The preceding evenings in the Joffrey II Dancers' three-night run at Wolf Trap had their treats. But the troupe saved some of the best as parting shots for its final program last night. Highlighted at the top of the evening were the last three of eight Washington premieres presented here--three ballets, all by women choreographers, all first performed this year, and each in its own distinctive manner a winner.
The slightest of the three was Susan Dickson's "Corbel," set to Chopin's B-Minor Scherzo. Dickson, who teaches at the University of Iowa, had originally set the piece on a modern dance group, and though the movement vocabulary is largely classical, the Joffrey II cast wasn't "on point."
The modernist leanings also showed up in the cascades of floor slides and rolls. Mainly the piece uses its two couples to reflect the alternately turbulent and lyrical tides of Chopin's impassioned Scherzo. The refreshing thing about the work is its underivative look. The elements are more or less conventional, but the syntax--the way these elements are linked and combined--has a real sense of individuality.
The most ambitious and choreographically sure-footed of the premieres was "Echoing Silence" by Helen Douglas, who's danced with major ballet companies and is now enjoying a three-year choreographic residency with Ballet West. The music for "Echoing Silence" is Debussy's youthful "Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra," and the dance movement, like the score, is often evocative of sea and surf.
Curiously, the choice of title, the swift spatial flux of the dancing, the use of lifts, the body shapes, and the way the piece ends with groups of dancers in gentle undulation after the music has broken off--all this strongly suggests the choreographic idiom of Washington's Choo San Goh. This is far from a liability, and to be sure, Douglas fuses all this material into a persuasive statement very much her own.
The sea imagery is reinforced by such particulars as waving arms, the finlike deployment of legs, and at one point, a flapping of arms suggesting a flock of aquatic birds. Tina Leblanc and Tyler Walters were the suave lead couple, and the whole ensemble of nine danced with fine conviction.
Perhaps the most unusual--and moving--work was "The 'Mary' . . . Chapter," a first choreographic effort by Long Island dance teacher Catherine Hills. It's an extended duet, superbly danced by Jennifer Habig and Robert Gardner, set to a cycle of four Jim Croce songs about a lost adolescent love affair and its emotional fall-out.
The piece employs an oft-used gambit--making the choreography "illustrate" the song lyrics--that usually fails, either from being too patently schematic or because the music overwhelms its dance counterparts. In this case, however, the choreography is so perfectly in tune with the bittersweet nostalgia of Croce's ballads that the dancing seems not only to complement but to enhance its musical and poetic inspiration.
Hills has the courage of stillness--she doesn't feel impelled to fill every second with movement, and divines just those moments when a sustained image can do more to underline the musical message than any sequence of steps could manage. There's nothing radical or even innovative about her means--the choreography is based on familiar classical and jazz fundamentals. But the piece does what it does with such adroit economy and it all suits the youthful appeal of the dancers so well, that the results are affectingly poignant.
Concluding the program were repeat performances of the pas de deux from "Coppelia," and Gail Kachadurian's "Bermuda Blues."