We knew beforehand that the major attraction of last night's program by the Joffrey Ballet at Wolf Trap would be the Washington-area premiere of the company's recent revival of "A Wedding Bouquet." This is a comic souffle of a ballet created in 1937 by Sir Frederick Ashton, who is not only one of the master choreographers of our era but one of the art's few infallible wits as well. What we could not have known was that the dryly impudent and impeccably chilled drollery of Sir Frederick and his collaborators would save the evening from being totally waterlogged.
The prevailing sogginess must be attributed at least as much to natural causes as to any failings of the performers. There were, to be sure, some artistic shortcomings, Ann Marie de Angelo's rather musclebound phrasing was no help in choreographer Gerald Arpino's distressingly gauche tribute to Spessivtzeva, "L'Air d'Esprit." Twyla Tharp's dissolute fracturings of classical style in "As Time Goes By" (1973) haven't stood time's test too well -- the piece, a sort of warped warm-up for "Push Comes to "shove ," now looks pointlessly quirky and dull. Even Agnes de Mille's evergreen "Rodeo" seemed wilted last night, and no wonder. Dancers having to move and musicians having to play through the muck and weight of that evening's air deserve medals for calor beyond every ordinary measure.
All the more reason for amazement that the charm and ebullience of "A Wedding Bouquet" managed to pass through undimmed. A portrait of a wedding in provincial France at the turn of the century, the ballet is no earthshaker, yet only as consummate a craftsman as Ashton could have made it. The idea came from composer Lord Berners, who also designed the frothy set and costumes and chose the narrated text from the works of his friend Gertrude Stein. Yet the whole thing has an Ashton stamp on its sharp yet warmly amiable observation of societal manners, artifice and chicanery. Beatriz Rodriguez was especially winning as the dotty, lovelorn Julia (originally created by Fonteyn), but the entire east metited high compliments.