BALLET REVIEW : Joffrey Opens With a Balanchine Curio

Times Music/Dance Critic

And now, from those fine folks who gave us "Le Sacre du Printemps" comes "Cotillon."

We are still in the era of reconstruction. At least the Joffrey Ballet is.

Two years ago in Los Angeles, Robert Joffrey realized a personal dream when he oversaw the revival--some might say exhumation--of Nijinsky's original, long-"lost" "Rite of Spring." The revolutionary ballet that had caused the famous Paris riot in 1913 was back.

Millicent Hodson pieced together the choreography from various iconographical shreds and patches. Kenneth Archer, her husband, invoked what he could of the original decors.

Total authenticity remained a matter of conjecture. Nevertheless, history was served by this reasonable facsimile, and so was curiosity. The gods were appeased.

Last October in New York, fulfilling one of Joffrey's final wishes, the same company mustered a nostalgic ode to another terpsichorean icon, George Balanchine. This time the object of resuscitation--or was it resurrection?--was "Cotillon," created in Monaco in 1932 and last seen touring the States under Ballet Russe auspices in 1943.

Relying on sporadic cinematic evidence, some sketches, written reports and recollections of various participants and viewers, Hodson again turned fuzzy memories into concrete realizations. Working with Campbell Baird and John David Ridge, Archer again gave us a good idea of the intended scenic milieu--here Christian Berard's fusion of flexible, magic-theater set and electric-eclectic costumes.

"Cotillon," which opened the brief Joffrey season at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Monday, may not be a balletic milestone like "Sacre." If it is a masterpiece at all--and the judgment is debatable--it certainly is a minor masterpiece. Still, it remains a fascinating and illuminating document.

In 24 hectic minutes, it traces the choreographer's mental and creative states as he tests his own language while emerging from the stylistic confines of Fokine and even Massine. At this point in his illustrious career, Balanchine continued to respect certain traditions, conventions and expectations. Luckily, that did not prevent him from turning them upside down and adding provocative layers of ambiguity.

Essentially, "Cotillon" is a sprightly little narrative about baby ballerinas, dance parties and the anxious joys of awakening womanhood. The scenario is attributed to Boris Kochno.

Cutesy cliches abound. Intermingled with the ritualistic merriment, however, are dark shadows and muted abstractions. The practiced eye can spot fragmented previews of such coming Balanchine attractions as "Serenade," "La Valse" and "Liebeslieder Walzer."

The frenzied, nearly realistic atmosphere suggests more than hippety-hop gaiety. The comic interludes convey macabre undertones. A mysterious figure in black--the program identifies her as the Hand of Fate--exudes dangerous, morbid, undefined sensuality.

Maturity constantly clashes with innocence. Protagonists disappear behind screens. Reality clashes with illusion. Doom permeates the push-button ecstasy.

At the end, the sweet debutante executes dizzy fouettes, teetering at the brink of hysteria as her friends surround her in boisterous circles. The curtain falls on this unsettling scene, only to rise and fall again. The end isn't quite an end.

The Joffrey production, though well executed, still seems a bit cautious in tone. As a result, the audience--especially a gala-opening-night audience more interested in its own party--doesn't quite know what to make of this odd ball.

The nicely integrated cast was headed by Tina LeBlanc as the exquisite initiate. She was appreciatively seconded by Edward Stierle as her frenzied counterpart and Carole Vallesky as her comforting friend.

The willowy Leslie Carrothers, aggressively partnered by Jerel Hilding, seemed uncharacteristically tentative as the knowing Mistress of Ceremonies. Beatriz Rodriguez exuded brooding exotica, her specialty, as the Fate figure. Glenn Edgerton served deftly as her suave cavalier.

In the well-staffed pit, Allan Lewis brought proper elan to the perverse lilt and wry humor of the recycled Chabrier score.

The other novelty on the program turned out to be "Remembrances," an extended pas de deux from a longer ballet concocted by Joffrey himself in 1973. Long absent from the repertory, it is one of those scented mock-period pieces in which an operatic woman sings about lost love while her balletic double strikes appropriately ecstatic poses and a couple of very busy protagonists--representing fresh romance, no doubt--demonstrate frantic arabesques, speedy turns and reckless back-bends.

The music, far too contemplative to accommodate such hyperactive choreography, is by Wagner. The misused source for the central duet is a slow and sad song, "Traume."

Angelique Burzynski sang it with lush tone and incomprehensible German. Deborah Dawn smiled knowingly as her slender alter-ego. LeBlanc and Glenn Edgerton pranced energetically through their athletic ordeals.

The whole thing looked very kitschy, very dated. This is not the way we want to remember Robert Joffrey.

The familiar entries on the agenda were Ashton's second "Monotones"--somewhat roughly executed by Ashley Wheater, Elizabeth Parkinson and Tom Mossbrucker--and Arpino's crowd-pleasing "Suite Saint Saens." The pleased crowd, incidentally, did not fill the house on this occasion.

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