Style stretchers. Joffrey Ballet masters many moods

Versatility and high quality don't always go together, in dance or any other field. But they're twin pillars of the Joffrey Ballet, which has mastered as many moods as its musical accompaniments -- from Fr'ed'eric Chopin to Aretha Franklin -- would suggest. During the Joffrey's recent stay here, at the New York State Theater in Lincoln Center, nothing was more striking than the ease of transition between the company's many phases. Thus the astringent ``Love Songs,'' choreographed by William Forsythe to ``old records'' by a pair of pop singers, fitted smoothly (if not altogether logically) between Antony Tudor's graceful ``Offenbach in the Underworld'' and dancer Philip Jerry's new ``Hexameron,'' which is set to a potpourri of variations by Liszt and Czerny, among others. If anything, the odd dance out -- ``Love Songs,'' with its rock-and-roll rhythms -- seemed all the more intense with such classical bookends on either side of it.

At times, the Joffrey shows its knack for stylistic stretching within a single work. One such is ``Dream Dances,'' choreographed by Jiri Kylian for the Netherlands Dance Theater, and performed with as much verve by the Joffrey as by its European cousin. Here the dancers offer ageless steps in unexpected contexts that range from eccentric to comic, all melded with a free-flowing momentum that suits the title of the piece -- as does the score, a suite of folk songs assembled by Luciano Berio, a musical rebel in a distinctly mellow mood recalling Bart'ok and even Canteloube.

Keeping the dancers (and spectators) on their toes, ``Dream Dances'' was programmed along with the Joffrey's sturdy production of ``Parade,'' the Massine-Satie-Picasso classic, and the revived ``Kettentanz,'' a lithe Gerald Arpino tribute to old Vienna.

Naturally, not everything I saw during the Joffrey visit pleased me equally. Some movements of the romantic ``Kettentanz'' don't match the sublimity of its idyllic first and last portions. Along with its commendable drive and verve, the pop ``Love Songs'' has an acerbic view of human relations that goes beyond tough-minded to become downright unsettling. (Give me the gentler touch of Twyla Tharp's superb ``Nine Sinatra Songs'' any day.)

And the two acts of ``The Taming of the Shrew,'' choreographed by John Cranko to music by Kurt-Heinz Stolze after Scarlatti, don't quite reach the level of comic energy they strive for -- although there's no faulting the exquisite dancing by Philip Jerry and Denise Jackson at the matinee I attended.

Cavils aside, the Joffrey Ballet is riding very high, pleasing a diverse audience with an impressive array of approaches. Long may it kick up its heels. Dates of its latest tour include April 29-May 1 at Clearwater, Fla.; May 3-4 at Orlando, Fla.; May 8-19 at Chicago; May 22-24 at Grand Rapids, Mich.; June 26-29 at San Diego; and July 2-13 at San Francisco.

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