Veering sharply from its repertory of costume dramas, the Stuttgart Ballet last night stripped down to tights and leotards for a triple bill of choreography governed by mood, music and movement. Two of the pieces - "Return to the Strange Land" by Jiri Kylian to piano compositions by his Czech countryman of a previous generation, Leos Janacek, and William Forsythe's "Handel Concerti" - are new to Kennedy Center. John Cranko's "Initials R.B.M.E." is not only familiar from previous visits but, as usual, was danced by the same performers to whose names the title refers - Richard Cragun, Brigit Keil, Marcia Haydee and Egon Madsen. All were plotless, but the three works looked not at all alike.
Forsythe's ballet has three distinct looks. As the curtain rised, the dancers are in a circle that undulates and open - a romatic image - revealing two couples crouching at the center; as they stand, the women are lifted upside down and held that way - a modern image. This is followed by a standard set of neoclassical group combinations. Though neoclassicism predominates, as might be expected in dancing to Handel, the romantic and modern images recur. Forsythe seems to attempt a reconciliation of the three styles in some of the duets and solos, but it never quite comes off. His ballet remains formally disjointed, the overall dance texture plump and the phrasing abrupt.
Kylian has created a unique dance style. There were hints of it last summer at Wolf Trap when Netherlands Dance Theatre performed his Janacek "Sinfonietta." In "Strange Land" one can see its distinctive features: gymnastics such as rolling aon the floor, virtuoso ballet steps such as classically correct turns in the air, and unexpected juxtapositions of bodies and body parts. Surprisingly, these things don't look contrived. Kylian gives a spaciousness to the movement and placement and a breadth to the phrasing that together mold the pieces into a powerful but melancholy flow of movement. And, it is apt in respect to Janacek's music.
Grand and gemutlich , a bit pompous but with a twinkle in the eyes: this is how John Cranko imbuse the personal romanticism of his "Initials" to Brahms' second piano concerto. As the dancers group and disperse, one detects a family relationship to the ehoral masses of the late Leonide Massine's "symphohic" choreography. It makes one even fonder of this ballet now that the survival of Massins' own work is in doubt.
The best dancing in "Initials" didn't come invariably from the four principals. Vladimir Klos, Christopher Boatwright and Annie Mayer provided some of it, though Keil's spaciousness and Cragun's turns were notable.