When we think of ballet, we most often picture a large-scale production complete with a substantial company of principals and corps. Yet ballet can also be something streamlined and intimate, performed by a handful of dancers who create a kind of visual chamber music.
Chamber Ballet, a new ensemble that performed Saturday evening at the French Embassy, is dedicated to this lesser known form. An outgrowth of the Ballet Center of Washington, and under the artistic direction of Rex Bickmore, the eight-member troupe made a spirited, if uneven, showing. They share a distinct musicality, and with several exceptions, a clean and unaffected performance style. They coped amazingly well with the fact that they were dancing to taped music on a tiny stage so close to the audience that each grimace and bead of sweat was at once apparent.
Bickmore -- a former member of the San Francisco, Joffrey and New York City ballets -- has created for them choreography of a most conventional and predictable nature. Each of the three dances that were presented unfolded in discrete sections, made use of either classroom vocabulary or cliche'd dramatic gestures, and glommed onto, rather than played off, its accompanying musical score.
"Sonate de Poulenc" set two men and two women interacting symmetrically and rather lethargically to Poulenc's dynamic dialogue for violin and piano. "Jacques Brel, 5 Songs" offered charming, if hackneyed, interpretations of the Belgian cabaret performer's tempestuous ballads: A fellow clenches his fists and falls to his knees; three soldiers do calisthenics and flirt with a seductress in red fringe; a man beseeches his lover to return to his embrace. "Suite for Flute, Jazz Piano and Five Dancers" was a repetitive romp for three pert fillies and an anemically lyrical couple, set to Claude Bolling's ubiquitous jazz-classical suite for flute and piano.
At this early stage, one hesitates to predict the Chamber Ballet's future. However, certain of the dancers do show definite promise. Laura Desmond, a product of the Washington School of Ballet, exhibits a solid technique and simple elegance in all that she attempts. Jerry McCarthy possesses a real gift for theatrical, heavily gestural movement. And Amuer Calderon, a student at WSB, jumps high, lands springily and flashes a most winning smile.