movements due to her Mrs. Darling full gown costumes, Kateryna Derechyna, appeared to have mile-long legs and gorgeous extension. It was exciting to know that there are many “prima” ballerinas to look forward to.
The men of The Washington Ballet continue to advance as well. Peter Pan was danced by Jared Nelson whom Hollywood casting could not have found a more suitable Peter. His long blonde curls fit the role perfectly and his dancing was amazing. In the first act there are numerous scenes where he has to alternate flying on the wire and dancing on stage. I can only imagine how it must throw off your balance to execute a pirouette with the wire attached but Mr. Nelson was such a professional you could not see any difference in the pirouettes done with and without the wire attached. His acting and expressions were also first rate. We all believed he really was Peter Pan.
It is often hard for a ballet company to attract a large number of high caliber male dancers but The Washington Ballet has somehow cracked the code. There were so many jaw-dropping male performers. The sequence of the 3 pirate soloists: who I think (it’s hard to tell from the program) were Corey Landolt, Brooklyn Mack (who was instantly recognizable when he jumped 6 feet in the air) and Chong Sun were perfection.
There were also many moments throughout the production when I found myself having to realize when the wires weren’t attached. Some of the pirouettes were executed with such lift in the upper body it looked like the dancers were being pulled up by wires when they were not. Some of the partnered lifts looked so effortless I thought there was a little help from a wire when there was none.
So not only were the principal female and male dancers amazing, the Studio Company (their up and coming performers) have advanced so much in a year as well. The biggest change I saw was that there seemed to be a huge emphasis throughout the production on acting. The facial expressions and the movements on stage when dancers weren’t dancing but were just waiting in the background were so well executed. Their actions exactly fit their characters. This made such a difference to the performance as a whole. If you were watching a lead performer or soloist and your eyes just happened to glance to someone in the background, having that person fully in character engaged with the scene enhanced how the entire performance “read” to the audience.
The best example of how acting was used in the performance came from Jared Nelson’s Peter Pan. As he is saying goodbye to Wendy near the end of the performance he stood on the corner of the stage not 15 feet away from us. At that point, he was supposed to be feeling sad, but the kind of sadness that a boy who refused to grow up would feel. He had to stand there looking sad for at least 2-3 minutes and he nailed the expression and never came out of character once!
I can’t let the performance pass without mentioning the children. There was a surprise (to us) of numerous children appearing onstage in the Never Never Land scene. There were adorable mushrooms and mermaids with tails and big blond wigs that were rolled out on platforms. The kids were fantastic! They added an extra magical touch to the performance. Some of the children I think I recognized from the Washington Ballet’s ARC program aimed at bringing dance education to underserved Washington, D.C. neighborhoods.
It was inspiring to realize that The Washington Ballet not only has a current high caliber cast but is also growing a bench of about 20 years worth of performers. I can only imagine how intense the competition must be within the cast but surprisingly you don’t get any inkling of this from the stage performances. The company seems like they like and support each other. There is a great energy about The Washington Ballet right now and you really feel it as an audience member. While it is fun just to watch great ballet it is even more fun to be around a group of people who are pushing themselves continuously to achieve more and greater things and to join in the celebration of their progress.
Septime Weber is not resting on his laurels with this progress however and notes in the program:
I can’t wait to see what they accomplish next! The program also notes that next season there will be live music for their five main productions, which is huge because 1) it means someone has given them a lot of money to be able to do this and 2) it eliminates the biggest criticism big newspaper reviewers usually make about their productions.
So, bravi to The Washington Ballet! Thanks for keeping it fresh and exciting for your subscribers!
*Other than being a season ticket holder, I am not affiliated with The Washington Ballet.