Off to China for US dance world's 'third force' -- the Joffrey Ballet

Sometimes called the third American classical ballet company, the Joffrey Ballet will celebrate 25 years of touring in 1981 with a projected tour of the People's Republic of China -- invited and sponsored by the US International Communications Agency.

The company, a dream of Seattle-born Robert Joffrey and Staten Islander Gerald Arpino, can rightly be considered one of the genuine regional contributions to the classical dance scene in the United States.

The artistic pair are students of the late Mary Ann Wells of Seattle. They went to New York City to make their careers at a time when the serious classical dancing was either in New York City Ballet or American Ballet Theater. Joffrey and Arpino apparently decided they had something else to contribute. While segments of the dance and critical worlds sometimes disparge this lack of lineage, the two men proceeded to create a vital, third force in dance companies reflecting the different dimension of dance to be found in the regional ballet movement. This movement is now providing a certain number of New York professionals with stipends and livelihoods.

Since the Joffrey Ballet's reconstitution in 1965, it has pioneered in serving as an apprentice company to season young dancers. It does this through six-week, one-night-stand touring schedules, as did Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo and American Ballet Theater and later the early Joffrey organization.

From the apprentice company, Robert Joffrey has selected 10 dancers for the excellent technical display the Joffrey company is showing during its summer tour. Some of the apprentices are performing in solo capacity in works absorbed from the Joffrey II repertoire, especially Marjorie Mussman's "Random Dances" and Choo San Goh's "Momentum."

While some of the selection was necessitated by a six-month layoff due to finances, it also speaks the enourmous leaps which young dancers have accomplished in technical command and performance assurance.

The six-month hiatus permitted Robert Joffrey to create his first ballet in seven years, "Postcards" with evocative costumes by John David Ridge, and a front curtain by Joe Brainard which effectively reflects the music of Erik Satie -- some of which, according to Joffrey, is both early and obscure. Featuring Luis Fuentes as a vacationer in white, Joffrey's evocation of the '20s is warm, happily subtle, and a brother to Ashton's musical evocation of the '20s.

"Postcards" displays two glorious pas de deux which ascribe buoyancy and energy to young romantic love. Some Cecchetti port de bras and movement phrases pass from one performer to another in entrance and exit. The work weaves an atmosphere of youth and exhilaration that is quite the opposite of classical ballet's energy and technicality.

Gerald Arpino's ballets provide this missing bravura and theatricality. "Celebration," using Shostakovitch in a brassy rendition, salutes the postures in Russian folk dances, but is arranged with a flair for pas de deux groups. It utilizes, unexpectedly, the vitality of Jerel Hilding and Denise JAckson.

Ann Marie de Angelo is a principal in the second work, "DeVerdismente." There are also four young dancers, running at break-neck speed on the diagonal and in circles. The piece, beginning and ending with the daisy-chain support and display manifested with early Balanchine, provides a fast glimpse at the finish of the young new women in the company.

The most touching note is the mounting of Sir Frederick Ashton's original creation for the old New York City Center Ballet, "Illuminations," which Joffrey saw at its 1950 premiere featuring Melissa Hayden, Nicholas Magallanes, and Tanaquil Le Clerq. Joffrey has selected Beatriz Rodriguez, Gregory Huffman, and Patricia Miller in those roles of Profane Love, Poetry, and Sacred Love. They wear the original Cecil Beaton costumes for this Benjamin Britten setting of Arthur Rimbaud's poetry.

The Chinese delegation is expected to select the company's touring repertoire in Houston. "Penelope Curry, production supervisor, and I go to China in September to make technical arrangements and look at the houses where we will perform. Then I can believe we're going," remarked Henry Young, the Joffrey's executive director. "After all, it's a million-dollar undertaking, only half of which we've met."

"Money always is the problem," Joffrey agreed. "Our New York production budget is only $165,000 and with that we're doing a new work by Choo San Goh as well as Laura Dean's first work for us. Dame Ninette de Valois has given us "A Rake's Progress" and is willing to stage it for us. It's a rarity to have someone like her stage her original work." What Joffrey didn't mention in his characteristically modest way is that among major ballet companies in the world, the Joffrey has mounted more works by women choreographers than any other. This perhaps is why the company can be rightly considered a third force in the dance world.

The current tour, continuing through Aug. 10, will include Denver, Houston, San Antonio, St. Louis, Wolf Trapp Farm and Art Park.

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