Dundalk, Md., is a vista of steel cranes and stacks of cargo, as seen to the east of Interstate 95 as the highway surfaces on the north side of the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel. A less likely place to be put on the theatrical map is hard to imagine. However, Dundalk is where the Joffrey II Ballet premiered its major 1983 productions Saturday night.
In the past, the troupe's new works have been unveiled in big cities, most often New York. The principal reason for choosing Dundalk is the new theater at Dundalk Community College. Its praises were sung at an ad hoc press conference by Joffrey II's director, Sally Brayley Bliss, and other company officials during the first intermission.
On display at the theater were not only new works but the strongest crop of dancers that the "tryout" Joffrey II has had in a while. Four of them--Dominique Angel, Charles Calhoun, Robert Gardner and Thomas Terry--are from the Washington area. The group's mini-stars are the compact Angel (formerly of the Virginia Ballet), a wonderfully confident technician; Elizabeth Molak, from Arizona, promisingly classical and very supple in the program's one tried and proved piece, Frederick Ashton's "Monotones II" to Satie's music; and Kevin O'Day, a tall lad from England who is still rough in his dancing but relishes every movement.
The theater's assets, which this young company discovered in the fall, include a backstage that has the latest and best in lighting and general technical equipment, a resilient stage floor and generous stage space and wings. The audience capacity is, perhaps, small, about 400 (on Saturday there was a long waiting line at the box office for cancellations and standing room), but sight lines and acoustics excel. Sitting in the auditorium, one had the feeling of intimacy without a trace of crowding or any loss of perspective.
The ambiance of the place, and the public, too, may have attracted the Joffrey II. Warmth, accomplished through color, texture and flowing spaces, has not been excluded from the utilitarian architecture. Cocktail music tinkles from a bar-side piano in the lobby and the local audience, most of whom seemed new to dance, was not only interested but already discriminating. One overheard discussions comparing the Joffrey II's fall program, the first dance event at the Dundalk college, with what was being shown. It was that fall visit on a regular tour that enticed the Joffrey II to come back for its premieres.
Saturday's fare featured the work of three women who are new to choreography and were known heretofore primarily as performers. All the music was by French-born composers. "Bermuda Blues," by Gail Kachadurian (a New York City Ballet alumna), consists of neat classroom step combinations with a few interjections of jazzy movement. Overall, it is too mild and cute for Andre Previn's score, but there were apt moments in the pas de deux sections for its three couples. Twice, Elizabeth Parkinson tried to raise her leg high for technical display in a duet with Gardner, and each time he brushed it down for musicality's sake. Another passage that lingered was when O'Day, stretched out on a bench, pulled Angel up from the floor as deftly as a harmonic modulation.
Quality and continuity of motion were more important than the addition of varied steps in a piece by Helen Douglas (formerly prominent in the Feld Ballet). With thrusting leg work and plasticity of upper-body movement, Douglas maintained a steady current of choreography for the long duration of a Debussy orchestral fantasy. And with only eight dancers, she was able to suggest an ebb and flow of symphonic proportions. There is a strong resemblance to Choo San Goh ballets, not only in the acrobatic fluidity of the dancing, the many entrances and exits, the moody lighting, body-sleek costuming but even in the awkwardness of its title, "Echoing Silence." The drama, though, that enlightens the technical wizardry in Goh's best works happened too late in Douglas'. Only in a final coda, after the music had ended and as the cast sank to the floor and subsided into embryonic positions of sleep, did the choreographer add a human dimension to her elemental idea.
The program's last ballet, "In Kazmidity," by the main Joffrey Ballet's commuting virtuoso, Ann Marie De Angelo, premiered last summer. It's a comedy about a hip guy, danced by O'Day, who is kidnaped by Jodie Gates, as the queen of 19th-century fairy-tale ballet. The choreographer's sense of humor was seduced by Leo Delibes' "Sylvia" music and, while she sometimes made a lovely phrase funny, she also settled for mere beauty of dancing rather than tickling the funny bone.