"Round of Angels," given its Washington premiere by the Joffrey Ballet at the Kennedy Center Opera House Thursday night, is flattering both to its cast of seven dancers and to its choreographer, Gerald Arpino. Unlike the sighing pathos of the music to which it is set--the "Adagietto" from Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 5--the ballet sounds no particular depths. But it's visually gracious, easy to watch and frankly sentimental within tasteful bounds.
Arpino, aside from being associate director of the Joffrey Ballet, has also been the troupe's "house choreographer" for as long as the company has existed.
The Joffrey Ballet, eschewing the hoary 19th-century classics in its repertory, has always sought mass appeal by a variety of other means, and Arpino, a capable craftsman, has served that end well by churning out, with awesome regularity, numbers of ballets of a popular cast--accessible, flashy and in tune with current fashion.
The trouble is that most of the products are so superficial, facile and forgettable, they seem like so many variations on one all-purpose whizz-bang Arpino opus, reformatted to different music and decor. A case in point was Thursday night's "Celebration," which succeeds, along with its appallingly tinny Shostakovich score (arranged by Elliot Kaplan), in giving new levels of unmeaning to the word "bombast."
Arpino, however, is capable of better, as past works such as his "Clowns," "Incubus," "Sea Shadow" and "Trinity," have shown, and as the new "Round of Angels" once again confirms. "Round" isn't at bottom any less superficial or derivative than the majority of Arpino's ballets, but at least it has a calm integrity of design, and a measured spaciousness that lets one see the dance shapes without thickets of gratuitous embellishment. Principals Patricia Miller and James Canfield are put on handsome display, in patterns consisting almost entirely of swoops, swirls, dips, splits and long soaring lifts.
The rest of the evening's program derived from a totally different, more consistently gratifying facet of the Joffrey Ballet's artistic policy--the restoration and preservation of older work by acknowledged 20th-century masters.
The company's present revival of Sir Frederick Ashton's magical phantasm, "Illuminations," received a luminous performance with Luis Perez as the vision-tormented poet, and Patricia Miller (Sacred Love) and Beatriz Rodriguez (Profane Love) as his antipodal temptresses. Completing the bill was a repeat performance of the troupe's brilliant restaging of Antony Tudor's darkly insinuating carousal, "Offenbach in the Underworld."