If the program by the Captiol Ballet at Montgomery Blair High School this past weekend had a makeshift look, it's because that's just what it was. After a long period of forced inactivity, the company hastily reassembled itself for these performances, apparently to put dancers back on stage and keep the company image afloat. The event was in the nature of a holding action, and inevitably it called as much attention to the handicaps the troupe continues to face as to its potential for artistic accomplishment.
The situation calls for some historical perspective. The Capitol Ballet was founded in 1961 by Doris Jones and Claire Haywood as an outgrowth of the fine school that bears their names, with a view toward affording opportunities largely denied elsewhere for blacks to participate in classical dancing. In 1978, after Haywood's death, the company went "professional" -- a deputy artistic director was engaged (Keith Lee), dancers were hired by audition and put on seasonal contract.
Since then, despite some remarkable artistic advances, it's been a rocky road, marked by economic woes and company layoffs. A substantial federal "advancement" grant announced last year promised some relief but the money is not yet in hand. To keep things going, Jones asked William Scott, a young veteran of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, to take up where Lee left off and mount a public performance.
The weekend's program was hardly a fair test of Scott's abilities. He's had six weeks to gather and rehearse 10 dancers, many of them new, and to patch together a repertory.
On top of everything else, the troupe has been plagued with an epidemic of injuries. In any case, there was no way the program could disguise the problems that beset it. The assortment itself -- Joyce Trisler's "Dance for Six," an old company staple; a flabby ballet duet by Eugene Collins; a modest jazz-gospel number by Scott to music by Aretha Franklin; the "Consaire" pas de deux danced by guest artists Sandra Fortune and Sylvester Campbell; and a diluted version of "Ramonda" excerpts -- didn't add up. Fortune, as ever, had her beautiful moments, but neither she nor Campbell nor the other dancers were in anything like prime shape.
In the past, the Capitol Ballet always has shown remarkable resilience in the face of privation and reverses. One can hope it will bounce back again.