You could attribute this week’s hot and humid temps to Chicago’s ever changing fall weather, but anyone who saw the Joffrey Ballet’s performance of “Russian Masters” will definitively tell you it was this performance that brought the heat wave into the Chicago city limits.
“Russian Masters” featured four pieces: “Allegro Brillante” choreography by George Balachine, “Adagio” and “Bells” both choreographed by Yuri Possokhov, and “Le Sarce du Printemps” choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky. Of the four performances, one will leave you hot under the collar, while the others will simply leave you hot and bothered.
“Allegro Brillante” and “Bells” were beautiful ballets within their own right. For those who don’t know ballet, Balachine is essentially the father of American ballet. In one word, his style can be described as classic. Picture a ballerina in your mind and the way she would dance, yep that’s the style. Flawless, graceful, lithe techniques, clean lines, beautiful and elegant duets, that is a Balachine ballet and “Allergro Brillante” shined on stage, bringing the audience into its gentle embrace. “Bells,” choreographed by Yuri Possokhov was equally graceful and beautiful. Set to seven Rachmaninoff compositions that included some flawlessly executed duets it was all in all was just a good performance, not one that left you wanting more. It is evident within “Bells” that Possokhov is clearly at his best when it comes to duets.
His choreographed duet “Adagio,” performed by husband and wife team Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili left the entire audience in heat. It is my claim that Jaiani and Suluashvili’s performance required the theater to turn the air conditioning up. Their performance was filled with fiery passion and sensuality, with intricate skills and lifts that would leave a cirque du soleil performer impressed. They were the only performers of the night to receive a standing ovation and once you see the performance live, you too will be ready to jump from your seat and yell “Bravo!”
Cut to the final performance of the night.
Now forget everything you know about ballet, the tutus, the pointy toes, and the gorgeous ballerinas. All of the stereotypes in your head will be torn down and stomped on (almost literally) during the course of this performance. The final piece of the evening was “Le Sacre du Printemps” (Rite of Spring). A brief history: when “Le Sacre” first premiered in Paris in 1913, the performance shocked the sophisticated Parisian audience so entirely that they literally rioted in the theater. That’s right folks, rioted. Russian composer Igor Stravinsky’s haunting music set the audience on edge with loud drumming and bassoons, while Vaslav Nijinsky’s jagged, raucous, and barbaric ‘dancing’ depicting a virgin sacrifice, caused the audience to get so angry that they began catcalling and jeering at the performers, drowning out the orchestra music. In retrospect, it is apparent that Parisians paying to see a beautiful, graceful ballet were not prepared or welcoming to such an avant guarde piece.
While there was no rioting in Chicago on Thursday night, there was plenty of seat shifting, awkward glances from neighbor to neighbor, and an overall uncomfortable air from the audience. But that really was the point of the whole performance. Even in today’s society, with all matter of modern art forms around us, “Le Sacre du Printemps” still leaves audiences questioning what exactly it was they saw. Was it art? Was it ballet? You be the judge.
“Russian Masters” truly was one of the best compilations the Joffrey has put on since I have been in Chicago. The juxtaposition of soft, classical ballet in the first three performances against the brutality and harshness of "Le Sacre du Printemps" highlighted the wide range of talent that the Russian masters possessed. Hurry down to the Auditorium Theater as the show ends on September 22nd. Dasvidaniya, comrades.