THE MACHO father is panic-stricken. Is his pride and joy, his pre-teen son, turning out to be a pantywaist? Why else would the child like ballet better than baseball?
This was only a subplot on a rerun of ABC-TV's "13 Queens Boulevard" the other night. But you know for sure that a stereotype is doomed in the public awareness when they start horsing around about it on prime time. What's more, in this case the script plainly sided with the kid. It was daddy who was the butt of the joke, for his lockerroom bias - for not knowing that today's male ballet star is apt to be as much of a jock as your average longshoreman.
Classical ballet may not have shed its esoteric aura for all Americans as yet, but clearly attitudes have changed radically over the last decade. Few have helped nudge this change along more effectively than Abdulla Jaffa Anver Bey Khan. At least, that's the name that went on his birth certificate, one Christmas Eve in Seattle. We know him as Robert Joffrey, and the ballet company he founded 23 years ago and still directs today is about to pay us its annual summer visit.
The five performances - four evenings and a matinee - which the Joffrey Ballet will bring to Wolf Trap starting Monday night are likely to reconfirm the breadth of popular appeal that has been one of the troupe's hallmarks from the beginning. Joffrey has always appeared to operate from the assumption that no matter what your taste or upbringing, somewhere there's a ballet you'll like - and if he can't find one for you among those already in existence, he'll make one.
The Wolf Trap programs will illustrate the point with a nearly encyclopedic span of styles, moods and subject matter. Fourteen productions - half of them new to Washington - by nine Russian, English and American choreographers will range in ambiance from wild west to Parisian leftbank to the Aquarian '60s and beyond.
Among the highlights will be the tribute to the celebrated ballet impresario Serge Diaghilev, which Joffrey first staged on Broadway last March and which has just concluded a return engagement at Lincoln Center, in both cases with guest artist Rudolf Nureyev packing houses with his portrayals of roles associated with the legendary Vaslav Nijinsky. Nureyev won't be appearing with the troupe at Wolf Trap, but two of the Nijinsky roles - in Fokine's "Le Spectre de la Rose" and "Petrouchka" - bid fair to retain their intrinsic fascination in performances by regular Joffrey principals. (Unfortunately, a third Nijinsky vehicle, in his own only surviving ballet, "The Afternoon of a Faun," had to be dropped from the Wolf Trap program, the company maintains, for fear of possible damage to the reconstructed Bakst decor from exposure to outdoor heat and humidity. No substitute has been designated at this writing).
The Joffrey Ballet's tribute program, like the Metropolitan Museum's vaunted Ballets Russes exhibition last winter, was occasioned by the 50th anniversary this year of Diaghilev's death. Whether for this reason alone or as an expression of cultural tides not yet fully surfaced, the magic era of dance, music and spectacle he engendered is much in the air. This past week in London, Nijinsky's long-surpressed, unexpurgated diary brought over $100,000 at a jammed Sotheby Parke Bernet auction. (At least two movies about Nijinsky have been in the works for some time). Immediately thereafter, reports from the Parisian salons put us on notice that two leading couturiers - Yves Saint Laurent and the house of Lanvin - were dedicating their fall collections to Diaghilev. The ultra-romantic fragrances of "Spectre," the brilliantly stylized irony of "Petrouchka," and the still startling cubist daring of Leonide Massine's "Parade," (the program finale in the Joffrey's Diaghilev offering) should give Wolf Trap patrons a piquant sampling of the era's enticements.
Elsewhere during the Joffrey visit we'll be seeing the company's recent revival of Sir Frederick Ashton's 1937 comedy of manners, "A Wedding Bouquet," and the first Washington showing of the newest ballet by Agnes de Mille - still as feisty and creative as ever in her 70th year. The Ashton opus, about a country wedding in provincial France at the turn of the century, is probably one of the few ballets ever to include a role for a dog (a Mexican terrier called Pepe) among its cast of major characters, and it has a narrated text by Gertrude Stein as well as a musical score by Lord Berners. Margot Fonteyn danced the role of Pepe's mistress in the premiere performance with the Vic-Wells Ballet. De Mille's work, entitled "A Bridegroom Called Death," is a hauntingly poignant dance drama set to a series of 12 Schubert songs.
Also among the Wolf Trap novelties will be the two latest compositions by the troupe's resident choreographer and associate director, Gerald Arpino. Arpino has always had a weather eye for attractively voguish material; both of these new works, possibly as balletic spinoffs of the "roots" phenomenon, are tributes to Russian ballerinas of almost fabled stature. The pas de deux "L'Air d'Esprit" pays homage to Olga Spessivtzeva, and, in using excerpts from Adolphe Adam's score for "Giselle," to one of her most illustrious characterizations. The more recent "Epode," for five dancers with a score by Dmitri Shostakovich, is dedicated to Felia Doubrovska, who was, among other things, the original Siren in Balanchine's "The Prodigal Son," in the ballet's 1929 Diaghilev production, and who has been a highly respected teacher at the School of American Ballet since her retirement from the stage. Along with two earlier Arpino staples - last year's "Suite Saint-Saens" and the popular rock-ballet "Trinity" - the Wolf Trap repertoire will also include de Mille's "Rodeo"; Jerome Robbins' "N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz"; and a pair of esteemed works by modern dance choreographers: Jose Limon's "The Moor's Pavane" and Twyla Tharp's "As Time Goes By."
It would be truly a taxing challenge to imagine a more comprehensive or diversified cross-section of the ballet heritage fitted into so brief a slice of time. The Joffrey troupe, now some 40 strong, has always been proud of its birth in a station wagon - as a determined band of six dancers (including Arpino and Glen Tetley) roaming the countryside in search of one-night stands. The company is still "bringing ballet to the people"; it's only the scale of the enterprise that's different. CAPTION: Picture 1, "A Bridegroom Called Death": Dance drama set to Schubert songs. By Herbert Migdoll; Picture 2, One of the productions in the Joffrey Ballet's repertory is Leonide Massine's "Parade" with sets and costumes by Pablo Picasso. Photo by Herbert Migdoll