The Capitol Ballet Company, the city's oldest ballet troupe in continuous existence and a respected Washington institution for 15 years, is now undergoing a major metamorphosis. With the engagement this fall of former American Ballet Theatre soloist Keith Lee as ballet masterf and resident choreographer, there has come a new outlook and a first attempt to put the company on a solidly professional basis.
Last night at the Washington Project for the Arts we were given a first look at the still ongoing transformation in a program entitled "Works in Progress," and the results were most heartening. There is decidedly an important new ballet presence in town.
To the strongest dancers of the old troupe-ballerina Sandra Fortune and Leroy Cowan-have been added half a dozen others of high caliber, and where the repertory requires, several advanced apprenitces are also employed. The first thing one notices is a new consistency of standards-the dancers are all reasonably well matched in proficiency, and the group looks and moves like a unit. This alone is considerable accomplishment in the short period-scarcely over two months-since the new foundations were set.
In addition to dancers of mettle, every company needs a viable dance repertory in order to flourish, and here too, the new look is encouraging. Included in last night's offerings was one work-the wonderfully lean, hard-edged and rhythmically exciting "Ebony Concerto," expertly set forth by Fortune and Cowan-by the company's co-founder and artistic director Doris Jones. Jones has long been the creative backbone of the troupe, but she is no longer able to handle that burden singlehandedly.
This is where Lee coes in. The three remaining works of the program-all of them of recent vintage, two still "in progress," and each in a quite contrasting vein-were his, and collectively they exhibited a palpable, if not wholly focused, choreographic gift.
Lee draws on many movement sources in addition to academic ballet: in "Conversations in Lotus," on Indian mudras and yoga; in "Nearer to Thee," on jazz dance and Horton technique; in "Seacoast Sketches," on a variety of contemporary and classic modes. Yet his work doesn't appear motley; it's got a notably individual stamp. The energies sometimes seem uncontained, and the governing form obscure. But a couple of rhapsodic solos in "Nearer to Thee," and the storm section of the "Seacoast Sketches," generated a visceral urgency and piquancy of image that promise much for the future. More than ever, the Capitol Ballet is a company that bears close watching.