Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
The Wolf Trap season would hardly seem complete without the Joffrey Ballet. The troupe has danced there every summer since 1971, when the facility first opened. Wednesday night they were back on the Filene Center stage with the first of four programs which will include eight Wolf Trap premieres. Despite the evenings's moisture, an audience of more than 3,600 was on hand to greet the company, which appeared to be in the pink of condition.
The highlight of the program was a ballet with eminently suits both the Joffrey's youthful esprit and the rustic charms of Wolf Trap. This was Agnes de Mille's "Rodeo." A landmark of Americana both in its choreography and its Copland score, the work was originally performed by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1942, and thereafter assimilated into the repertory of American Ballet Theater.
The current Joffrey production was staged by Vernon Lusby under de Mille's personal supervision. Kermit Love and Oliver Smith have gone back to their original designs for the costumes and scenery. The resultant face-lifting is on the whole remarkable successful, restoring some of the luster too often lost through complacency and neglect at ABT. With the latter company, the principals are apt to be excellent, but the ensemble a shambles.
The Joffrey staging doesn't skimp on the charaterization of the Cowgirl, the Champion Roper of the Head Wrangler, but it reinvigorates the whole ballet by restoring a sense of musical and dramatic continuity. There are no major, conspicuous differences of choreographic detail so far as I can recollect. But the thigh-slapping, lasso-twirling ensemble dances for the Cowhands, for example, have acquired a new gusto merely by being spruced up in shape and rhythmic outline. The costumes have a more homespun, less stagey look than their ABT counterparts and the decor seems more suggestive of the ruddy, rugged Southwest landscape.
As the Cowgirl Wednesday night, Beatriz Rodriguez mixed stubborness and vulnerability in just about the right proportions for the heroine of this romantic fable. Russell Sultzbach made a spirited Champion Roper and struck sparks with his flashy clog solo. Robert Thomas was a fine foil as the conceited Wrangler.
The rest of the program was no match for "Rodeo." "Viva Vivaldi," Gerald Arpino's mock-Spanish version of neo-classicism, sets some of the composer's drabbest music to equally forgettable, breezy steps that now and then manage to show off the dancer's verve. William Whitener and Ann Marie De Angelo had the best of it Wednesday night in the peppy finale.
I've never understood the appeal of Flemming Flindt's "The Lesson," a ballet which converts Ionesco's essentially verbal, absurdist comedy into a kinky dance melodrama.