Washington Ballet steps lightly locally


Ray Barra's brand-new work, "Prelude to Autumn," featured on this weekend's Washington Ballet program at Goucher College, has beautiful dancing, pretty costumes, a lovely set and Dvorak's "Dumky Trio."

But the work is also a bore.

Like an attractive person who has nothing between the ears, the work -- while lovely to look at -- is vapid and full of choreographic fluff.

With its hazy nod to romanticism, see-saw of mood-shifting duets, trios and quartets and somewhere-Slavic stance, "Prelude" makes its point long before the dancing stops. However, Yan Chen is a dancer who can make a cliche profound, and her performance last night was truly remarkable in the way she was able to transport herself out of the dance.

On the other hand, the opening work, "Variations Serieuses" choreographed by Choo-San Goh for the company in 1977, is as charming as it is intellectual, with its geometrically precise patterns and eccentric play with Mendelssohn's piano score.

It's that dialog between the music and the dance that keeps our minds at work, and the demure interplay between pianist Richard Galla and the dancers gives the piece its engaging appeal.

The closing work, Nils Christe's "Before Nightfall," is a throbbing sea of angst. Set to the highly dramatic score of Bohuslav Martinu, with a graffiti-like backdrop, the dance has urban edge and the feel of shattered glass sparkling beneath the night sky.

In three sections that magically ebb and flow, three sets of couples evoke their dramas. Often their movements are echoed by a chorus of four or six dancers. The pairs struggle, grapple, twist and turn. The movements are dagger-sharp and forceful, and the entire company vibrates with electricity.

The Washington Ballet looks terrific. Yan Chen, Sean Murphy and Julie Miles gave exceptional performances.

The performance will be repeated at 8 o'clock tonight in Goucher's Kraushaar Auditorium.

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