Dance in Review

Thursday, 15 December 2016 18:04

Review: Joffrey's Nutcracker

There's nothing more cloying than an evening of bad holiday theatre. Each December countless Chicago theaters put up their annual Christmas shows. Some are better than others. For a reliable standard, Joffrey Ballet's "Nutcracker" is a safe bet.

 

For 2016, Joffrey presents an entirely new version of the classic Tchaikovsky ballet. Conceived by English choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, this new production is sleek and tailor-made for Chicago. An interesting variation on ETA Hoffman's original Russian fairy tale. In this version, Marie is from a working class family and it's set during the construction of the Chicago World's Fair. The dance sequences in the second act are Clara's dreams of what the Columbian Exposition will hold. Wheeldon's aesthetic borrows from holiday favorites like "A Christmas Carol" and "Meet Me in St. Louis" Sets by Julian Crouch combine the classic imagery of the original and newer conventions like projections. Accompanied by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, this "Nutcracker" is a little more grown up than the pastel versions you might remember.

 

The talent will be of no surprise to Joffrey regulars. Dancing the part of Marie is Amanda Assucena. Her performance portrays the lead character with a more teenage curiosity about romance. Miguel Angel Blanco dances a variation of Uncle Drosselmeyer, otherwise known as the Impresario of the Fair. It's playful and a little creepy. In the dream sequence, Christine Rocas and Fabrice Calmels turn up the heat as the Arabian Dancers. Wheeldon's choreography creates quite a spectacle and the large cast sequences are magical.

 

For those bored with run-of-the-mill "Nutcrackers" (a dime-a-dozen this time of year), this brand new production at The Joffrey will leave an impression. It's refreshing to see a local cultural institution take what they know works and turning it on its head. If only more of Chicago's tried and true holiday shows would take the same path, maybe we wouldn't dread them so much.

 

Through December 30th at Joffrey Ballet. 50 East Congress Parkway. 

 

 

Published in Dance in Review

There is no better way to get in the holiday spirit than with the classic Christmas ballet, the Nutcracker. Twenty-eight years after Robert Joffrey’s original production, this is the final year that the Joffrey Ballet will perform this Nutcracker (2016 brings us the world premier of Christopher Wheeldon’s Nutcracker!). Even decades since artistic director Ashley Wheater performed in the opening night of the production, this performance retains the timeless magic of this joyous holiday tradition.

 

For those unfamiliar, the show takes place on Christmas Eve in the 1850s, opening with a party at the house of the mayor, his wife and his two children, Clara and Fritz. In the midst of the lively party Drosselmeyer, the somewhat eccentric godfather to Clara and Fritz, sprinkles in some excitement to the festivities with enchanted life-size dolls that dance and entertain the guests. However, it is his gift of a nutcracker for Clara, which truly ignites the magic.

 

After the guests have left and the family has gone to bed, Clara sneaks downstairs to gaze upon her beloved Nutcracker. She soon finds herself in the middle of a battle between the Mouse King and his army of mice and the Nutcracker, who comes to life to fight with his band of toy soldiers.  With the toss of a shoe, Clara knocks down the Mouse King saving the Nutcrackers life and as means of a thank you, he takes her through the Land of Snow to the Kingdom of Sweets where the many toys from under Clara’s tree come to life in enjoyable and fantastic dances.

 

Joffrey’s Nutcracker downplays the traditional romance between Clara and the Nutcracker prince, fortifying the role of Drosselmeyer as the catalyst and guide of Clara’s journey to the Kingdom of Sweets. Performed by Michael Smith, Drosselmeyer is a technically strong role but at times, it felt overpowering for my taste, making the role of Clara more infantile and taking away from the romance between Clara and the Nutcracker Prince. 

 

Another split from tradition was the introduction of male dancers into the Land of Snow and Waltz of the Flowers scenes, however these deviations I found truly fantastic. The combination of beautiful partnering, endless falling snow and the graceful choreography expertly performed by the snowflakes (ladies) and snow winds (men) transports the audience on their mystical journey with Clara through the land of snow. In the Waltz of the Flowers in the second act, again the partnering added an interesting dimension, as did the constant tossing of fluttering flower petals beautifully worked into the choreography.

 

Overall, the dancers exhibited a wonderful balance of grace and precision creating flowing lines that perfectly complimented the Tchaikovsky score. The company members were fantastic, performing in perfect unison with a look of joy on their face making everything look effortless as a good ballet should. There were many young performers in the show as well who steal the scene with their cuteness! In the Kingdom of Sweets, each piece was accompanied by a tiny tot dressed in character sitting with Clara to watch the dance unfold. As someone who performed in the Nutcracker a number of times as a kid, I enjoyed this element of the show, as I am sure every aspiring ballerina in the audience did as well.

 

My favorite pieces by far were the Coffee from Arabia pas de deux, where Dara Holmes captivated us with her flexibility and elegant lines and the Grand Pas De Deux by the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Nutcracker Prince. Instantly entranced by the sparkle of the Sugar Plum Fairy costume, I was continually captivated as Amanda Assucena and Alberto Velasquez brilliantly performed the most iconic piece from the show.  

 

The Nutcracker runs at the Auditorium Theater through December 27th.  Buy your tickets now! Take your children, take your parents, take your date or take them all for a magical performance that will truly put you in the holiday spirit. 

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

When guests visit Chicago we want to show them the best of our city. But sometimes it's our guests that bring the best to us. That is the case for The Royal Ballet as they return to the Windy City to perform their critically acclaimed "Don Quixote" at Chicago's Auditorium Theatre. 

RoyalBallet DonQuixote 01Chicagoans donned their best for the ballet's premiere night as though they were in the presence of royalty. There was not a single pair of jeans or flip flops present (thank you, Chicago). Perhaps it was because The Royal Ballet is Great Britain's most prestigious ballet company performing for kings and queens, as well as mere commoners, since 1931. The company has produced some of the greatest figures in ballet history to include the incredible Margot Fonteyn and Antoinette Sibley. Led by its director, Kevin O'Hare, The Royal Ballet is currently on a three city tour of the US with "Don Quixote," making stops in Chicago, New York, and Washington D.C."The Royal Ballet hasn't visited Chicago since 1978 so with this ballet, we plan to showcase the depth of the dancers' talent led by our world-class roster of principals," said O'Hare. And what a showcase it was.

Royal Ballet Prinipal Guest Artist Carlos Acosta's production of "Don Quixote" was created especially for The Royal Ballet, filled with flirtation, fun, humor, and love. The story follows the adventures of a bumbling knight Don Quixote, accompanied by his ever-faithful squire Sancho Panza, as he embarks on a quest for his dream woman. Along the way, he stumbles upon the lovers Kitri and Basilio. Kitri's father wants her to marry the wealthy Gamache, a rich, foppish nobleman. A journey ensues as the lovers try to escape those plans while Don Quixote tries to right the wrongs in the world on his quest.

The story of Don Quixote is a difficult one to bring to the stage. The Don himself is the focus of the story, but the smaller characters' stories and lives are at center stage for the majority of the ballet. The Royal Ballet's principal leads with Acosta as Basilio and Marianela Nunez as Kitri were spectacular. They were flirty and coy with one another but epitomized a ballet's pas de deux. They had grace, strength, beauty, and unity. The same could not be said for some of the other soloists and leads. Many of Kitri's friends were out of sync with one another, as well as some of the matadors. The Royal Ballet is a large company, and many acts often had thirty or more dancers on stage. When someone was slightly off or behind the music your eyes were drawn in a negative way to those people, detering from the incredible duets and soloists. Regardless of any small timing issues, Acosta, both in the production and the leading artist role, put on an impressive and magnificent ballet. From flirting flamengo dancers and dashing matadors to gypsies and dryads, "Don Quixote" is a beautiful and epic journey.

RoyalBallet DonQuixote 06

Having never seen "Don Quixote" nor read the story (forgive me literature gods), I can say that the ballet was a beautiful ballet. The sets provided the perfect backdrop to the dancers accompanied by a live orchestra. The gorgeous theatre provided the perfect stage for a magical evening. For those still not convinced that ballet can be enjoyable should make it their mission to see "Don Quixote" and right the wrongs of not experiencing this amazing art. Have the best adventure at the ballet tonight.

The Royal Ballet is concluding the Auditorium Theatre's 125th Anniversary International Dance Series performing "Don Quixote" through Sunday June 21st. Tickets ($32-$137) are on sale now and available online at AuditoriumTheatre.org or at the Auditorium Theatre Box Office (50 E Congress Pkwy).

Published in Theatre Reviews

I know about as much Russian as a non-native speaker needs. I know how to say hello and goodbye (Preevyet and Da sveedaneeya). I know how to say thank you (Spaseeba), I even know how to say my little monkey (moya malen'kaya obez'yana) though that doesn’t come in handy too often. Just today I learned the Russian word for amazing (Izumitel'nij). But in Russian and English “amazing” falls short of describing the exceptional performance of “Up & Down” by the Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg.

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“Up & Down” is a story set amidst the roaring 20’s. A young psychiatrist falls in love with one of his mental patients who, as it turns out, is a fabulously wealthy socialite. They are wed and soon he is swept up into the money-fueled glitz and glamour that made the 20’s so spectacular. He wrestles with his desire to love and cure his new wife, the enticement of the sensuous social scene, and being the honorable psychiatrist performing his life’s work. Ultimately he succumbs to the pleasures and temptations of the times and it becomes his undoing.

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Audience members might liken Eifman’s “Up & Down” to Baz Luhrmann’s version of The Great Gatsby. The set was bright and sleek, art-deco inspired and neon-powered. The dancers danced the Charleston and the tango to Gershwin’s jazzy score. Everything leant itself to immersing the company and audience into the 1920's providing the perfect backdrop for Eifman’s story. As Eifman himself said of “Up & Down, “This ballet is both a tragic and bright chronicle of a person’s spiritual death—the story about how a dream of happiness turns into a disaster, and an externally beautiful and carefree life flowing to the rhythms of jazz, into a nightmare. I want audiences to feel all of the emotions of these characters and become just as immersed in the characters’ lives as the dancers are.”

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Eifman is often referred to as one of the leading choreographers in the world and it is easy to see why. His style is classic yet edgy, flowing yet jagged, smooth yet striking. He doesn’t force the audience to know the difference between a jeté and a relevé. His style of storytelling is easy to follow and understand, not an ounce of pretentiousness or far reaching concepts to be found. His dancers are afforded the room to convey charm, humor, lust, pain, and even madness. Despite criticism of the American debut of “Up & Down,” I found the ballet to be captivating. This was the ballet to turn new audiences onto the ballet; the story had loonies, beer drinkers, figments of a mind manifested as an evil twin, lust and love, glamour, humor, silent movie stars, evil investors, and a twist ending. What more could you want? “Up & Down” was also the perfect ballet to celebrate the Auditorium Theatre’s 125th year. It personified the timelessness of the ballet while pushing the art form into the modern world.

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“Up & Down” might have come and gone, but should you find yourself in the same city as this St. Petersburg Ballet Company, grab and friend and say “da-vai!” Let’s go to the ballet!

 

Published in Theatre Reviews
Saturday, 20 September 2014 00:00

Stories In Motion - Dramatic Theatre of Ballet

"Stories in Motion” is a beautifully selected trio of individual story ballets performed at the Auditorium Theatre on Congress.The first "Prodigal Son" with choreography by George Balanchine tells the well-known biblical tale of the rebellious and curious son who leaves his home only to be beaten down by life and love in the city. Although Balanchine is one of my very favorite choreographers I found the movements in this piece to be somewhat slapstick and jarring. However, Christine Rocas as the Siren who lures The Son, Alberto Valazquez was a petite delight, moving sinuously and majestically through the piece. And the final moment when the Prodigal son returns broken and crawling to his father masterfully played by Ashley Wheater, and crawls/climbs up his father’s legs and into his arms to be carried offstage is a satisfying heart wrenching finale. 

“Lilac Garden" is completely and refreshingly different and is set in the Edwardian period where two lovers are forced to have their last dance before retiring into the loveless marriages arranged for them by society. The characters, simply called Caroline, Her Lover and The Man She Must Marry are all subtly, beautifully and delicately danced by Victoria Jaiani, Dylan Guitierrez and Miguel Blanco.

Raku, which means “pleasure” in Japanese, is the stunner of the evening. Based on the tragic tale of a Princess who is stalked by an evil Monk who rapes her, kills her lover and sets fire to the temple she lives in, is a devastating ballet full of acrobatics and sword play that really moves the audience with well-played melodrama. 

Victoria Jaiani as the Princess has a real tour de force performance here and does something I have never seen before in a classical ballet program. After the horrifying rape scene, after her servants/ guards have been beaten and dispersed and her temple is burning to the ground, the Japanese Princess takes down her long flowing hair. 

The Princess has had everything taken from her, her lover, her guards, her virginity, and her home are all destroyed by the evil Monk. Finally, Jaiani’s tightly wrapped bun of hair is pulled out to reveal her waist length, shining black hair.

As Jaiani crawled, shaking with rage and despair across the stage, half on pointe and half on her knees, she pulled her long, beautiful black hair out and away from her face with her hands like a lions mane and scooped up the ashes of her burning temple to pour them over her head and face in a final dramatic gesture of complete destruction and loss of sanity. 

I highly recommend seeing an ever dynamic and always richly staged Joffrey Ballet production. Swan Lake begins October 15th

*photo - Lilac Garden: #362 (Victoria Jaiani) 

Published in Theatre Reviews

The Houston Ballet might not have shown us the world (shining, shimmering, splendid), but they did present the city of Chicago with an incredible production of “Aladdin” filled with the same sorcery, riches, splendor, magic, love, and romance as we’ve come to expect from the heartwarming tale of an impoverished young ne'er-do-well who becomes part of a whirlwind adventure.

HoustonBallet Aladdin 04

The Houston Ballet made its debut at the Auditorium Theatre with celebrated English choreographer David Bintley's ballet "Aladdin." The ballet was originally created for the New National Ballet of Japan in Tokyo in 2008, and the Windy City was only the fourth city to experience the performance, sharing the magic carpet ride with such cities as Tokyo and London. Most people will know the story of Aladdin from the popular 1992 Disney movie of the same name. However, the Houston Ballet's "Aladdin" follows the more traditional story of Aladdin from The Book of One Thousand and One Nights (The Arabian Nights). There’s no singing genie or clever monkey named Abu, but there was no need for it in this breathtaking production.

HoustonBallet Aladdin 01

The caliber of talent that took the stage this past weekend would leave the staunchest of critics in awe. From the background dancers to the principle dancers, everyone commanded the audience’s attention with a technique and grace that prove why the Houston Ballet is a world renowned. The moment the curtains rose, the dancers instantly transported us to old Arabia. Set against spectacular scenery created by the English designer Dick Bird and coupled with an exceptional original score by Carl Davis and performed by the Chicago Philharmonic, the audience was immediately under the spell of Aladdin’s magic.

HoustonBallet Aladdin 02

While there were many highlights throughout the 2 ½ hour performance, one of the standouts had to be the cave of wonders. When the evil sorcerer convinces Aladdin to enter the cave and retrieve the magic oil lamp, Aladdin is met with jewels and riches beyond his imagination. The jewels onyx, pearls, gold and silver, sapphire, rubies, emeralds, and diamonds were all brought to life by dancers, making the riches literally dance before Aladdin’s eyes. The audience watched on, as mystified and entranced as the young peasant boy himself. Equally impressive were the comings and goings of the genie throughout the performance; whether he hovered in midair or vanished and appeared in a cloud of smoke, the genie entered with power and pizazz that would make Robin Williams himself proud. In one scene at the royal court, when the genie transforms Aladdin from rags to princely attire, the scene erupts into a frenzied dance with the genie, jewels, slaves, and courtesans. The high energy, fast moving dance was so synchronized you’d think one person was controlling the dozens of dancers on stage. It was graceful, powerful, magical, and was the definitive mark that this ballet is here to stay.

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Who doesn’t love the story of Aladdin? It’s a rags to riches story that has stood the test of time. The Houston Ballet’s production of “Aladdin” is nothing short of spectacular. Folks young and old gave the performance a standing ovation and were captivated for the entire duration of the performance. The sheer talent and pageantry of the ballet was a welcome change to Chicago and the Auditorium Theater. I hope more shows like this breeze through the Windy City for Chicagoans to experience. So the next time “Aladdin” flies into Chicago on its magic carpet, be sure you jump on and enjoy the ride.

Published in Theatre Reviews

Contemporary dance is an art form like any other. As a style of dance it is much more of a philosophy than a strict technique like, say, traditional ballet or modern. Rather, it draws inspiration from both techniques and creates an entirely different experience for the audience. Much like art, the beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Whether you are a fan of contemporary dance or not, you should take the time away from the bitter winter cold and venture into the Auditorium Theatre to experience The Joffrey Ballet’s presentation of Contemporary Choreographers.

Like many of the contemporary showcases performed by The Joffrey, Contemporary Choreographers is split into three productions: Crossing Ashland, Continuum, and Episode 31. Let’s quickly cover off on some highlights; Episode 31, the final performance in the series choreographed by Alexander Ekman, is actually quite fun. It can adequately be described as a dramatic playground, bringing a youthful approach to dance with a touch of humor; no seriously, people were laughing along to the performances.

Joffrey Ballet - Episode 31 ft. Derrick Agnoletti  Aaron Rogers - Photo by Cheryl Mann 1

The second performance in the series is Continuum, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon. This was the least entertaining performance for me; I would equate the performance as a whole as looking a blank white canvas in an art museum with a title like “Block 39.” To many, they would draw a profound and ethereal message from the blank white canvas, while others might see just a white canvas, blank and without meaning. Many of those in the audience gave Continuum a standing ovation, but to me the performance lacked a story and with it a reason to enjoy and watch it. Then again, it followed one of the best contemporary pieces I would safely say is the most enjoyable contemporary performance I’ve ever seen, so I am slightest biased.

Joffrey Ballet - Continuum ft. Temur Suluashvili  Christine Rocas 2 - Photo by Cheryl Mann

Throughout the opening piece called Crossing Ashland, choreographed by Brock Clawson, dancers in streets clothes created the vision of pedestrians passing each other on the street, walking briskly back and forth across the stage. These stoics in street clothes turned expressive when they stripped away their outer layers of clothing and exposed the vulnerability of their inner selves. Crossing, the dancers showed us what we look like; dancing, they showed us the enormity of what we feel. The performances’ emotions were palpable to the audience and after each dancer took the stage you begged them to say longer. The dancers themselves were drop-dead, makes-you-want-to-go-workout, idol-worthy specimens, each and every muscle working to show their emotions. In lament terms, they were hot.

Joffrey Ballet - Crossing Ashland ft. Matthew Adamczyk  Amanda Assucena - Photo by Cheryl Mann

So what makes Crossing Ashland special? It’s the fact that the dance is so relatable, so understandable to the audience; two people pass on the street, their hands touching slightly, longingly, but then they part. So much is said in those moments without saying a word, and when two dancers portraying their emotions take the stage and perform a deeply passionate interpretation of breaking-up and making-up, you are captivated. Crossing Ashland could easily be made into a full length production and take the stage for a full two hours and no one would be bored. And more importantly, it could introduce an entirely new generation to contemporary choreography that isn’t limited to what one sees on televised dance shows or in the movies.

So cross Wabash Avenue and make your way to the Auditorium Theatre to see Contemporary Choreographers. The show runs through February 23rd. It is a breath of fresh air to a modern style of dance that will hopefully leave you breathless.

Published in Dance in Review

Twas a cold winter evening,

In Chicagoland,

On the way to the Auditorium theatre,

For a performance quite grand.

 

The guests took their seats,

The stage decked in splendor,

Anxiously awaiting their journey,

Expecting ballerinas so tender.

 

Then up went the music,

And down went the lights,

As we were whisked away

To the Nutcracker that night.

Joffrey Nutcracker - Rory Hohenstein  Christine Rocas photo by Herbert Migdoll

All know the story,

The Nutcracker’s tale,

From the grand ball to the Sugar Plum Fairy,

Danced by a young Mikhail (Barishnikov ;-) )

 

The Joffrey performed the ballet,

With intricate care,

To keep with traditions,

So all ages could share.

Joffrey Nutcracker - Jeraldine Mendoza photo by Herbert Migdoll

Spanish Chocolate, Arabian Coffee,

Chinese Tea and Russian Candy,

Danish Marzipan, Mother Ginger,

It was all just dandy!

 

But the waltz of the snowflakes

And the waltz of the flowers,

Is where this ballet

Holds all of its power.

 

The dancers on pointe,

In their tutus and tights,

Twirling and leaping,

Twas a majestic sight.

 

The Joffrey Ballet is performing,

A holiday tale to remember,

For all to enjoy,

While it runs through December.

Joffrey Nutcracker - Dylan Gutierrez and April Daly photo by Herbert Migdoll

So off to The Joffrey!

Don’t miss it this year,

Fill up your holiday,

With Nutcracker cheer!

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

There is just something about the ballet; the people watching (it’s a very entertaining crowd), the glass of bubbly before the show starts, the curtain rising, the live orchestra playing, and of course the ballet dancers that make the most difficult of feats seem effortless. Unfortunately, like previous performances I’ve seen at the Joffrey, the most recent performance of “Othello” left me wanting more.

Joffrey - Othello - Fabrice Calmels  April Daly 1 photo by Herbert Migdoll

Once again, Joffrey loyalists will roll their eyes when I tell them I was disappointed by the “Othello” performance. This was a completely original ballet based off of a great Shakespearean tragedy and it should have been amazing. The short teaser trailer of the performance on the Joffrey’s website was dramatic and foreboding. On the other hand, as the show began, I knew immediately that I would be left wanting. Let me first say that the dancing was beautiful. The main dancers, Othello played by Fabrice Calmels and Desdemona played by April Daly, were graceful, strong, and fluid, and exactly what you’d expect in the principal dancers. Sadly, great dancers can only do so much with what they are given, and I don’t think they were learnt much in the ways of choreography and music. The music alone was enough to make someone dislike the show. Imagine an entire 2 hour performance with drums and strings building and building and taking forever to reach a crescendo and when it does nothing happens on stage to match the power behind those notes. I equate it to sitting in a scary movie, the music building your expectations to a state of uncontrollable suspense, just waiting for the killer to jump out and attack, only to have the loud crash usually tied to a scary moment to be someone yawning on screen. What a letdown, right?

Joffrey - Othello - Matthew Adamczyk as Iago photo by Herbert Migdoll

Also, the choreography was a bit too in-your-face-foreshadowing of the tumultuous and ultimately grim lover’s tale. If you went through high school and college never having read Othello or seeing the movie O, then perhaps the references weren’t so easy to pick up on, but for those of us who know the story it was about as blunt as an axe to the head. At times the duets between Othello and Desdemona just consisted of him lifting her and tossing her around like a gracefully beautiful sack of potatoes, his hands and arms lingering around her neck for an awkwardly long time. Outside of those dancers, the solos of Cassio and Iago, played by Aaron Rogers and Matthew Adamcyzk respectfully, were beautiful, but the jealousy that eventually drives Iago to his dastardly acts was so jagged and rough that it took away from the grace of a great dancer. The character of Iago seethes with jealousy, hatred, and envy but it didn’t translate as powerfully as it could have in the dancing and he ended up looking like a petulant child. All in all, the entire ballet performance was lukewarm for such a heated storyline.

Joffrey - Othello - Fabrice Calmels  April Daly 3 photo by Herbert Migdoll

So why go back? Why keep going to the ballet if I’m not going to enjoy it? It’s because I believe in this art and want to be blown away each and every time. Some of the dance companies in Chicago without nearly the endowment the Joffrey has, have left me speechless and simply blown away by their performances. I suppose I just expect the same from a company with such amazing talent as the Joffrey. So I will still go, and still hope for a performance that takes my breath away and leaves me saying ‘O.’

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

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