New faces, new feet and new works studded the opening of the Washington Ballet's 1982-83 season at Lisner Auditorium last night, marking the return of the troupe to its home shores after a whirlwind month of seasoning abroad on a busy European tour. The company's bright youthfulness and spirit were much in evidence, but on the whole it was one of those opening nights that never quite hit the mark, despite privileged moments. However, this was but the first of five performances scheduled through Saturday night (with some changes in program and casting), and the dancers may need some time to regain full stride.
It's in the nature of ballet companies to change in constitution. The majority of the 18 dancers of this year's complement are veterans from past seasons. Lynn Cote, however -- long a leading WB dancer -- has returned after a year's absence, looking trim and perky. Two former apprentices, Michele Piquet and the prizewinning, prodigiously gifted Bonnie Moore, are now regular company members. Four newcomers have been recruited from outside the WB circle or its school. Amanda McKerrow, the company's Moscow gold-medalist, has moved on to American Ballet Theatre, but the flow has been working in the opposite direction as well: in the present company are Janet Shibata, formerly of ABT; newcomer Richard Hoskinson, who danced for eight years with the New York City Ballet; and Brian Jameson, who left WB to go to the Feld company several years ago and returned last year. Though it was difficult to take accurate measure of this year's ensemble from last night's first viewing, it's obviously a group of strong potential.
Vincente Nebrada's "A Handel Celebration," created for the Miami Festival this past summer and restaged for seven WB dancers, proved the more arresting of the evening's two company premieres. The Venezuelan-born Nebrada has danced with the Joffrey and Harkness ballets, among many others, and founded the International Ballet of Caracas; in recent years he's also been an itinerant choreographer. "A Handel Celebration," set to parts of "The Water Music" and "The Royal Fireworks," mixes classical idioms and modern dance (floor work, twisty gymnastic lifts, etc.) into a reasonably effective fusion.
The opening and closing framing sections, featuring Loie Fuller-ish multicolored, diaphanous veils, which the dancers swirl about themselves, have a Latin flamboyance that seems a bit much in the context of Handel. The series of three duets and seven solos sandwiched between, however, is smartly fashioned, especially the three male solos, and the choreography works well as a showcase for dancers. Malcolm Grant, looking stronger and more striking than ever, along with the sparkling Moore, and to a somewhat lesser extent, Cote and Shibata, were the principal beneficiaries last night.
The other premiere, a revival of William Dollar's "Le Combat" -- a dramatic ballet about a Crusader who slays a Saracen girl only to discover he has killed his beloved -- was regarded as an exotic novelty in its time (1949, revised 1950), but looks rather forlornly quaint nowadays. The horse mimicry (earlier exploited to better effect by Loring and de Mille) soon grows wearisome, and the dying love duet seems ludicrously overdrawn. Cote and Hoskinson danced valiantly enough as the leads but couldn't transcend the limitations of the piece.
The choreographic honors of the evening belonged plainly to Choo San Goh's transporting "In the Glow of the Night," the company's triumph of last spring; the performance however, seemed strangely muted in emotional texture. Goh's masterful "Fives" and "Double Contrasts" will be featured on other programs of the current run.