To open its February series of five performances at Lisner Auditorium last night, the Washington Ballet trotted out the first of its two current programs -- a notably strong trio of works consisting of two ballets by Choo San Goh from his topmost drawer ("Variations Serieuses" and "Double Contrasts"), and Lambros Lambrou's "Othello," a neat foil, in its dramatic emphasis, for Goh's formal abstractions.
Both Goh ballets were created for the Washington Ballet in past seasons, and the Lambrou has also been staged here earlier. The fact that nothing was new in this program, though, allowed one to take more concentrated stock of the company itself, and the quite remarkable progress it has made over the past year or so. By now, with the help of Goh's prolific talent as resident choreographer and the astute eye of director Mary Day, the troupe has developed an unusually sturdy and fulfilling repertory, mixing much new and some old in satisfying measure.
It has taken some time, however, for the level of the company's dancing to catch up to its dances -- what last night's program clarified and confirmed is that this has now happened. The most conspicuous improvement is in the male contingent (the women, most of them trained by Day and her associates at the WB school, have always been admirable, if unevenly so). The seven men are now technically secure, well matched in size and shape, and stylistically coherent as a group--it makes a whale of a difference. What's more, there's some real strength among the veterans. The case of John Goding is particularly heartening -- a native Washingtonian and a WB principal since 1977, he is just now coming into his own as a compelling soloist and partner. Having conquered a tendency toward stooped shoulders, and having gained immeasurably in assurance, projection and interpretive authority, he's become one of the company's most interesting and pleasurable dancers to watch, as his performances in the title role of "Othello" and both Goh ballets bore out last night.
The women, too, are stronger on the whole and more homogeneous in look than at any time one can recall. With Moscow gold-medalist Amanda McKerrow setting the pace, that's saying a lot, and McKerrow herself seems to blossom more fully as an artist every time you see her. Last night was no exception; she was the full-blooded Desdemona in "Othello," and danced major parts in the Goh ballets as well, displaying not only her familiar purity of line but also an attack that grows more brilliant and incisive when it's needed too. It's also gratifying to see how well Janet Shibata, recently of American Ballet Theatre, is acclimating herself to the WB ambiance. Trimmer in figure than in earlier appearances, she's begun to add an inner intensity and propulsion to her already well-seasoned technique and her natural, soft refinement of manner. As the leading girl in black in "Double Contrasts," her svelte first movement duet with Goding was one of the evening's highlights.
Repeated viewing doesn't diminish the deficiencies of Lambrou's "Othello." The plot is lucidly set forth, but neither the choreography nor the music is equal to the dramatic gravity of the subject; on the other hand, it provides opportunities for characterization handsomely realized last night in Simon Dow's Iago, McKerrow's Desdemona and Goding's Othello. The poetic "Variations Serieuses" and the scintillating "Double Contrasts" were both well served by their excellent casts.