The Joffrey Ballet offered its fifth and last "Fille mal gardee" of the season Sunday night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, and took advantage of the occasion to introduce three new principals.
The inimitable Stanley Holden returned to beam benedictions and clog his delirious way through the tasteful travesties of the Widow Simone. He found himself guarding an unfamiliar recalcitrant daughter, however, and she, in turn, found herself flirting with a debutant romantic hero while warding off a novice silly-suitor.
The daughter, Lise, was Dawn Caccamo. She is very young, very smart and very appealing.
The impeccable mistress of exceptionally long and slender legs, remarkably thin and expressive arms, devastating eyes, a pert smile and an irresistible pout, she danced neatly--as if on air, actually--yet kept the character's wayward charm in sweetly sassy focus.
She did not quite capture the abandon of the quirky hand flutter with which Sir Frederick Ashton defines the mini-heroine's rapture at the end of the cornfield pas de deux. Nor did she enjoy the advantage of an ideally responsive partner on this occasion. But there will be other occasions.
Ashley Wheater, her Colas, offered the obvious advantages of being strong, tall and attentive. He managed the lofty lifts with ease, and he outlined the essential choreographic bravura deftly enough. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough.
He lacked the essential lightness and speed, conveyed little of the wonted mischievous charm, looked a bit anachronistic in his two-tone hairdo and, under obviously tense circumstances, proved accident prone.
Ironically, it was Mark Goldweber as Alain, Colas' dim-witted little rival, who mustered the more compelling performance. He stumbled and bumbled through the required spastic routines with fleetness and point. He rode his beloved red umbrella with something akin to erotic elan.
Beneath the caricature facade, however, he managed to identify a trace of melancholy. This Alain, sympathetic as well as outrageous, seemed haunted somehow by the ghost of Petrushka.
The supporting cast and corps have tightened and brightened the performance considerably in the week since the opening. Jonathan McPhee, the new conductor, served Herold, Rossini, Donizetti et al. elegantly and, where possible, sweetly in the well-staffed pit.
The audience was large and understandably happy.