The Head and the Heart
DAR Constitution Hall
The Seattle folk-rockers released their second album in October 2013, featuring songs inspired by travels they embarked on after their self-titled 2011 debut. $34.
The singer/songwriter’s 2014 self-titled album is her first collection of entirely original tunes in 13 years. Never one to shy away from exploring the boundaries of her sound over her long career, she’s nailed what might be her most fully realized work. $55.
Some of the TV projects she’s been involved in have been panned (Smash; Sean Saves the World), but her musical talent (Broadway’s 9 to 5) has never been in doubt. Hilty applies the latter to Christmas music from the Great American Songbook. $65.
Zion’s Muse: Three Generations of Israeli Composers
The Ariel Quartet explores Israel’s relatively young but rich musical legacy, stretching from the 1930s work of composer Paul Ben-Haim to contemporary pieces by Menachem Wiesenberg. $44.
Guaranteed you’ve heard at least one of their electric-guitar-driven holiday tunes—now watch them perform their “rock opera” The Christmas Attic live for the first time. $42 to $73.
He’s shed the impressive beard but not the eclectic reggae sound that earned him a Grammy nomination. Hear tracks off Akeda, Matisyahu’s fifth album, which came out in June. $35.
Chuck Brown Band
Bethesda Blues and Jazz
The backing band of the late Godfather of Go-Go performs some of Brown’s greatest hits. Frank “Scooby” Sirius, formerly of the local band Lissen, joins the lineup. $25.
December 28 (December 27 sold out)
After six studio albums, the gypsy-punk band sounds more raucous than ever. Same goes for its frenetic live show, which has been known to involve crowd-surfing. $35.
The Brooklyn duo of Alex Frankel and Nick Millhiser gained a following for their synth-soaked remixes of tracks by Cut Copy, Moby, and LCD Soundsystem, among others. Holy Ghost’s original tracks are equally worth a listen, as their sophomore effort, September’s Dynamics, proved. $20.
The Rhett Miller-fronted Dallas band celebrated its 20th anniversary this year by releasing its 16th album, Most Messed Up. The new tunes reflect on two decades in the music biz. $35 to $85.
Ballet West’s The Nutcracker
This version of the holiday classic—created by the Salt Lake City company’s founder, William Christensen—is a Washington favorite. $56 to $165.
Cirque de la Symphonie
A kind of Cirque du Soleil designed specifically for concert halls—with acrobats, jugglers, and cortortionists performing feats choreographed to the music of the NSO Pops. $20 to $98.
Observe the weeklong holiday with this event featuring dancers from the contemporary West African company Coyaba and its related academy, along with other special guests. $25 to $30.
The Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker
Hailing from the same country as The Nutcracker’s composer, this company has brought the production to Washington regularly since 1993. $28 to $88.
If you’re a fan of The Daily Show’s early years, there’s a good chance this Georgetown Law grad wrote some of your favorite lines: He won an Emmy for his work with the show’s original writing team. Hear him deliver his jokes his own way. $17.
A John Waters Christmas
Not to be confused with the 2004 album compiled by Waters, this show gives the kooky director a platform to poke fun at holiday memories and traditions. $49.50.
Good for the Jews
Writer Rob Tannenbaum (I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution) and David Fagin of the indie band the Rosenbergs team up for this tongue-in-cheek show of musical comedy. $20.
Vijay Iyer: Music of Transformation
The pianist/composer—awarded a MacArthur “genius grant” last year—presents for the first time in Washington his work “Mutations I-X” as well as a multimedia piece inspired by the Hindu spring festival Holi. $20 to $55.
At this show, the 64-year-old R&B legend will play the entirety of Songs in the Key of Life, his hit 1976 double album. $49.50 to $149.50.
The R&B superstar postponed the release of his eighth album, originally expected by the end of the year, so braving the arena crowds might be the only chance to hear his new material for a while. $42.50 to $178.
Rural Alberta Advantage
Rock & Roll Hotel
The name might bring to mind delicate folk music, but this Toronto act puts out robust indie rock that’s at once wistful and upbeat. $14.
Orion Weiss With the Salzburg Marionettes
The American pianist pairs with the Austrian marionette theater, in existence since 1913, to offer adults and children a new way to experience classical favorites. $45.
Fans of the TV series Friday Night Lights know Lucca for his poignant cover of “Devil Town.” The former Mickey Mouse Club member was also a finalist on the reality show The Voice in 2012 and released a new EP in March. $17 to $25.
After performing in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year, the Israeli troupe brings its vocal theatrics to Washington, reproducing the effects of a full orchestra through beatboxing and other sounds. $28 to $72.
Washington Chorus: Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis
One of the greatest choral works comes to life with help from conductor Julian Wachner, soprano Julia Sophie Wagner, and tenor Vale Rideout. $15 to $70.
Sixth & I
The two Barr siblings started out in jazz and indie rock before settling into their current woodsy Americana style, accompanied by classically trained harpist Sarah Pagé and bassist Andrès Vial. The group’s second album, Sleeping Operator, came out this fall. $13 to $15.
We Were Promised Jetpacks
Rolling Stone named this Scottish punk outfit’s In the Pit of the Stomach one of the best under-the-radar albums of 2011. With nearly 40 stops on their current tour, on both sides of the Atlantic, it’s unlikely their new album, Unravelling, will need such a distinction. $20.
National Symphony Orchestra: Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite
Bulgarian conductor Rossen Milanov leads a performance of Stravinsky’s breakout work along with Busoni’s Piano Concerto, Opus 39, with pianist Garrick Ohlsson and the Washington Men’s Camerata. $10 to $85.
Fillmore Silver Spring
The rapper—who has collaborated with artists as diverse as 2 Chainz, Taylor Swift, and Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo—performs songs from Underground Luxury, released in December. $30.
The Dismemberment Plan
After breaking up for nearly a decade, the DC indie rockers got back together in 2011. Watch them perform their latest, Uncanney Valley, while their reunited front holds. $25.
Pigeons Playing Ping Pong
With a name as quirky as its sound, this Baltimore four-piece offers psychedelic funk rock tailor-made for dancing. The band released its first full-length album in July. $15.
Sutton Foster With the NSO Pops
The actress (from the erstwhile ABC Family show Bunheads) and Tony winner sings Broadway hits from shows including Anything Goes and Shrek the Musical, in which she originated the role of Princess Fiona. $20 to $88.
Kalanidhi Dance: Krishna, Love Re-Invented
This work by Malaysia’s Sutra Dance Theatre tells the legend of the Hindu embodiment of love through Odissi, one of India’s classical dance forms. $40.
Neil Greenberg: This
American Dance Institute
Choreographer Greenberg partners with sound designer Steve Roden and lighting designer Joe Levasseur for this new piece, which examines the collaborative process and the human desire to make meaning. $31.25.
Ballet ADI Evening With Loni Landon
American Dance Institute
The house company, Ballet ADI, performs a commissioned work by New York artist Loni Landon exploring gender and how people occupy various spaces in their lives. Also on the bill: a new piece by Washington Ballet alum Runqiao Du. $31.25.
The DC native, one of In Living Color’s original cast members, has appeared in Strictly Business, Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, and other movies. $20.
One of the first openly gay female comics to appear on network TV, Westenhoefer has earned fans for her brash, up-front style. $45.
The deadpan comedian has branched out from standup to books, movies, and radio—he became a panelist on NPR’s Wait, Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me! this year. See his new show to find out how humor has landed him in hot water. $27.50 to $37.50.
Marley—no relation to the reggae musician—became a Guinness World Record holder in 2010 for longest standup performance. He managed to go 18 hours without repeating jokes, so you’ll almost certainly hear something new this time around. $17 to $20.
Translating the ugliness of war into dance is never easy. In creating Colin: Son, Marine, Hero, Manassas Ballet Theatre artistic director Amy Grant Wolfe found her work made even more difficult by the subject: her own son’s death from a roadside bomb in Iraq. Six years after Colin died, composer Mark Menza, a friend of Wolfe’s, asked her to collaborate on a patriotic ballet. “I told him, ‘I’ve done patriotic pieces because of Colin—I don’t want it to be the same old thing,’ ” says Wolfe. “Then I thought: What if we make it about Colin?”
A one-act debuted at the Hylton Performing Arts Center to so much positive feedback that they decided to develop it into an evening-length dance, at Hylton November 7 through 9. The work follows Colin’s life, beginning with the young boy, then depicting his decision after 9/11 to join the Marines; his visit to the graves of ancestors who fought in World War II; his first love and Jewish faith; his military life; and his death and loved ones’ reactions.
To expand the piece, Wolfe asked Colin’s fellow Marines, friends, and family to share memories. She also decided that his death, originally not depicted, would likely be shown onstage—and she might dance her own part: “I’m teaching it to myself, though it may be too much emotionally.” In the end, Colin is a macro story told on a micro level: “When we say thousands have died, our minds can’t grasp that sense of thousands of boys loved by their family and friends, but when it’s presented as one story, we can.”
Purchase tickets ($15 to $45) at hyltoncenter.org.
Fillmore Silver Spring
Big old-fashioned rock ’n’ roll is the name of the game for this group. They perform songs off Great Western Valkyrie, their latest album. $20.
Fans of St. Paul & the Broken Bones who didn’t get tickets to their 9:30 Club show later this month would do well to check out Stone, another neo-soul act with a slightly more hippie-ish vibe. $25.
Fillmore Silver Spring
The Australian pop sensation brings her compulsively danceable tunes to the stage. $16.
Pitchfork summed up this flamboyant Detroit band’s most famous singles, “Danger! High Voltage” and “Gay Bar” as “transcendently dumb.” The flamboyant rockers are about to release their tenth album. $15.
The R&B singer’s instantly recognizable rasp has given her staying power—the Grammy winner releases her eighth album this month. $49.50.
U Street Music Hall
The New Orleans duo makes bouncy indie pop reminiscent of 1950s groups. Sultry-voiced Arum Rae opens with modern soul. $15.
The Oscar-winning Czech singer/songwriter, known for her collaboration—and former romance—with Glen Hansard (her Once costar), just released Muna, her second solo album. $18 to $25.
Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons
Hear the falsetto that made its owner and his “Jersey boys” the subjects of a Tony-winning musical and a Clint Eastwood-directed biopic. $48 to $165.
Alice Russell and Yuna
Russell, a blonde, British soul singer shares the bill with Malaysian pop star Yuna and "tropical pop" artist Hollie Cook, the daughter of Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook. $25 to $30.
Julian Casablancas & the Voidz
Though the Strokes frontman gets more than his share of hype, his first solo effort, Phrazes for the Young, earned generally positive reviews. Casablancas released his first album with his new side project, the Voidz—which includes two members of the band that backs his solo shows—in September. $35.
Bombay Bicycle Club
The English rockers continue to push the boundaries of their sound with So Long, See You Tomorrow, their most recent album. $30 (currently sold out).
“I Don’t Want to Wait” endures as one of the most recognizable anthems of the ’90s; fans of Cole’s melancholic pop can look forward to newer material as well as her classics. $25 to $27.
Rock & Roll Hotel
This female rapper has a dual degree from Stanford to draw on for her witty wordplay skewering American excess. $12.
Cold War Kids
The Long Beach rockers moved from indie to more radio-friendly fare such as “Miracle Mile” on last year’s Dear Miss Lonelyhearts. Hear what’s in store for their fifth album, out this month. $28.
The Motown star comes to town for a concert including hits that have earned her seven Grammys. $65.50 to $99.50.
Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn
The bluegrass-royalty husband and wife are on tour playing from their new self-titled album. $40 to $60.
Martha Clarke’s Chéri
This tale of romance between a younger man and an older woman—created by MacArthur “genius grant” recipient Martha Clarke and based on a story by Collette—stars dancers Alessandra Ferri and Herman Cornejo and actress Amy Irving. $42.
George Mason University’s Center for the Arts
The contemporary San Francisco company performs “Rasa,” set to music by percussionist Zakir Hussain, as well as other dances. $26 to $44.
Moroccan choreographer Hind Benali partners with hip-hop dancer Soufiane Karim and composer Mohcine Imraharn for live music and dance offering a window onto life as an Arab woman in North Africa. $25 to $30.
Velocity Dance Festival
Sidney Harman Hall
Since debuting in 2009, the festival has narrowed its focus from international to mostly local artists—but it’s still an affordable opportunity to see a range of styles and performers. $18.
Dance Theatre of Harlem
Sidney Harman Hall
Led by Virginia Johnson, who grew up in DC, the troupe returns for another run after last year’s sold-out engagement; co-presented by Washington Performing Arts and CityDance. $37 to $77.
An Evening of Indian Dance
The Indian Dance Educators Association puts on this showcase of traditional dance and music, featuring local performers as well as choreographers from India. $20 to $25.
Beijing Dance Theater: “Wild Grass”
Techno music and dancers as robots aren’t exactly ballet standards, but artistic director Wang Yuanyuan incorporates both. The three works on the bill are inspired by poems of the Chinese modernist writer Lu Xun. $42.
Petite Mort: Masterworks by Kylián/van Manen/Wheeldon
Sidney Harman Hall
The Washington Ballet performs three pieces by Jirí Kylián, Hans van Manen, and Christopher Wheeldon, set to live music. $37 to $132.
Carmen De Lavallade: “As I Remember It”
The dancer and actress presents a retrospective of her seven-decade career via dance, film clips, projections of personal writings, and other artifacts. $49.
George Mason University’s Center for the Arts
October 31-November 1
The National Acrobats of the People’s Republic of China perform logic-defying feats of tumbling, juggling, and more. $29 to $48.
Poulenc’s Organ Concerto
British conductor Matthew Halls returns to lead the NSO in Poulenc’s popular work. $10 to $85.
Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra
This orchestra, in existence since the ’20s, tours the US for the first time, playing pieces by Serbia’s Stevan Hristić along with other European composers. $25 to $55.
Ray Chen and Julio Elizalde
Washington Performing Arts presents a concert of Mozart, Beethoven, and more by 25-year-old violin virtuoso Chen (below) and American pianist Elizalde. $25.
Combining traditional Chinese instruments and modern orchestration, this group—whose name means “the beauty of divine beings dancing”—explores its home country’s rich history. $49 to $89.
National Philharmonic: Dvorák’s New World Symphony
The philharmonic kicks off its season with a symphony written by the Czech composer during his stay in America. The evening also includes a performance by South Korean violinist Chee-Yun. $28 to $84.
Choir of Westminster
Washington National Cathedral
Hear the British choir and get a look at the pomp and grandeur that help make Westminster Abbey such a storied place. $25 to $85.
Music From the Films of Tim Burton
The Danny Elfman music that gives Burton-directed works (Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Frankenweenie) much of their dark punch comes to life here, accompanied by visuals from the movies, sketches, and storyboards. $20 to $88.
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra: “Ein Heldenleben” (A Hero’s Life)
The BSO takes on Richard Strauss’s autobiographical tone poem. The bill also includes Christopher Rouse’s “Rapture” and Alexander Scriabin’s “Poem of Ecstasy.” $32 to $95.
This month, a local institution gets in on the grand Washington tradition of returning from summer vacation with some not-so-subtle tweaks. Dance Place, which for 36 years has been bringing dance performances and education to the area, has undergone its first full renovation and will introduce the new look at a free community day on September 6.
Carla Perlo and Steve Bloom founded Dance Place in 1978, and in 1986, due to quadrupling rents, they moved from Adams Morgan to a former welding warehouse in Brookland. “We set it up with a theater space and wooden risers—nothing mounted, nothing more comfortable than a folding chair,” says communications director Carolyn Kamrath. “It’s been well loved, but it needed a facelift.”
It got that thanks to four years of fundraising, corporate and private donations, and support from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.
During the “Be in Brookland” community day, guests can tour the improved facility, which includes fresh hardwiring and a semi-enclosed tech booth in the theater, a larger dressing room with space for 40 dancers, and a new second-story studio—plus comfortable, high-quality seats. The open house also features free classes for children and adults, free performances, and a $15 nighttime dance party led by the Cuban company DC Casineros.
Dance Place’s upcoming season offers a diverse lineup, including four international companies. November brings Brazil’s Companhia Urbana de Dança, for instance, and March welcomes two Cuban artists. Kamrath says the larger space will also allow for an extended class schedule and more residency opportunities for visiting artists.
She’s perhaps most excited by the impact Dance Place can now have at home: “We’ve always been a hub for our community and the youth who live in DC’s Ward 5,” and the expanded facilities will allow Dance Place to offer more classes for children. “All the kids are thrilled to be in the new building—and we’re definitely filling it.”
More information at danceplace.org.
The Kennedy Center announced its 2014-15 season this morning. Here are the highlights:
The touring production of Evita stops by in October 2014.
The KenCen premieres its new production of Little Dancer, with direction and choreography by Susan Stroman, also in October.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is your holiday musical, arriving December 16.
Signature Theatre’s Eric Schaeffer directs a new revival of Lerner and Loewe’s Gigi before it heads to New York, opening January 17.
Tony-winning musical Once arrives for a six-week engagement in July 2015.
Smash hit Book of Mormon (which, you may remember, crashed the Kennedy Center’s website last summer when tickets went on sale), is returning for two months in the summer of 2015.
The KenCen presents Martha Clarke’s Cheri in October.
Beijing Dance Theater stops by in October.
Ballet West provides this year’s Nutcracker from December 1 through 14.
The Mariinsky Ballet performs a mixed-repertory program in January.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater returns in February.
American Ballet Theatre returns in March with one unnamed full-length work and a mixed-repertory program.
The New York City Ballet brings two mixed programs to the KenCen in April.
The Scottish Ballet performs A Streetcar Named Desire in May.
England’s the Royal Ballet performs Don Quixote and a mixed program in June.
Joshua Bell performs in the Season Opening Ball Concert September 21.
The Washington National Opera presents Florencia in the Amazon in September.
David Zinman conducts pianist Angela Hewitt in October.
John Mauceri conducts Danny Elfman’s Music from the Films of Tim Burton in October.
Christoph Eschenbach conducts Midori October 30 through November 1.
Steven Reineke conducts an evening with Sutton Foster in November.
The WNO stages Puccini’s La Bohème in November.
The WNO Family Opera in December is Rachel Portman’s adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince.
Pianist Tzimon Barto returns in January.
Organist Cameron Carpenter performs February 4.
Emanuel Ax also stops by in February.
The WNO presents Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites in February and March.
Jason Moran performs In My Mind: Monk at Town Hall, 1959 in March.
The WNO revives Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman in March.
Dianne Reeves returns in April.
Violinist Leonidas Kavakos performs in May.
The Kennedy Center also announced a festival dedicated to performing arts from Spain and Portugal. Iberian Suite: Arts Remix Across Continents will take place from March 2 through 24, and will feature theater, music, dance, and more.
Ballet, says In Series founder and artistic director Carla Hübner, “doesn’t have to be this great theatrical thing. It can be something that happens right in your lap.” That sense of experiencing dance up close is one that the In Series offers in its collaborations with the Washington Ballet’s Studio Company, featuring accomplished dancers, choreographers, and musicians working together on performances in a more intimate setting.
January 17 through 19 at DC’s GALA Hispanic Theatre, the In Series and the Washington Ballet present La Vie en Rose, a show celebrating French culture from Berlioz to Edith Piaf, with choreography by Septime Webre and David Palmer. “We have the singers interacting with the dancers, with constant weaving between the two,” Hübner says. “By creating a theatrical environment for both, the product becomes more than the sum of its parts.”
Webre is revisiting a tribute to Piaf and Jacques Brel he choreographed years ago called “Oui/Non,” in which soprano and Catholic University professor Fleta Hylton voices Piaf. La Vie en Rose also features music by Henri Duparc, a little-known French composer who quit writing music at age 37 and destroyed many of his works. “They’re very beautiful, very romantic, very French,” says Hübner, who also plays piano in this production.
For the Studio Company dancers, who are unpaid and typically appear only in the chorus, the show offers the chance to display their talents in a performance that’s all about them. “The singers have found it so inspiring to look at their repertory in a different way and to watch the young dancers’ dedication and virtuosity,” Hübner says. “For us all to be onstage together is really rewarding.”
Tickets ($40) at inseries.org.
This article appears in the January 2014 issue of Washingtonian.
One of Mikhail Baryshnikov’s hallmarks is an intense curiosity. Widely considered the greatest dancer of his generation, he trained in ballet in the former Soviet Union before defecting to Canada in 1974. Since then, he’s been artistic director of American Ballet Theatre; performed in theater, TV, and film; and founded the Baryshnikov Arts Center, a multipurpose organization in New York City that showcases performing artists from all disciplines.
December 5 through 22, Baryshnikov comes to Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre with Man in a Case, an experimental work adapted by Annie-B Parson and Paul Lazar from Anton Chekhov’s writing. The show incorporates theater, movement, music, video, and other elements to tell two of Chekhov’s short stories—the first about a teacher crippled by conventionality in turn-of-the-century Russia, the second about a man who falls in love with a married woman.
“They’re very quirky and very different from Chekhov’s plays,” Baryshnikov says. “With this conservative person who’s against any kind of progressive thinking, there are parallels to what’s happening now in this country. Because that story was a bit short and about a tragic and unresolved love affair, they suggested I bring in the other story about love.”
Of all his acting roles—including on the final season of Sex and the City—avant-garde theater seems to interest him most. When he first arrived in New York with only rudimentary English, he found he appreciated experimental productions more than Shakespeare or Eugene O’Neill: “I could have gone to see Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet, but it didn’t make much sense to me. Avant-garde theater was so arresting that I stayed, even though half or three-quarters of what was said passed me by.”
Baryshnikov, 65, continues to dance, which he says is easier now than it was five years ago because he’s “in better shape and a little lighter and a bit smarter about it.” He also spends much of his time working on behalf of his arts center. “In Europe,” he says, “government spends so much on art and art education, and there’s incredible theater in Poland, Bulgaria, Russia, and Scandinavia. Here we are much more conservative. The people who wrote the Constitution never thought about art. How to protect your freedom is one thing, but how to educate your children is another.”
He has no plan to stop performing anytime soon: “Where I am right now—it is scary at times, but that’s the way I like it, I guess. I scare myself, and then I try and overcome it.”
Tickets ($45 to $105) are available at shakespearetheatre.org.
This article appears in the December 2013 issue of Washingtonian.
Maurice Hines Is Tappin’ Thru Life, at Arena Stage November 15 through December 29, stars the dancer/choreographer of the title along with Washington’s Manzari Brothers—John, 21, and Leo, 18—who shared the stage with Hines in Arena’s 2010 production of Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies. Hines—whose late brother, Gregory, was a dancer and actor of equal renown—talks about the new show:
“I was reading an article about tap, and it didn’t even mention my brother. I thought, how soon they forget—because Gregory was tap to me, and I couldn’t let him be ignored. I decided I’d do a show to celebrate him; then it evolved into a show about my family.
“I first saw the Manzari brothers when I was getting ready to do Sophisticated Ladies. I was teaching at Duke Ellington School of the Arts, and we were doing this leap and I saw all this hair pop up at the back. Then I saw a boy clutching his ankle, and that was Leo. I said, ‘Are you okay?’ and this voice from behind him says, ‘My brother will be all right,’ and that was John. They had some good dances, so I asked if they could tap. John said, ‘Yeah, we can tap,’ with all this attitude. I said, ‘Okay, you come to the Lincoln Theatre and I’ll let you know if you can tap.’ Of course, they were spectacular.
“In the show, I tell about the first time Gregory and I worked in Vegas in 1955 and how our mother hadn’t told us about segregation. We flew over the Strip and thought we were heading there, but my mother said, ‘The hotel you’re going to is in the other direction.’ The hotel was wonderful, but we wanted to go to the Strip and couldn’t understand why we weren’t allowed. I tell about meeting Tallulah Bankhead and Pearl Bailey—a great African-American singer—and how Tallulah wanted Pearl to go to the pool at the Sands with her, but they said she wasn’t allowed in the water. Tallulah said, ‘Then I’m not doing the show tonight.’ So everyone got out and they let Pearl get in the water, and then they drained it.
“I used to sing ‘Too Marvelous for Words’ to the audience, but now I sing it to my mother. I want the audience to know that it was this woman who came from nothing—who wasn’t in show business—who had this vision of our talent taking us all over the world. She always said the audience is the main thing. Without them, you may as well be in a rehearsal studio, so you owe them.”
Maurice Hines Is Tappin’ Thru Life. November 15 through December 29 at Arena Stage. Tickets ($50 and up) are available online.
This article appears in the November 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.
There are a wealth of contradictions underpinning the National Gallery’s extravagant new show, “Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, 1909-1929: When Art Danced With Music.” The show explores the incomparable legacy of Serge Diaghilev, a pioneer of the avant-garde and a man who shaped the way ballet would evolve throughout the 20th century but who also freely described himself as one “with a complete absence of talent.” This is a show focused on Diaghilev, but there is very little of him in it, given that he didn’t dance or sketch costumes or choreograph ballets or compose music. A sense of him emerges only fleetingly, as a mustache-twirling impresario curating art in a thoroughly fascinating way.
Another contradiction: Despite the nomenclature, the Ballets Russes never performed in Russia. Before 1909, when the troupe was formed, Diaghilev (who was independently wealthy) had worked as an art critic and curator and had produced concerts and operas in St. Petersburg and in Paris, where the first Ballets Russes production was staged. His choreographer was Michel Fokine; his principal dancers included Vasily Nijinsky and Anna Pavlova. For the next 20 years, the company traveled around the world, presenting more than half of its productions in Britain and collaborating with talents as diverse as Igor Stravinsky and Coco Chanel. It is impossible to imagine modern dance being the same without it.
“Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes” is a reimagining of an exhibition that ran at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum in 2010, and while the Washington exhibition has more of a visual art bent to it than the British show, it’s still an unexpectedly broad undertaking for the National Gallery. The institution literally raised its roof in order to display two key items: a backdrop painted by Natalia Goncharova for a 1926 production of The Firebird, and a curtain designed by Picasso in 1924 for The Blue Train, both of which are more than 30 feet tall. Although the two items are imposing, visually, they feel curiously flat taken out of context. Like cubism, the show deconstructs ballet down to its composite parts and presents them as individual masterpieces, when by their very nature they were designed to play as part of an ensemble.
The same goes for the costumes, which seem to make up the majority of items on display. Most are extraordinary, both in their construction and their heritage, but to see them displayed on mannequins is only a small part of the story. The exhibition includes video footage of modern reconstructions of Ballets Russes performances featuring companies such as the Joffrey Ballet and the New York City Ballet, but the two-dimensional projections don’t quite evoke the sense of ferocious energy and sweat that live dance does. The heaviness and intensity of the early Ballets Russes costumes in particular provoke a hundred practical questions about their nature in performance that remain unanswered. As works of art, the costumes pale in comparison to their elegantly rendered designs, including the gorgeous drawings and watercolors by Alexandre Benois and Léon Bakst.