The Washington Ballet looked splendid last night in a new program in its Lisner Auditorium series. Despite the attrition of personnel a company of this size and structure is bound to experience, the troupe has bound to experience, the troupe has achieved a definable identity. There is a "Washington Ballet look," compounded of trim youthfulness, rigorous stylistic supervision, and a keyed-up sense of striving, of electric eagerness.
What makes these qualities stageworthy beyond their intrinsic value is the solidarity of the repertoire the company has been building over the past three years, Good choreography makes dancens look their best, and on occasion, even better than that; the converse rarely holds -- even the best dancers are dragged down by inferior ballets.
Last night's program was an exemplary case. The four works presented varied in merit as well as content, but each one had the kind of integrity of craftsmanship had artistic pith that galvanizes performers, even when technical demands exceed their capacities.
No better illustration than George Balanchine's "Scotch Symphony," a New York City Ballet staple since 1952. The Washington Ballet danced it for the first time last night, very attractively attired in Karinska's tartan-flavored costumes. Essentially a neo-classic abstraction, the ballet nevertheless alludes charmingly both to the 16th-century romantic tradidition in general and to "La Sylphide" in particular, especially in the duet for a lovestruck swain and a fugitive sprite in the slow movement.
The performance had the semidigested look of a difficult work the first time out. Ensemble patterns were often blurred, and the dancers frequently had all they could do te keep up with Balanchine's swift, intricate steps.
Yet the overall effect was wonderfully exhilarating. The brilliance of the choreography was conveyed because the dancers knew what they were aiming for, and because their own joy in grooving on the work of a master was catching.
Nothing in the rest of the program challenged the troupe quite to the degree of the Balanchine, but the same principle obtained throughout -- a mutual enhancement of art and artistry. James Clouser's "Con Spirito," given its local premiere, is a fast, clever, exuberantly athletic workout to music from Smetana's "The Bartered Bride." There's no hidden treasure here, but it's shrewdly done and it proved a field day for the dancers.
Also on the program were two fine, earlier works by resident shoreographer Choo San Goh -- "Octet Plus Four," I rivetting essay in kinetic permutation, and the touching "Impressions Passed," a mini-drama of remembered passion. Lynn Cote, a vivid dancer of ever increasing authority, was excellent in the latter as she was all evening. Also outstanding were Julie Jiles, Robin Conrad and John Goding.