The Washington Ballet's program at Lisner Auditorium last night, opening a series concluding the troupe's 1982-83 season, contained no premieres, but this in no way diminished the invigoration of a splendid evening of dancing.
The repertory presented was bold and rewarding, and the company looked to be in beautiful shape, performing with conspicuous fervor, precision and rapport. The audience was enthusiastic and substantial in numbers, but the house wasn't full. Why Washington isn't packing the hall consistently remains a rankling mystery, particularly when cities like Seattle and Houston, with no stronger rationale, are supporting their indigenous ballet companies to the hilt. At any rate, it's not the fault of the Washington Ballet dancers or their directors, who continue to give us something to shout about.
A minor accident toward the evening's end provided a few tense moments, when a heavy piece of lighting equipment plummeted from the flies to the stage floor with a resounding thwack. Though it was frighteningly reminiscent of the Kennedy Center's recent "On Your Toes" mishap, in this case no one was hurt and the performance wasn't interrupted.
The incident occurred shortly before the startling apocalyptic conclusion--like a sudden firestorm--of Choo San Goh's "Birds of Paradise," the last ballet of the program and also its choreographic summit.
"Birds," set to Ginastera's Harp Concerto and first seen in 1979, is quintessential Goh and surely one of his most brilliant creations. The choreography has the most familiar trademarks of his early Washington years--the cascading entrances and exits; the fascinating flux of ensemble configurations; the sure instinct for spatial design; and the overlay of arm, head and torso embellishments that are perhaps Goh's most readily indentifiable signature.
Yet "Birds" is distinctive--it was the first piece that reminded us unmistakably of Goh's Singapore upbringing and Chinese lineage. Though the ballet is plotless, the imagery of avian shapes, as exotic as those of the musical score, has a look of Oriental calligraphy about it, as in the duet for Lynn Cote and Brian Jameson in which they "converse" with wrists and fingers that ripple and flicker like tongues of flame.
Cote and Julie Miles--ballerinas who were, so to speak, weaned on Goh's repertory--were the superb principal "birds," with Jameson and John Goding as authoritative partners and a stalwart supporting ensemble of nine dancers.
Another Goh revival was "Lament," choreographed in 1980 to the Prelude and Liebestod from "Tristan und Isolde." The ballet doesn't quite fulfill its ambitious aims, especially in the Liebestod, which is closer in tone to sentimentality than Wagnerian mystical eroticism. Also, the vague story reference is somewhat confusing, in its flashback structure. On the other hand, the undulant sweep of the choreography, evoking wind, tossing seas and inner turbulence and echoed by Charles Vaughan's billowing sail decor, is quite compelling, and Cote's stricken but almost seraphic Isolde has an endearing poignancy.
The program began with Vincent Nebrada's "A Handel Celebration," first staged for the company last year. Last night's dancing was so stirringly cogent and musical that it revealed choreographic virtues in the piece that weren't apparent in earlier performances. The ballet, moreover, is a smashing company showcase; one movement consists of consecutive solos for all seven dancers of the cast. Last night's excellent lineup included, besides Miles and Goding, Janet Shibata, Bonnie Moore, Alejandra Bronfman, Malcolm Grant and Marc Spradling.