For the second two programs which will alternate throughout this week at the Carter Barron Amphitheatre, the National Ballet of Canada last night brought us a mixed bill in which the contrasts could not have been more extreme: George Balanchine's "Serenade," to the music of Tchaikovsky, a neoclassical abstraction with decidedly romantic overtones; a 1978 setting of Stravinsky's tumultuous "The Rite of Spring" by the company's own Constantin Patsalas; and Kenneth Macmillian's jocular period piece to rags by Joplin and others, "Elite Syncopations." Though the program had its problems, it certainly succeeded in demonstrating the troupe's admirable sytlistic ambidexterity.
The choreographic inspiration of "Serenade" has kept the work fresh and transporting for over four decades, which is one reason it has been adopted by so many different companies. The Canadians last night gave it a careful, respectful performance that seemed more sedate than impassioned -- the suggestive undercurrent of unfulfilled romantic yearning was more sketched than communicated. A sluggish orchestral performance of the Tchaikovsky under the baton of George Crum wasn't much help. All the same, there was some fine, decorous dancing from Nadia Potts, Veronica Tennant and Gizella Witkowsky.
The performance of "The Rite of Spring" had a good deal more to recommend it in the way of intensity, sweep and propulsion, with Karin Kain and Frank Augustyn aptly uninhibited at the head of an ensemble of 17. Here it was the choreography that let one down. Mixing classical and "modern" movement in an idiom hovering somewhere between Tetley and Bejart, Patsalas gives us so many ritualistic circle dances, menacing macho tribesmen and cowering females that the piece ends up as a repetitive string of cliches, demeaning rather than illuminating the great, ferocious score.
All things considered, the company was shown of to best advantage in the slender but shrewdly confected Macmillian crowd-pleaser. Ian Spurling's gaudily giddy costumes in te manner of Peter Max, plus an overlay of choreographic sight gags, set a tone of almost grating facetiousness. But the piece works well as a vehicle for dancers, and the Canadians took ample advantage of the fact. Among the most memorable moments were Vanessa Harwood's provocatively slinky solo, not quite erasing memories of the Royal Ballet's Monica Mason but splendid all the same; the crisp, saucy dancing by Mary Jago in the part created by Jennifer Penny; and Thomas Schramek's bouncily eccentric jumps in the "Friday Night" number.