Can the Stuttgart Ballet really dance? All last week we saw them dance-act and move decoratively in "Eugene Onegin" or do action theater in "A Streetcar Named Desire." Last night, at the beginning of its second and final week at the Kennedy Center, the company presented the first performance of a triple bill that answered the question -- a little. Curiously, it was neither "Les Sylphides" (which may be the original pure-dance ballet) nor "Canto Vital" (a test of physical strength) that pointed to the type of sustained dancing in which the Stuttgarters could excel, but a Dagwood sandwich of a ballet called "Gaite' Parisienne."
One might expect heaviness from dramatic dancers in a work like "Sylphides," Fokine's flowing vision of a poet and his romances with women who are embodiments of musical ideas. The performance, though, was light enough, and fairly neat. But something was wrong. There was little dynamic propulsion, much too much caution in the ensembles. Annie Mayet danced an acceptable waltz variation; Susanne Hanke, the mazurka soloist, fared well in the fast moments. Marcia Hayde'e danced the solo prelude and, with Tamas Detrich, the waltz duet, looking unhappy in the requisite classical coiffure.
Lock four narcissistic muscle men in a room, turn the sound system on to Mahler and, after a lot of flexing, tumbling and posing, the result is an impasse called "Canto Vital," by Soviet choreographer Azari Plissetzki. If there was a winner in the proceedings it wasn't Richard Cragun (he looked too thin in his skimpy costume), Randy Diamond or Marco Santi but Benito Marcelino, whose powerful plasticity sustained a few passages of the choreography. An interesting difference from the 1979 Cuban Ballet performance seen here was Jurgen Rose's setting; this master of realistic scene painting created an abstract expressionist perspective: mostly black at the level of the dancers but overhead, where the clouds should be, a wheat field in the sky.
"Gaite' Parisienne" wasn't the famous old one by Leonide Massine. It was by Maurice Bejart, the bad boy of contemporary choreography. How naughty of him to mix a dozen styles into one work, plagiarize Massine, poke fun at Petipa and Balanchine, call a gay pas de deux a father-son reconciliation, liken a great dance teacher to an old witch -- and give as the excuse that all this could indeed happen in Paris. In fact, some of Bejart's jokes are out-and-out funny. Many are clever if you know the reference. Several are absolutely stale. In the context of Bejart's own company, Brussels' Ballet of the 20th Century, the work as a whole makes more sense than it does in the Stuttgart's repertory. But in the many character and demicaractere roles of this "Gaite'" the Stuttgarters gained energy. They danced for dancing's sake and looked as if they loved it.