Dance

The Joffrey Ballet closes its 2016-2017 Season with Global Visionaries featuring works of international ballet visionaries: Russian born choreographer Yuri Possokhov with The Miraculous Mandarin, Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekman with Joy, and Colombian-Belgian choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa with Mammatus.

The show opens with sexy, dark The Miraculous Mandarin. It’s a disturbing tale of a girl forced to act as a decoy by thugs, luring men into her room, only to be robbed and kicked out. The girl (immensely talented dancer Victoria Jaiani who moves with otherworldly grace and can possibly express just about any emotion with her body or even a subtle turn of the head) seduces men with her beauty, and then turns them over to her “friends” who finish the job. The wealthy mandarin (wonderfully performed by Yoshihisa Arai) is her last victim. He is cool and composed, like a Kung Fu master, but falls hard for the girl, and refuses to let go of her even when her deceitful nature is reveled to him. There’s nothing abstract about this performance: there’s an engaging plot, and all seven characters are extremely well developed; the brutality of the Chinese man’s murder is quite uncomfortable. Set to Bela Bartok’s score composed in 1918-1919, this “pantomime grotesque” was based on a magazine story of that time. Premiered November 27, 1926 in Cologne, Germany, it caused a scandal and was subsequently banned on moral grounds. Yuri Possokhov has created this work specifically for The Joffrey Ballet in collaboration with Cleveland Orchestra, which premiered in March 2016 in Cleveland. This is the Chicago premiere with Chicago’s own Philharmonic Orchestra, led by Joffrey Music Director Scott Speck providing live accompaniment on stage.

Here comes Joy! Alexander Ekman’s piece is original and playful, its delightful silliness reminiscent of a circus show. It opens with the stage brightly lit and slippery, crowded with dancers acting like happy children on a playground: they run and slide around, walk upside down, dance and act out while wearing suits. When prompted, everyone strips down to flesh colored underwear and things get even less serious. There’s a pack of gorgeous female ballerinas dropping their shoes on the floor in unison, like some bratty toddlers. They are childish and gracefully feminine, all at the same time. A very young audience member sitting next to me (she was around four-years-old) found the sketch very entertaining: she laughed the entire time. Joy is a ballet/ mixed media of sorts, with voice narration and the dancers having speaking parts. It’s unexpected, whimsical and energetic; a pure joy. Set to a mix of modern music featuring selections from Grammy-nominated Brad Meldau Trio, experimental rock band Django Django, Tiga’s pop hit Shoes, and Moby.

The final part of the event, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa‘s Mammatus, is a stimulating twenty-minute abstract piece featuring twenty dancers in a series of ensembles and duets. Right away, there’s a thunder on the stage, then the music begins ("Weather One" by composer Michael Gordon). The music is sharp and urgent, the frantic forceful strings giving it that old world quality. The costumes (designed by Dieuweke Van Reij) are stylishly black, enveloping dancers’ hands and making them look animal or bird-like. The dancers’ movements are precise and fast, there isn’t much emotion here, just breathtaking fluidity of ever changing shapes and positions. Towards the end, a dance pair clad in all white comes in; their dance is sensual and full of grace. Is it possible that the contrast between the colors and the styles of dancers allude to the duality of our reality: the good and evil, the light and darkness, the emotion and thought?

Joffrey’s Global Visionaries is being performed at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University: April 26-May 7, 2017. For more show information, or to purchase tickets, click here.  

 

Published in Dance in Review

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 Brilliante 3

“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.

Victoria Jaiani Temur Suluashvili 02

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.

The Joffrey Ballet Le Sacre du Printemps Photo by Roger Mastroianni 2

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.

Published in Dance in Review

 

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