Old-fashioned team spirit can take you a long way in dance, as the Royal Winnipeg Ballet demonstrated in its single appearance at the Montgomery College Performing Arts Center last night. It was the bright gusto of the troupe, more than any other factor, that overcame the shortcomings of an uneven program.
The company was last seen locally at the Kennedy Center 10 years ago, leaving a similar impression then. Despite its youthful flavor, this is Canada's oldest ballet company, founded in 1939 and led since 1958 by artistic director Arnold Spohr. It's also one of the most heavily traveled of troupes, touring extensively each season with a broadly eclectic repertory aimed at a wide spectrum of tastes.
On artistic grounds, the Rockville program might have seemed stronger had its order been reversed. It ended with Jiri Kylian's "Symphony in D," a burlesque of classical ballet guaranteed to produce guffaws. The humor, though, is mostly sophomoric, depending on overworked and exhaustingly cute visual gags. One has to rule out collusion or telepathy, but it's still an odd coincidence that Twyla Tharp came up with her "Push Comes to Shove" -- also set to Haydn and lampooning balletic conventions.
Preceding the Kylian was a "Corsaire Pas de Deux" danced with too many exclamation points by Svea Eklof and insufficient strength by her partner Barry Watt. Before that came Nils Christe's "Translucent Tones," groping awkwardly for ingenuity and succeeding only in looking crassly out of key with its musical score, Bartok's Third Piano Concerto.
The first two works of the evening occupied a conspicuously higher plane. Oscar Araiz's "Adagietto," to music by Mahler, is an amorous, anatomical labyrinth of a duet; it was danced with notable authority and conviction by Susan Bennet and Alain Charron. And at the start of the program, Eklof's husky style and Watt's stalwart partnering seemed quite in keeping with the ensemble's crisp account of Balanchine's "Allegro Brillante."
The live music provided by the troupe's tour orchestra (except for the taped Mahler) proved a mixed blessing -- 14 musicians can't be expected to do right by a Tchaikovsky concerto, for example. Still, what will resonate in memory is the Winnipeg e'lan.