BALLET REVIEW : Nijinsky’s ‘Sacre’ Dominates Bill

Times Music/Dance Critic

It is unsettling. Last year’s wow has a nasty habit of turning into this year’s ho-hum.

When the Joffrey Ballet introduced its thoughtful yet daring construction of Nijinsky’s original “Sacre du Printemps” on September 30, 1987, the entire world of dance came to watch and gasp. History was being remade, right here at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

Wednesday night, the same fascinating production returned to the same locale. The performance looked far more secure, far more polished than had been the case at the premiere. But hardly anyone came. Cannons could have been shot into the auditorium, and no one would have been hurt.

Perhaps Los Angeles audiences suffer from a short attention-span. Perhaps they are tiring of the redundancy of the mix-and-match Joffrey repertory.


Be that as it may, the absentees were the losers. This “Sacre” retains undoubted validity as a museum piece. One doesn’t get a chance to look at dance through a time tunnel every day.

One can argue, of course, about the possibility of a distorted perspective. Some questions remain regarding the authentic rightness of the long-lost “Rite” as pieced together by Millicent Hodson and her scenic aide, Kenneth Archer.

Even if one assumes that all the steps are accurate, one still must wonder about the expressive impetus behind those steps. Scholars, after all, have been entrusted with a choreographer’s job.

With repeated viewings, the production begins to seem less exciting than one might expect. For all the grotesque stylization involved, the dancers now tend to offer blase precision where the music and scenario insist on primitive, even cataclysmic passion.


Part of the problem may involve gaps in the structure or misunderstanding of the original intentions. And part, no doubt, involves the passage of time. What looked shocking in 1913 can look merely quaint in 1988.

The conscientious, hard-working corps counted the asymmetrical beats and stomped through the symmetrical kinetic patterns with ease. The stylized, pigeon-toed crouch is becoming second nature now.

Beatriz Rodriguez mustered the brooding stillness and quirky, climactic agility of the Chosen Virgin most vividly. Carole Valleskey hobbled crisply through the contortions of the 300-year-old Woman who sets the fatal ritual in motion. Paul Shoemaker tottered imposingly as the ancient Sage. Allan Lewis conducted an able if somewhat scrawny pit orchestra with more clarity than vigor.

The mixed bill opened with a spiffy performance of Gerald Arpino’s “Reflections,” not seen here since 1985. The fast-moving neo-classical choreography still seems a hyperactive response to the “Rococo” Variations of Tchaikovsky, but the merriment was innocent and, some pitch problems aside, Warren Lash played the demanding cello solo with elan.


After intermission came a rather halting and demure approximation of Pilobolus’ innocently bizarre “Untitled.” This was followed by the strenuous Mozartean lyricism of Arpino’s “Secret Places,” danced with a fine fusion of poise and abandon by Dawn Caccamo and Glenn Edgerton. Stanley Babin played the “Elvira Madigan” andante most sensitively under John Miner in the pit.

Incidental intelligence:

--The sequence of events was changed without notice. As a result, the audience was confused and, worse, the program was disrupted. Noisy latecomers, returning to their seats after what turned out to be a false intermission, ruined the magical silent opening of “Secret Places.”

--Contrary to avowed Joffrey policy and a printed credit for a live conductor, “Untitled” was accompanied by a tape recording. That bodes ill.