One of them was unveiled last night at Lisner Auditorium, where the company presented the premiere performance of his "Schubert Symphony," a genial, appealing, smartly constructed ballet set to Schubert's youthful Symphony No. 2, in a choreographic vein that marks a new departure for Goh. The odd thing is that the surprise of the work lies in its conventionality. This is a ballet in the neoclassic manner made famous by George Balanchine, and most clearly exemplified in works like the latter's "Symphony in C" and the recently revived "Symphonie Concertante," both of which date from 1947.
Nowhere in "Schubert Symphony" are there signs of the idiosyncratic anatomical sculpturings -- ubiquitous in Goh's masterly "Fives," from 1978, also on last night's program -- which have most often characterized his earlier work. In the new ballet, Goh restricts himself, as did Balanchine in his neoclassic staples, to the step vocabulary of the classroom, and to a symmetrical interplay of geometric stage patterns that evoke both Balanchine and Petipa, the 19th-century Russian choreographer who molded the classical ideal.
"Schubert Symphony" uses nearly the entire company -- a lead couple, Lynn Cote and Robert Wallace; four demi-soloist women, Cynthia Anderson, Lael Evans, Julie Miles and Janet Shibata; and an ensemble of six couples -- 18 dancers in all. Schubert's slow introduction proceeds with the curtain down until the last few measures; when it rises we see the dancers in a double inverted "V" formation that serves as a recurring frame for the first movement -- six corps couples in the rear, and the four demi-soloists in front. Behind them is designer Carol Vollet Garner's painted drop -- a sky of rolling clouds, streaked with veins of color reflected in the dancers' costumes. The colors suggest ripe, juicy fruits -- oranges, plums, grapes, in odd, somewhat disconcerting contrast to the "white ballet" look of the choreography.
The music's first movement proper is a sonata-form Allegro, and Goh has matched its brisk, transparent configurations with analagous dance designs that put Cote and Wallace at the center of display. The second movement is a theme with variations. The theme, a songlike Andante, is given to the 10 women of the cast, and the first several variations single out the demi-soloists for special treatment. The next two variations bring out Wallace for some pyrotechnical sequences that tax even his formidable technique. Having gently flirted with the demi-soloists, he bows courteously to them in the coda, and they retreat.
The third movement, a minuet and trio in form, reverses things -- the six males of the cast disport virtuosically in the minuet, and Cote, featured in the trio, makes teasing overtures to each of the men. With the repeat of the minuet, the men take turns lifting her, and at the movement's end, she takes a flying leap to be caught midair by the group. The rousing rondo finale engages the whole cast once more, with further bravura passages for Cote and Wallace amid some echoes of the first movement, including the "V" formation, both inverted and upright.
By the prevailing standards of new ballet choreography, this would have to be accounted a fine work, and it does demonstrate beyond quibble that Goh can manipulate a stripped-down neoclassic idiom skillfully. At the same time, there's an unsettling anonymity about "Schubert Symphony," a kind of deliberate neutrality. One can tell it isn't Balanchine, because it lacks those touches of genius, of contradicted expectations, of inspired musicality, that distinguished Mr. B. from his emulators. But one can't easily identify it as coming from Goh's hand -- despite some characteristic ploys here and there, the ballet has a formulaic look that robs it of personality.
What "Schubert Symphony" lacks, from a first viewing at any rate, is the very quality of intense commitment to a singular vision that so permeates "Fives" and makes it still -- as last night's electrically charged performance reconfirmed -- one of Goh's two or three finest creations.
The program opened with a staging of Norman Walker's ballet-cum-modern dance "Night Song" of 1966, a work that, while competent of its kind, is marked like its Alan Hovhaness score by a synthetic solemnity and long-windedness that make one question the desirability of its revival. The best that can be said of it is that it may extend the stylistic reach of lead ballerina Shibata and other dancers in its cast of 14.