Dance has been so scarce at Wolf Trap this season that last night's opening of the Joffrey Ballet seemed like the good old days of six. Seven years ago when balletomanes Literally camped out at the arts park all summer. What was a trump of a program for this nostalgic occasion undoubtedly had been compounded for entertainment and esthetic values, but it might as well have been chosen to beat the competition. Which of the two other ballet companies performing in the area could have offered an exciting piece of new classical choreography, the revival of an exceptionally bold work by one of the careful master craftsmen of ballet, male virtuosos in top form and, to boot, Washington's own talent in the forefront?
The first work, Choo San Goh's "Momentum," was the example of a new classicism. It choreography consists of much more than a facility for steps and stops. There's a fusion of motion, design and musicality as if the choreographer were using Prokofiev's score (the piano concento No. 1, op. 10) like a bellows to forge the densities, spread and lines of the dancing.
"Momentum" was initially created for the Joffrey II Dancers. It was difficult for them, but they tackled it in a daring way. Now, some of the same performers as more seasoned dancers of the big Joffrey Ballet have mastered the requisite speed, precision and dynamics. Unlike some of the ballets Goh has made for his home troupe, the Washington Ballet, "Momentum" has no half-hidden plot. But it is far from being an exercise. The choreography funnels the dancers into an awarenes of themselves as sensing and moving humans, as male or female. This gives the ballet a European air surprisingly akin to the revival piece Frederick Ashtoin's "Illuminations."
In his own terrain, that of Britain's Royal Ballet, Ashton was never as sensual as in this guest piece he choreographed for New York City Ballet in 1950. "Illumination," with its surreal depiction of life and verse, physicality and dreams of the French poet Rimbaud, set to Benjamin Britten's song cycle, could easily seem as dated as phychological movies of that time. It isn't. There is playfulness and a sense of design that counteract the stereotypes of the artist and his conflicting muses. Greg Huffman as the poet, Patricia Miller as Sacred Love and Beatriz Rodriguez as Profane Love wisely acted through their dancing. The original New York City cast might have had more personality, but to attempt an imitation would have been in vain. The Joffrey's revival shows the shape of the piece.
The evening included two of Gerald Arpino's most relaxed works: the zarzuela vignette "Fanfarita" and the Viennese romp "Kettentanz." Throughout the program the Joffrey dancers showed a welcome new restraint that stems from strength. No, the company does not yet have the sign of a "school" style with its obstinacies of form, pedantries of technique and grandeur. The dancing is still more a matter of diverse individual efforts.Among those individuals last night one noticed especially Luis Fuente's stellar force, Glenn Dufford's quicksilver phrasing, the authority of Starr Danias, Denise Jackson and Lynn Glauber as well as the new authority of Washington Ballet alumni Madelyn Berdes, James Canfield and Patricia Miller.