The Washington Ballet opened its "spring series" at Lisner Auditorium last night with a performance of Choo San Goh's "Untitled," and the sight of this fresh, youthfully exuberant, beautifully constructed opus brought back in an instant the flush of excitement Goh's arrival in 1976 instilled in the company.
The Singapore-born Goh, 31, now resident choreographer and assistant director of the troupe, has been going full blast ever since, and the excitement continues to mount. But it's fascinating to see how much of his future work was presaged in embryo in "Untitled," which was, in effect, his first mature ballet, created in the Netherlands in 1973.
Goh's ingenuity in movement design brings forth a cascade of startling, memorable shapes, all in perfect concord with the music (a Vivaldi Concerto Grosso in D Minor). One thinks of the groups of women linking arms in back, folding forward and making taut circles with their feet, looking like some huge, long-heaved tropical plant rotating on its stalk; or the ensemble of bent figures taking big sideways hops in irregular bunches, like a brood of playful frogs -- an effect that never fails to prompt spurts of surprised laughter. One notes, too, the instinct for the logic of dance composition -- nothing looks arbitrary or gimmicky -- and the wit that is never cute or gauche and always integral to the choreographic ground plan.
The performance made one conscious of waters under the bridge in another way -- the 10 dancers represent, in the main, an entire new "generation" of company personnel, perhaps none of whom ever appeared previously in this work. It's encouraging to see that the company school is still turning out expertly trained tyros. The rendition was spirited, if not always rock firm.
Goh's gifts inevitably dominated the program. The evening ended with his "Double Contrasts" of 1978, set to the Poulenc Concerto for Two Pianos, a brilliantly complex ballet, all hardedged glitter and cosmopolitan sophistication.
Though it's in a very different vein from "Untitled," it takes no expert to see the same iridescent mentality at work. The slashing, crisscrossing lanes of movement, the shrewd development of the "contrasts" motif in the black-and-white attired platoons, the bodies sculpted into waves, wheels, axles and swirls -- these are but the elaborated extension of the figural visions of "untitled."
"Double Contrasts" was also a reminder that as Goh's photographic scope has enlarged, so have the demands he makes on dancers. The performance had a precarious, cliffhanging feel. The breakneck steps and directional shifts mostly looked a hairsbreadth beyond the dancers' grasp.
"Meditation," by the company's newest ballet master, Robert Steele, a former dancer of broad experience, is a passable pas de deux in the mode of romantic exhibitionism, the kind of thing that used to be a Bolshoi encore fetish. Set to a Tchaikovsky piece of the same title (used also by Balanchine), it's a sequence of lifts, carries and swoons whose main reward last night was the display of Julie Miles' elegantly lyrical and legato line. Her partner, newcomer Douglas Hevenor, would much improve his contribution by doing without the dramatically irrelevant fixed smile.
Also on the program was a revival, with a new cast, of Gray Veredon's "Pelleas and Melisande," set to the Schoenberg tone poem of that name. Very much in the manner of Antony Tudor but with imaginative merits of its own, the work needs and deserves a better musical recording than the fogbound mess it had last night. There were especially compelling performances by Lynn Cote as Melisande, John Goding as Golaund and Julie Miles the Mother.