The Washington Ballet, which began its final season of the year last night at Lisner Auditorium, is going through an awkward stage. With its imported soloist-level dancers (like Janet Shibata and Cynthia Anderson), its two mature, homegrown soloists (Julie Miles and Lynn Cote), and its ensemble of recent graduates of both its own and other schools, the company looks unmatched in ages and styles. Like a teen-ager, it's sometimes energetic, sometimes sluggish and often gawky.
None of this matters very much when the company dances Choo San Goh's ballets, most of which have been cleverly crafted to suit the company's talents, but other choreography points up the disparities in style and technique. The two Balanchine works danced last night ("Concerto Barocco" and "Scotch Symphony") showed that the company's basic style is still intact, but exposed individual weaknesses.
There is definitely a company point of view. Its mellow version of "Concerto Barocco" doesn't look much like that danced by the New York City Ballet these days, but it has its own charm. Instead of raw energy and sophistication, the Washington Ballet has a playful elegance and a sweetness that is not out of place. Anderson, a solid technician lacking in mystery, and Lael Evans, a young woman with instinctive arms and an incipient glamor, danced the two ballerina roles.
Newcomer Paul Wilson, listed as an apprentice, made an auspicious debut as Anderson's partner. Although he tired during the repetitive lifts, Wilson struck exactly the right note by being unobtrusive without being invisible. Miles and Sandra Fortune stood out in the ensemble of eight women for their carefree, beautifully phrased dancing. However, the eight should be an equal sisterhood, and Miles and Fortune looked like soloists dancing with talented students.
The surprise of "Scotch Symphony" was the male ensemble, led by Brian Jameson and Robert Wallace with just the right blend of sauce and swagger. The women, looking very young and rather frumpy in tight-bodiced, full-skirted Romantic tutus, looked scraggly as an group, although as individuals danced well, again because of disparities in physique, age and ability.
Cote danced the leading role as a spirited village girl playing at sylph, as though she and her lover (John Goding) were indulging in Romantic fantasies in a woodland glade before returning to their village to marry. Except for some shaky partnering during supported balances, Goding provided fine support and danced his brief solos nicely.
Everyone danced well in Goh's "Scenic Invitation," and here the differences so jarring in the more classical ensembles disappeared. This ballet, with its inscrutable title and occasional hints at relationships, is not Goh's best. Danced to Mozart's "Adagio and Fugue in C minor for Strings" and Beethoven's "Grosse Fuge in B flat, Op. 133," it's more "steppy" than most of Goh's work, and gives his dancers, particularly the three leading women (Miles, Cote and Shibata) plenty to do.
But the many unanswered questions -- Why Mozart and Beethoven? Why change costumes when you change composers? What does the title have to do with anything? -- are distracting, as are the interspersed push-ups for the men, and the conflict between the occasional suggestions of story and uncooperative repetitions in the score.