It was bright and right, the Washington Ballet's debut at the Kennedy Center last night. If it didn't seem daring and new, the simple reason is that so many of this little company's alumni have become the stars who dance under that long roof each season with the big visiting troupes. And sometimes the steps they perform under the aegis of an ABT, a Joffrey or an Ailey were choreographed by none other than Washington's own Choo San Goh.
The occasion for this single appearance by the entire Washington Ballet was a fundraiser. Mary Day, the company's director, has wide-ranging plans. Not the least amibitious is a May tour to China. What's likely to bring in cash are big names, offstage as well as on. With Vice President and Mrs. Bush as well as the Chinese Ambassador Zhang Wenjin and his wife Zhang Ying bestowing their patronage and presence, the result is in little doubt.
As gala programs go, this was one designed not to spend too much of the raised money. Short, varied and with dance not the sole attraction, it nevertheless presented the Washington Ballet and its aura as a most marketable package.
The curtain rose on Karen Akers, the cafe' singer. Tall but finely boned, she has a strong stage presence and moves well. So when some of the dancers suddenly appeared from the wings and gravitated around her, Akers became the plausible hub of scenes that illustrated and extended the images of her songs.
The director of these little episodes was Goh, and he wisely kept his cast in formal evening clothes and the musicians -- Mark Hummel, Pete Ostile and Bob Magnuson -- on the stage.
Ballet was represented by two pas de deux from the Russian classics and a whole ballet by Goh. Starring in the duets were two of Washington Ballet's youngest talents, Katita Waldo and Robert Wallace, and two of its most illustrious alumni, Marianna Tcherkassky and Kevin McKenzie. Waldo and Wallace danced the "Bluebird," which suited her but not him. She's one of those wonderfully long-legged dancers who can raise her feet high above the shoulders without a sign of strain but is a formidable turner, too. Technique isn't her only gift, for she responds to her partner, to the music and -- in no vulgar way -- to the audience.
Wallace performed the male role's patter of beats and jumps neatly and vigorously, but missing were the ideal lightness and bounce.
In the "Don Quixote" duet, the two American Ballet Theatre principals enjoyed themselves immensely. McKenzie was so relaxed that he took chances. They paid off. He was the dashing Spaniard to the hilt. Tcherkassky, a dancer of wonderful detail, could be relished from the elegance of her arms to the finesse of her toes in the sightlines of the Terrace. Spunk she showed too, in flirting with her fan.
"Double Contrasts" is Goh's tribute to Paris, where both the daylight and darkness glitter. He has taken Francis Poulenc's music and countered its cascades with an amazing alternation of dancer combinations: the black clad and the white clad, the men and women, the principals (Elizabeth Guerin, John Goding, William Batcheler and the passionate Cynthia Anderson) and the corps. Since ballet is said to have been born in Washington's sister city of Paris, it is eminently suitable that Goh's Parisian work concluded this first Kennedy Center performance and that the company plans to take it to the country of the choreographer's ancestors.