American Ballet Theatre II, the youthful touring unit under the aegis of ABT which made its area debut at the University of Maryland's Tawes Theatre last night, left a rather mixed impression. The 15-member troupe, founded 10 years ago by its current director, Richard Englund, has a nice professional veneer, lots of stage sense and an appealingly extroverted spirit. One wonders, however, about its artistic orientation and goals--on the basis of this first, limited acquaintance, they would seem to be dangerously diffuse.
As one might expect, there's an abundance of promising talent among the dancers, although, despite the considerable experience of some individuals, the troupe as a whole is clearly in the apprentice category. Last night's sampling of repertory, however, was strange--among four offerings, the one really traditional item was a Bournonville Divertissement. True, the broad eclecticism of the rest may mirror, to an extent, that of the parent troupe. But the proportions seem lopsided for a company that is presumably transmitting the classical heritage to coming generations. If this is a portent of the future, ballet as we know it may become as antiquated as tea cozies in another decade or so, and what's replacing it will be a bland porridge of bland idioms.
The Bournonville assortment, containing excerpts from the 19th-century Danish master's "Napoli," "Flower Festival in Genzano" and "Abdullah," and handsomely staged by Toni Lander, was the evening's highlight, surprisingly. Surprisingly, because the technique and style are so demanding that major non-Danish troupes often fail to do them justice. This ABT II contingent caught the spirit and overall look, and did amazingly well with many of the tricky details as well. Dawn Caccamo and the virtuosic Andrew Needhammer, as the "Flower Festival" couple, were especially impressive.
The strongest of the other pieces was Lynne Taylor-Corbett's "Sequels," an ABT II commission set to a neo-romantic cello sonata by Robert Muczynski. The choreography doesn't call for point work, and its Kylian-like swerving chain formations, along with falls and contractions and the like, put it in the modern dance orbit. It's a neatly constructed, moody abstraction, if somewhat hackneyed in its imagery. Taylor-Corbett's "Diary" was altogether different: a saccharine pas de deux, half emotive posturing and half jazz-dance cliche', it looked like a sketch for TV's "Fame" series. The sleek performance by Kathleen Moore and Rocker Verastique went over big with the audience.
The curtain-raiser was the harmlessly facetious "One in Five" by former Royal Ballet dancer Ray Powell, a balletic vaudeville for four pierrots and a lady acrobat set to Strauss waltzes and polkas. It afforded Diana Brownstone a chance to display her leggy extensions and pert vitality.