One "Golden Age" of dance offering tribute to another that was the pervasive sense of occasion last night as the Joffrey Ballet presented the first local showing of its "Homage to Diaghilev" program at Wolf Trap. We are living through one such era, more highly cscious of its devotion to the art to Terpsichore than any of the past. Part of tahat devotion gets expressed as restoration of the ballet heritage, as in this Joffrey staging of four works from the fabled Ballets Russes era of the Parisian 'teens decade. Yet there was nothing musty about the evening - this homage is not so much a matter of painstaking excavation as a joyful evocation of a bygone spirit.
The piece-de-resistance among the four ballets was "L'Apres-midi d'un Faune" ("The Afternoon of a Faun"), the sole surviving choreographic work by the celebrated dancer Vaslav Nijinsky, created for the Diaghilev troupe in 1912 and seen now in a rare reconstruction with many interesting links to the original production. But herein hangs an odd tale. Joffrey's "Homage" program was first presented on Broadway with Rudolf Nureyev dancing the Nijinsky roles, repeated recently in this format at Lincoln Center, and then taken on tour, minus guest star Nureyev. All of a sudden, though, those who hold rights to the restored Leon Bakst scenery and costumes for "Faun" said nothing doing at Wolf Trap - the heat and humidity could prove disastrous, they claimed. The weird upshot: director Robert Joffrey decided to go ahead with the performance anyway, without the decor, in practice clothes.
Joffrey himself maintains that though the loss of exquisitely atmospheric Bakst designs is considerable, there is a certain compensatory gain in the increased legibility of the choreography itself. Beautiful as they are, the drops and costumes obscure some nuances of the choreography, he says. He may well have a point. In any case, it is plain enough from a single viewing of "Faun" that Nijinsky's genius, despite what has often been said to the contrary, did not stop with his dancing. "Faun" is an extraordinary creation from every standpoint, and still daring enough to elicit a sense of shock from contemporary viewers.
It's almost impossible to conceive how it must have been regarded in its own day, however. The year before, Nijinsky had danced in the premier of Fokine's "Spectre de la Rose," also seen last night on the Joffrey program. It's the quintessence of romantic love - a young woman, virginal, ethereal, dreams of an ideal lover in the guise of the spirit of the rose.
In one piercing plunge, Nijinsky's "Faun," with its swooning, insinuating score by Debussy, brings us to the erotic universe of Freud, Joyce and Henry Miller. There's scarcely a shred left here of "classical" ballet - the bare feet, the profiled poses imitative of hellenic art, the muscular tensions originating deep within visceral centers, not to mention the quickened sense of sexual desire - all this evokes a brand new, unmistakeably modern esthetic. Yet as powerfully lascivious as the imagery is of the Faun and his fugitive encounter with the nymphs, it is curiously chaste at the same time. It's like Monet's water lilies - what's so explicit is the feeling, the emotion of the scene, rather than its physical outines.
All throughout the evening, in "Faun" and "Spectre" as well as in the company's magical and meticulous productions of Fokine's "Petrouchka" and Massine's "Parade," the performances were more impressive as wholes than as aggregations of individual parts. Still, Denise Jackson's ballerina in "Petrouchka," Gary Chryst's conjurer in "Petrouchka," Gary Chryst's conjurer in "Parade," and principles Gregory Huffman and Charleme Gehm in "Faun," stood out among the others. CAPTION: Picture, "The Afternoon of a Faun'" by the Joffrey Ballet as performed in New York.