There was something depressing about the Washington debut of the 5-year old Canadian troupe, Les Ballets Jazz, at Lisner Auditorium last night, despite all the up tempos and intended high spirits. It's sad to see so much effort, skill and devotion expended on material as essentially shallow and banal as what we saw on this first program.
The 12 dancers of the company, one must add at the outset, are sleek, attractive, full of beans and very well schooled. Their performances exude as much conviction, physical charm and team spirit as one could ask.
The group's name, however, is misleading. One pirouette does not a ballet make, and the repertoire is decidedly unclassical. And though an eclectic jazz dance idiom abounds, the music isn't jazz at all, but commercialized pap of various sorts.
The one piece on the program that came halfway towards deserving the name choreography was Louis Falco's "Escargot," a sort of beach party carousel, a tossed salad of flung torsos, looping arms, loose falls and casual sex. Falco at least has a feeling for well-designed nonchalance, a la Twyla Tharp. But even here, the repetitiousness, and especially the moronic thump of Ralph MacDonald's disco score, was enough to make one beg for mercy halfway through.
As for the rest, Buzz Miller's "Kew Drive" looked like failed Fose, an insipid charade with some whips and black hoods thrown in for gratuitous spice; Lynne Taylor's "Diary" was imitation Ailey, maudlin and mediocre; and John Stanzel's tap number. "Artless," was too embarrassingly cute and inept for words. The most honest and appealing of the lot was Eva von Gencsyhs "Warm Up." which was just that and pretended no more.