Home Entertainment Review | It’s ballet. It’s jazz. But it’s really another dimension.

Review | It’s ballet. It’s jazz. But it’s really another dimension.

Review | It’s ballet. It’s jazz. But it’s really another dimension.


The improvisatory spirit of jazz. The virtuoso rigor of ballet. An odd-couple pairing?

Not in “Coloring Silent Space,” prolific choreographer Jessica Lang’s rewarding new work, which deftly marries resonant movement to jazz music performed by the Craig Davis Trio. Lang’s dance proves the concept of the Washington Ballet’s new production “Jazz Icons: A Fine Romance,” a fusion of dance and live jazz that also features Dwight Rhoden’s world premiere “Midnight Riff.”

Playfulness is the overarching vibe in “Coloring Silent Space,” performed beneath a scattering of dangling geometric shapes that echo the splashes of bright color on the dancers’ otherwise black outfits. (Lang, who is the scenic designer for this piece, gives a shout-out in the playbill to Henri Matisse’s cutouts. Jillian Lewis devised the costumes.) Performers flap their elbows and seesaw their hips. They roll on the floor. Borne offstage by a troupe of her colleagues, a ballerina kicks her feet in cheeky protest.

A hyperkinetic sequence, set to a glorious drum solo performed by Christopher Latona, includes a dancer bouncing off the floor like a dribbled ball. But “Coloring Silent Space” offers meditative moments, too. At one point, a dancer seems to walk on air, by dint of being sandwiched between, and supported by, two larger castmates. At another, the performers’ minimalist body isolations become foils for Davis’s shivery piano as his trio plays Pete La Roca’s delicate modal-jazz number “Bliss.”

Throughout, Lang creates a terpsichorean realm with its own will, logic and humor. Thursday night’s cast — including Ayano Kimura, Ashley Murphy-Wilson, Nicholas Cowden and Harry Warshaw, among others — inhabited this world with confidence. The musicians, who in addition to Latona and Davis include Ian Ashby on bass and vocals, conjured pleasingly varied moods, from the ruminative “Bliss” to the livelier “Battle of the Balcony Jive” by Dodo Marmarosa.

In contrast to Lang’s organic world-building, the dancing in “Midnight Riff” often registers as flashy poses. Dressed in glittery cocktail dresses, with comparably slinky-looking garb for the men (Christine Darch is the costume designer), the cast strikes many unison and recurrent stances. Couples line up in tidy rows for partnering. Ballerinas turn their bodies into brash on-pointe Xs.

The choreography by Rhoden, a co-founder of Complexions Contemporary Ballet, does sometimes achieve an interesting tension with the music, supplied by the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra and New York Voices. On the one hand, there’s the sharpness of the dance, performed on Thursday by Maki Onuki, Andile Ndlovu, Oscar Sanchez and others. On the other, there’s the jamming elasticity of the music, which includes renditions of Mary Lou Williams’s “Lonely Moments” and the George and Ira Gershwin standard “Oh, Lady Be Good.”

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Particularly when Kim Nazarian, Lauren Kinhan, Darmon Meader and Peter Eldridge of New York Voices are onstage, singing and scatting with an extemporizing air, you admire the dancers for clocking through their movements with metronome-worthy precision. The artists tread a thin tightrope between two very different kinds of discipline.

Acclaimed lighting designer Brandon Stirling Baker, who gives “Midnight Riff” a dramatic look evoking a smoky nightclub, crafts more nuanced illumination and shadow for “Coloring Silent Space.” At one point in Lang’s piece, the overhead circle cutout glows like a gentle sun or zealous moon — a gravitational force in a jazzy cosmos.

The Washington Ballet performs “Jazz Icons: A Fine Romance.” Musical direction by Marty Ashby. Through Feb. 18 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St. NW. washingtonballet.org


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