The Berlin Ballet's mixed repertory bill, given its first local showing at the Kennedy Center last night, is a hodge-podge of sporadic and generally scanty satisfactions.
The program was a reminder of the esthetic distance between ballet as it is practiced in this country and ballet as it is cultivated abroad. In America ballet, dancing for its own sake is accorded a very high priority. In the Berlin company, as in most foreign troupes, the emphasis is on theatrics -- storytelling, atmosphere, dramatic incident and spectacle.Choreography per se seems to come last and matter least.
Given such an approach, however, it is still not hard to imagine a more substantial and rewarding assortment of work than last night's motley aggregation. The evening began with John Cranko's version of "The Firebird," created for the Stuttgart Ballet in 1964 using not only the familiar Stravinsky score but also the original Fokine scenario. What's missing, however, is the innocence, fantasy and strongly Russian folk flavor of the Fokine production (as resurrected by American Ballet Theatre, for instance).
The Prince in Cranko's "Firebird," as appealingly set forth by Vladimir Gelvan last night, becomes a bumbling bumpkin, a sort of Danny Kaye in Sherwood Forest. The minions of the evil Katschei turn into Disneyesque beasties. Little is gained and much is lost.Even the ordinarily brilliant designer Jurgen Rose goes astray, with a wedding scene that's atrociously over-dressed and underlit. Eva Evdokimova danced an aptly fluttery Firebird, and Dianne Bell had the requisite sweetness as the Princess.
The Don Quixote" pas de deux which followed, with Valery Panov and Galina Panova, certainly brought dancing to the fore. But in this Panov-Gorsky version, and as danced by these Soviet-schooled principals, it was dancing of a coarse, acrobatic, bombastic character that could be admired on athleic grounds alone (though it must be said this sufficed to bring down the house).
Hans Van Manen's "Five Tangos" attempts to use classical steps and combinations, along with the rhythms and imagery of social dance, to convey the erotic tensions of the Latin idiom. It did give Rudolf Nureyev a chance to strut and swagger in a macho vein, and his partner Heidrun Schwaarz an excuse to try to look icy and smoldering at the same time. And there is an undercurrent of something bitchy about the ballet and its predominantly black costumes, if that's your cup of tea. But on the whole, this ominously geometric suite of dances seemed little more than an exercise in perversity.
That leaves Birgit Cullberg's "Miss Julie," the familiar ballet setting of the Strindberg drama of sexual repression and class hostilities in Scandinavia. The company gave it a well-drilled performance, and Nureyev was in good form, dancing with fitting vehemence and skillfully characterizing the hot-blooded butler. But Galina Panova, though she danced very capably, went through the paces as Miss Julie missing the ferocity and sensuousness of the part all the way. And the whole point of "Miss Julie" -- a very limited and specialized genre piece to start with -- is lost without a convincingly sexy, desperate Julie.