Joffrey program reflects the past and the future


June 03, 1993|By J. L. Conklin | J. L. Conklin,Contributing Writer

Every ballet company has an artistic signature, and for the Joffrey Ballet, which opened a six-day engagement at the

Kennedy Center yesterday, the signature could be the Roman god Janus, capable of at once looking at the past and the future.

Founded by Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino, the company has focused on works from the past as well as those created by emerging choreographers. In fact, hard-core dance fans will find this combination hard to resist: The mixed program contains two dances by Leonide Massine (more noted for their place in history than choreographic content), a work by Peter Pucci and two pieces by Laura Dean.

The opening ballet, "Parade," with its set and costume designs by Picasso, theme by Jean Cocteau and music by Erik Satie, hails from 1917 and the Ballet Russes. The central characters -- a Chinese magician, an American girl and a pair of acrobats along with their respective managers -- try to entice the audience. It is curious to see cultural stereotypes flicker through Jodie Gates' performance as "The Little American Girl." A Chaplinesque walk, images of lassoing cowboys and noble Indians, and a series of enthusiastic splits characterized her performance. Yet it was the nearly slapstick antics of "The Manater on Horseback" with Adam Sklute and Gregory Taylor inside a horse costume that brought the most applause.

"Les Presages," also created by Massine in 1933, closed the program. This highly stylized ballet to Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony was the first ballet set to a full symphony, and its three sections deal with man's struggle with fate. The work, with its large ensembles moving in formation, is dramatically striking, and the dancers' arms are a major focal point as they mirror the score.

Sandwiched between the historical works were Dean's "Structure" and "Light Field." "Light Field" was the more satisfying work with its over-evolving patterns that rush toward the dance's conclusion. The dance has an underlying sense of order that finely plays against Glen Branca's chaotic and frenzied score.

Pucci's "Moon of the Falling Leaves," a tribute to American Indians, rounded out the program. Finely performed by Roger Plaut, Pierre Lockett, Adam Sklute and Gregory Taylor, the work vacillated between hitting an emotional target and odd meanderings.

"Billboards," Joffrey's latest acquisition to music by Prince, will be performed tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday.

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