Sir Frederick Ashton, that most urbane and elegant of British choreographers, turned 82 on Wednesday. The Joffrey Ballet, which had opened its West Coast season last week with a new production of his adorable "Fille mal Gardee," celebrated the occasion Tuesday night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion with a birthday bouquet for, and by, the master.
The program, similar to a company tribute staged here in January, 1985, began with the seldom-seen, faintly satirical silliness of "A Wedding Bouquet" and ended with the ultra-familiar pyrotechnical charms of "Les Patineurs." In between came a welcome trace of novelty: both sets of Ashton's eerily abstract "Monotones."
"Monotones II" graced the agenda last year (along with the now-lamented "Les Illuminations"). "Monotones I," however, has not been danced in Los Angeles since 1978, when the Joffrey played its last ill-fated summer at the Greek Theater.
The second trio still seems the stronger of the two, and it certainly received the stronger performance on this occasion. Nevertheless, the "Monotones" are a perfectly matched, impeccably balanced pair. It is good to see them together.
"Monotones I"--which Ashton happened to create in 1966, a year after "Monotones II"--translates the cool, fluid yet quirky impulses of Satie's "Trois Gnossiennes" (as orchestrated by John Lanchbery) into an intertwining network of ornamented arabesques and attitudes for two women and a man. The dancers, in yellow caps and tights, explore mysterious personal and spatial relationships on a dark, vast, bare stage.
"Monotones II" adheres to the same inspired structures and the same kinetic strictures. In this case, however, the music is more suave: Satie's "Trois Gymnopedies," as orchestrated by Debussy and Roland Manuel. The choreographic language--a distinctly modern distillation of classical impulses--strives for even greater purity and simplicity. The tone is more ethereal, and the dancers--now two men and a woman--wear sterile, otherworldly white.
Jennifer Habig, Parrish Maynard and Dawn Caccamo had some trouble executing the supple phrases of "Monotones I" with unanimous suavity. The communal spirit, however, seemed persuasively, promisingly willing.
In "Monotones II," Glenn Edgerton, Elizabeth Parkinson and Tom Mossbrucker proved more successful in conveying the inevitable, seamless motion and muted sensuality.
In both instances, Jennifer Tipton, the lighting designer, served as a worthy, appreciative collaborator. So did Jonathan McPhee, who worked wonders with a mellifluous pit orchestra.
"A Wedding Bouquet," which dates back to 1937, retained all its dry and eccentric allure in an exceptionally crisp and witty performance.
The surrealist gags were delineated with just the right tone of elegant understatement, and the whimsical nods to a romantic balletic tradition were dispatched with subtle relish. It is astonishing that a young, all-American company can serve an old ultra-English ballet with such stylistic fidelity.
The large cast mustered the overlapping cameos with consistent elan. Although everyone was careful not to overpower anyone else, one came away with special admiration fo Glenn Edgerton's sly and sardonic Groom, Dawn Caccamo's perpetually fey Bride, Charlene Gehm's giddily intoxicated Josephine and Beatriz Rodriguez's delectably demented Julia.
David Vaughan, Ashton's Boswell, assumed the formal garb and consumed the champagne of the narrator. He also recited Gertrude Stein's sublimely nonsensical text with rhythmic bite and expressive aplomb.
Allan Lewis tended deftly to Lord Berners' quaint and spritely score.
The audience, alas, was sparse.