One of two gentlemen by the name of Ronald Reagan received four standing ovations last night as the Joffrey II Dancers made their Washington debut at Lisner Auditorium -- it wasn't the one on stage, however, but the one in the audience.There was no way, given the circumstances, that President and Mrs. Reagan could avoid upstaging their son, even though he was the one giving the performance. But then, nearly everything about the evening was exceptional. This was only the president's third public outing since the attempt on his life; this was but the second time he and his wife were to see Ron in action as a dancer; and it was likely one of the few ballet performances on record that required the audience to be frisked before being seated.
You will want to know, naturally, how Ron Reagan the dancer made out. Well, it's a bit hard to say. Even 20 years of professional journalism doesn't prepare one for esthetic appraisal of a member of the first family who happens to be a fledgling ballet dancer -- the situation doesn't arise too often. It's not possible to determine whether or not a seasoned eye would pick out this young man from the rest, were he not who and what he is.
But given all this, let's go ahead anyhow. Reagan danced in four of the evening's five ballets. He wouldn't be in this journeyman company if he didn't have the basics, and it's apparent he's got considerably more than that. He comes equipped with a fine, open, lanky build; his long legs are well stretched and turned out, giving him an admirably sleek line in arabesque. He seems to be well schooled, in partnering especially, and there's a nice, youthful gallantry about his stage presence. Beyond this not much can be assessed from a single program, except that, like everyone else in Joffrey II, he has a long way to go to approach artistic maturity.
That's in the nature of the troupe. Joffrey II is an offshoot of the Joffrey Ballet, the nation's third-ranking classical ballet company, and as such it commands a high level of talent, both in its recruits and its faculty of teachers-directors. On the other hand, these are dancers from varying backgrounds fresh out of school, who are undergoing on-the-job training in a grueling regimen of mostly whistle-stop tours -- they don't ordinarily play cities the size of Washington (last night's performance was a benefit for the Metropolitan Academy of Ballet here). Taking all such factors into account, one can say it is a fine troupe, loaded with promise but also speckled with the rawness, flaws and inexperience one would expect.
Last night's program was probably typical of the troupe, both in its strengths and weaknesses. Two of the pieces were commissioned by Joffrey II -- one of the services the company performs for the field is to stimulate new work. Stanley Zompakos' "Septet" is a dull exercise in academic cliches, and more than other ballets of the evening it tended to reveal the stylistic callowness of the dancers. Gray Veredon's propulsive, neoclassic abstration, "Unfolding," showed them to far better advantage -- Reagan looked particularly impressive here, partnering the taut Karin Hanson. Two other works were from the hands of masters: Frederick Ashton's mysterious moonscape, "Monotones II," which is beyond the troupe's reach, and Antony Tudor's swirlingly lyrical "Continuo," which flattered the dancers as it caressed the eye. The finale, Daryl Gray's "Threads from a String of Swing," is a shameless bit of pop nostalgia -- a jitterbugging wingding to Glenn Miller than looks oddly straitjacketed for such freewheeling material. It may be a good tonic for the dancers, though, and it's a guaranteed crowd pleaser.