The biggest ballet crowd of the summer - over 5,000 I'd say turned out for the Joffrey Ballet's final program at Wolf Trap Saturday night. What they got was a typical Joffrey melange, effectively displaying the company's theatrical versatility and stylistic range. Cast injuries altered the announced program; Gerald Arpino's Orpheus ballet was scratched, and a recent Twyla Tharp work was added to others by Joffrey himself, Arpino and Agnes de Mille.
Arpino's "Touch Me" - a gospel-style solo for the splendid Christian Holder - was the only loser. This is Arpino at his most naively opportunistic, so imitative of Alvin Ailey's "Cry" and so inferior to the latter that it's almost painful to watch.
Joffrey's "Pas de Deesses" is a welcome revival of a 1954 opus that retains its fresh wit, taste and compactness. It's a tongue-in-cheek depiction of the notorious rivalry among the prima donnas of Romantic ballet - Grahn, Cerrito and Taglioni - all partnered by Arthur Saint-Leon (choreographer of the first "Coppelia"). Charthel Arthur, Ann Marie De Angelo and Denise Jackson were presentable as the ballerinas, but Kevin McKenzie, as Saint-Leon, outshone them all with the most polished virtuoso dancing we've seen during the current engagement.
"Cacklin' Hen" was the most intriguing item on the program. This is a piece in which Twyla Tharp applies to country music the sort of choreographic squiggles she'd already expended on Joplin, Haydn and the Beach Boys. Indeed, the floppy opening solo, expertly danced by Ann Marie De Angelo in the manner of a punch-drunk rag doll, seems like just so much more of the same undifferentiated jitters.
The second part, however - alluringly danced by Jan Hanniford, Gary Chryst and four men to a mesmerizing banjo-and-fiddle jamboree - is another story. The dancing still has lots of gangly eccentricity, but the movement as a whole exhibits more formal clarity and invention than Tharp has given us since the pre "Deuce Coupe" days. It's a refreshing sign of talent back on the track.
Ann Marie De Angelo was the appealing feisty Cowgirl in the concluding performance of "Rodeo."