The Joffrey Ballet has a repertory so eclectic that it is possible for the company to present theme evenings in bills of mixed repertory, as it has done several times over its current Kennedy Center run. Saturday night's program was the first of two devoted to the work of American choreographers. Reflecting the diversity of the American dance scene, the program embraced the sensibilities of pop, contemporary, post-modern and Romantic. And, perhaps even more unusual for a ballet program, with the egregious exception of Gerald Arpino's "Italian Suite," the music was also by American composers.
William Forsythe, the choreographer of "Love Songs (Side One -- Old Records)," is an expatriate American working in Germany whose dances have become extremely popular in Europe. Like those of that other darling of German dance, Pina Bausch, it is work suffused with violence and sexual hatred. The Joffrey's most magnificently impassioned and virtuosic performances of the evening were given in "Love Songs," a work patently offensive in its portrayal of woman as harpy, temptress, shrew, betrayer and slut, and particularly obscene in its depiction of women as the deserving victims of the sexual and physical assaults of men. A willful misrepresentation of songs by Dionne Warwick and Aretha Franklin, this work goes beyond the other contemporary revivals of "Apache" dance in the manner of its indignities and the extent of its violence. It is a testament to the performers that they could impress so thoroughly despite the distastefulness of this material.
"Love Songs" was preceded by Laura Dean's "Night," another contemporary work costumed all in black, though actually day to Forsythe's night. Where "Love Songs" is all emotion, "Night" is all formalism. Its effects are achieved by the Dean hallmark of repetition encased in a structure of continuously evolving, synchronous group activity. The challenges of duration and balance posed by the choreography were well met by the cast, particularly by the energy of Luis Perez and Cameron Basden. Basden brought an additional fire and attack to her performance that sharpened its edges and defined Dean's intentions.
Completing the program were "Italian Suite" and "Light Rain," both by Gerald Arpino, the Joffrey's in-house choreographer. "Light Rain," a 1981 work, is a signature piece for the company's younger dancers, as was "Trinity" in the '60s. Its title refers to the San Francisco group whose members composed the score, a pop synthesis of East and West. The flash and easy effects of its Adagio acrobatics and ingenious group formations are trademarks of Arpino's bloodless choreography. Danced to excerpts from the operas of Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, "Italian Suite" was all swooning romanticism interwoven with glitzy pyrotechnics and contortionist play. Both works were given impressive performances by the Joffrey dancers, who appear to have come comfortably into their stride for this season.