Looking as impressively assured, spirited and vibrant as for Wednesday evening's opening of its current Lisner Auditorium series, the Washington Ballet last night introduced a second, notably attractive program, this one containing the work of three choreographers -- Choo San Goh, Gray Veredon and John Meehan. Goh is, of course, the gifted resident choreographer whose creative outpouring over the past half dozen years has advanced the troupe into the front ranks of the nation's regional companies. As last night's fare demonstrated, though, the Washington Ballet also has managed to acquire some other quite viable contemporary repertory -- that this is no easy task is proven by the often fruitless search of comparable troupes elsewhere. The ballets by the Australian-born Meehan, formerly a principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre, and by New Zealander Veredon, are not earth-shaking in any respect. But they both do exhibit a unity of style, a command of the ballet "language," and an expressive impact that are in notoriously short supply.
Meehan's "Echoes" was made expressly for the Washington Ballet, and last night it was performed by the six dancers who are the current leading lights of the troupe -- Alejandra Bronfman, Amanda McKerrow, Janet Shibata, Brian Jameson, Simon Dow and John Goding. One of the prime merits of the piece is the way it shows off the individual and collective qualities of this fine sextet. The ballet is intended as a tribute to Michel Fokine, and to his "Les Sylphides" in particular; the music, a set of piano variations on Chopin's A Major Prelude, is one allusion to the model, and various poses, configurations and the wistfully romantic atmosphere constitute others. There's nothing particularly original about the choreography, which takes its cues not only from Fokine but from Jerome Robbins' piano ballets, but it has skill, taste and a delicate charm. The piece generally gets stronger as it goes along; the high point, perhaps, is a lovely lyrical variation in which Dow appears to be repeatedly preventing McKerrow's flying escapes -- an echo of "La Sylphide."
Like the Meehan, Veredon's "Pelleas and Melisande" has not much claim to originality, owing much in the way of style and dramaturgy to John Cranko, for one. But the ballet lays out its tale of tragic love and jealousy with exceptional clarity and focus, and the sharply defined characterizations of the four soloists testify to Veredon's genuine abilities. McKerrow was the affectingly fragile Melisande last night; Brian Jameson's guileless, ardent Pelleas and John Goding's darkly tortured Goland were also admirable, as was Julie Miles' aptly forbidding Geneve.
Goh's "Birds of Paradise" received a taut, highly charged performance from an ensemble led by Shibata, Dow, Miles and Goding. For all its typical scintillating invention, however, the ballet -- on this occasion, at least -- seemed more an affair of surface than substance.