Inevitably, in every ballet review, you’ll find some keys words: genius, perfection, flawless. Throw in a few lines about choreography, music, and storyline and you’ve got yourself a puffed up piece that radiates with fabulosity about the performance. Unfortunately, I don’t think I can use any of those words or puffy pieces to describe the Joffrey ballet’s new American Legends.
Ballet enthusiasts and Joffrey loyalists will say American Legends is wonderful and they will recommend it to everyone they know. But if you see one ballet in your life, this should not be it. Most ballets have a single story told, or at the very least an underlying theme throughout the entire performance. It not only makes the performance easy to follow and understand, but it allows you to really enjoy the dancing. American Legends did not offer any of these things.
American Legends made its world premiere at the Auditorium Theatre on February 13th. The show was made up by four dance pieces each about 20-40 minutes in length: Interplay, Sea Shadow, Son of Chamber Symphony, and Nine Sinatra Songs. Interplay was the first ballet, and was an upbeat, West Side Story-like, playground romp. You could easily imagine Interplay as an interpretation of children playing at recess (if those kids were talented ballerinas). They even had a dance battle! The whole thing was fun, and best of all, it didn’t take itself too seriously (as some contemporary pieces can).
Sea Shadows was the best piece of the night, and could be enjoyable as a full length ballet. It was a duet which told the story of a man on a beach falling in love with a sea nymph. The ballet screamed sex, and the performers did an incredible job. But it ended about as soon as it started, much to the chagrin of some of the males in the audience. What followed after the intermission made me wish I had simply left. Son of Chamber Symphony was an ultra-modern contemporary piece that had no storyline, no purpose. If it were a piece of art it would be a solid black canvas; trying so hard to be deep and meaningful, but falling just shy. The ballet was all over the place. Dark, moody, abrupt, and set to music straight out of a horror film. The whole ballet seemed like a ballerina’s bad dream. It couldn’t end soon enough. After another intermission, the curtain rose and a disco ball hung above the stage. It was time for Nine Sinatra Songs. Sinatra. A disco ball. How could this ballet possibly be bad? Oh, but it was.
Nine Sinatra Songs featured, you guessed it, nine songs by Sinatra. Each song featured a duet of ballet dancers dancing an unusual ballroom-contemporary style. You could tell the dancers were not too familiar with ballroom and awkwardly transitioned from traditional ballroom steps to contemporary segments. The dances didn’t interpret the Sinatra songs very well and after about three duets, all three couples would come back on stage, each dancing their own styles to Sinatra’s ‘My Way.’ It was another ballet in a string of ballets that night that was all over the place, lacked any sort of consistency, and overall was just disappointing.
Ballet is classic, timeless, and beautiful; no one in Chicago does classic better than the Joffrey. But contemporary is not their strong suit. Overall, American Legends was a disappointment that won’t deter me from seeing the Joffrey again, but it definitely gave this reviewer second thoughts. American Legends runs through February 24th at the Auditorium Theater.