Once again, as so many times previously, Choo San Goh--the Singapore-born choreographer who has been the company's creative spark since 1976--has given the Washington Ballet something to shout about. It's his newest ballet, "In the Glow of the Night," which received its premiere last night at Lisner Auditorium in an ambitious program that also included Balanchine's "Concerto Barocco" and the premiere of a version of the 19th-century classic, "Sylvia."
I will go out on a limb and declare that "Glow," dedicated to the memory of the choreographer's father and set to the first three movements of Bohuslav Martinu's neo-romantic Symphony No. 1 (1942), is Goh's finest ballet to date, and a breakthrough to a new level of expressive command. "Fives," in 1978, was an earlier Goh summit, but "Glow" goes beyond it. "Glow" doesn't have the hard-edged brilliance of "Fives," and its ingenuities, though just as numerous, are less spectacular. But "Glow" achieves a formal roundedness and an emotional depth that surpass anything we've seen from Goh before.
To begin with, the ballet has a rich unifying concept, at once abstract and particularized--the passage of a single night from dusk to dawn in three stages, and the evolution of feelings that ensue in the gathering darkness. The first movement brings on Julie Miles as a kind of Queen of the Twilight, with two guardians, Malcolm Grant and Brian Jameson, and an ensemble of six women, all in the colors of flaming sunset, from orange to deep lavender. In a bewitching transition to the second movement, Amanda McKerrow enters in royal blue and gold, soon to be joined by partner Simon Dow and a sextet of males, bearing with them the mystery, glitter and passion of starlight (the movement is an ABA form, the "B" part being an ardent pas de deux for McKerrow and Dow).
In an even more magical transition, the third movement introduces Janet Shibata and partner John Goding, alone this time, and in midnight blue or black (the stage light, just when you think it couldn't possibly get dimmer without disappearing, has gotten darker still). At the end of a quite sublime, sustained duet superbly danced by Shibata and Goding, emblematic, somehow, of the dead of night, the "twilight" contingent from the first movement returns--as daybreak, now--to spirit Shibata away and leave the stage empty with the rise of light.
The realization of this idea is carried out with wonderful consistency through all the details of the choreography, which in turn is in perfect tune with the costumes, the lighting and the score. Goh's movement invention is as prolific as ever, but less arbitrary and crowded--there's a new sense of space and poetic stillness at work here, and it all relates to the ballet's themes. "Glow," moreover, elicited exceptional performances from all concerned, and especially the principals. It's a ballet that will endure, and reveal more of itself with each accounting.
Though the rest of the evening had its highs--particularly McKerrow's verve and lyricism in "Sylvia," nothing matched the excitement of the Goh. "Barocco," with Shibata, Christine Matthews and Malcolm Grant as leads, was good but spotty, too often losing connection with the music. "Sylvia," credited to guest choreographer Luk de Layress, could use upgrading of many kinds; as it stands its mostly bath water and no baby. The plot is more or less intact, but that's the least of the ballet's attractions. The patchwork musical abridgement and the pallid choreography add up to an uneasy compromise between respectful restoration and fresh invention.