Dance in Review

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

Ashley Wheater, Artistic Director of The Joffrey Ballet, proudly announces an impressive 2017-18 season including a world premiere by Joffrey Ballet Master Nicolas Blanc, the North American Premiere of Midsummer Night’s Dream by acclaimed choreographer Alexander Ekman plus Chicago Premieres by George Balanchine, Lola de Ávila and Jerome Robbins. The Joffrey Ballet kicks off its 62nd season with Lola de Ávila’s Giselle, October 18-29,followed by the return of Tony Award®-winner Christopher Wheeldon’s newly reimagined The Nutcracker, December 1-30. For its winter engagement, The Joffrey Ballet presents Modern Masters, a mixed repertoire program with four works – a World Premiere by Nicolas Blanc (untitled), the Chicago Premieres of Kammermusik No. 2 by George Balanchine and Glass Pieces by Jerome Robbins in honor of the 100th anniversary of his birth plus Body of Your Dreams by Myles Thatcher, February 7-18. The Joffrey Ballet will conclude its season with Ekman’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, April 25-May 6.

 

All performances take place in the Joffrey’s home venue, the historic Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, in downtown Chicago at 50 East Congress Parkway. All programs throughout the season feature live music performed by the Chicago Philharmonic conducted by Scott Speck, Music Director of The Joffrey Ballet.

 

This season, for the first time, The Joffrey Ballet and Lyric Opera of Chicago will collaborate on a world premiere production of Christoph Willibald Gluck’s classic opera, Orphée et Eurydice directed and choreographed by internationally acclaimed Director and Chief Choreographer of The Hamburg Ballet, John Neumeier. Orphée et Eurydice will be presented at Lyric’s Civic Opera House, September 23 - October 15.

 

Classically trained to the highest standards, The Joffrey Ballet expresses a unique, inclusive perspective on dance, proudly embracing the diversity of America with its company, audiences, and repertoire which includes major story ballets, reconstructions of masterpieces and contemporary works. Founded by visionary teacher Robert Joffrey in 1956, guided by celebrated choreographer Gerald Arpino from 1988 until 2007, The Joffrey Ballet continues to thrive under Artistic Director Ashley Wheater and Executive Director Greg Cameron.  

 

“During my time as Artistic Director of The Joffrey Ballet, we’ve worked tirelessly to redefine ballet at the highest level,” said Ashley Wheater. “This season, we elevate this commitment with dynamic performances that celebrate joy in a time when transformative storytelling has never been more needed. We present sweeping passion in modern renditions of Giselle and Midsummer Night’s Dream; we see hope and wonder through the eyes of Chicago immigrants with the return of Christopher Wheeldon’s reimagined Nutcracker; and finally, we feel inspiration with works by modern trailblazers and legendary voices including Jerome Robbins, George Balanchine, Alexander Ekman, and Myles Thatcher.”

 

“Ashley Wheater’s commitment to world-class artistry and transformative experiences has ignited hope and wonder in Chicago audiences, and this season is no exception,” added Executive Director Greg Cameron. “From the youthful passion of Giselle and magical wonder of The Nutcracker to boundary- pushing masterpieces from rising talent and legendary voices, these unforgettable stories beautifully express our human condition and provide a beacon of hope and inspiration. We look forward to sharing these remarkable and moving ballet experiences with Chicago audiences in the year to come.”

 

About the 2017-18 Season

 

October 2017

 

The Joffrey Ballet launches its 2017-18 season with the Chicago Premiere of Lola de Ávila’s visionary adaption of Giselle. Former Associate Director of the San Francisco Ballet School, de Ávila’s take on this classic Romantic-era ballet is set to composer Adolphe Adam’s original score and tells the tale of young Giselle, who discovers her lover is betrothed to another and dies of grief, only to be enlisted by the vengeful Wilis, a ghostly army of maidens who haunt the forests, dancing to death any male mortal who crosses their path. When her beloved wanders into their grasp, Giselle makes the ultimate act of love to free him from his fate.

 

A ballet in two acts, Giselle is presented in 10 performances only, October 18-29, 2017.

 

December 2017

 

After its wildly successful world premiere in December 2016, The Joffrey Ballet will once again present its newly reimagined holiday classic The Nutcracker by Tony Award®-winning choreographer Christopher Wheeldon. Set during Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair, Wheeldon’s turn-of-the-century tale opens as young Marie and her mother, a sculptress creating the Fair’s iconic Statue of the Republic, host a festive Christmas Eve celebration. After a surprise visit from the creator of the Chicago Columbian Exposition, the mysterious Great Impresario, Marie embarks on a whirlwind adventure with the Nutcracker Prince through a dreamlike World’s Fair. A ballet in two acts set to Tchaikovsky’s classic score, The Nutcracker also features design by an award-winning creative team including Tony Award®-nominated set and costume designer Julian Crouch, Caldecott Medal Award-winning author Brian Selznick, Obie and Drama Desk award-winning puppeteer Basil Twist, Tony Award®-winning lighting designer Natasha Katz and Tony Award®-winning projection designer Ben Pearcy.  

 

The Nutcracker is presented in 32 performances, December 1-30, 2017.

 

February 2018

 

The Joffrey’s winter program, a mixed repertory program entitled Modern Masters, features a world premiere by Joffrey Ballet Master Nicolas Blanc, the Chicago Premieres of Kammermusik No. 2 by George Balanchine and in honor of the 100th anniversary of his birth, Glass Pieces by Jerome Robbins plus Body of Your Dreams by Myles Thatcher.

 

Kammermusik No.2, originally created for New York City Ballet in 1978 by world renowned contemporary ballet choreographer George Balanchine, broke the conventions of ballet with its exceptional use of complex structures, precision, energy and speed. Set to a score by neoclassical composer Paul Hindemith, hailed as one of the great German composers of the 20th century, this work for 12 dancers features an eight-man ensemble performing jagged lines and stylized gestures along with two couples, who present the counterpoint to the ensemble with duets set to the intricate passages for piano.

 

Body of Your Dreams, created by up-and-coming choreographer Myles Thatcher, is a tongue-in-cheek take on fitness which made its world premiere as part of the 2014–2015 Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative. A contemporary work for nine dancers, Body of Your Dreams features a series of movements expressing the highs and lows of body image woven together with inventive wit, set to a score by Dutch avant pop composer Jacob ter Veldhuis. A current dancer with San Francisco Ballet, Thatcher is known for melding contemporary sensibility with classical technique to resonate feeling and atmosphere. Thatcher made his Joffrey Ballet choreographic debut with the World Premiere of Passengers in September 2015.

 

Nicolas Blanc, current Ballet Master and Principal Coach for The Joffrey Ballet, will create a new work (untitled) for the company which will take audiences through five mesmerizing worlds set to an orchestral and electronic soundscape by Mason Bates, composer-in-residence at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Former Principal Dancer with San Francisco Ballet, Blanc made his choreographic debut with the Joffrey in April 2015 with the U.S. Premiere of Evenfall. Most recently, Blanc was selected to participate in the 2015 National Choreographers Initiative as well as the New York City Ballet's New York Choreographic Institute where he created Mothership, which premiered in New York City Ballet's 2016 gala.

 

In honor of the 100th anniversary of Jerome Robbins’ birth, the Joffrey will present the Chicago Premiere of Glass Pieces, a signature Robbins’ ballet set to three works by American minimalist composer Philip Glass. Originally premiering with New York City Ballet in 1983, Glass Pieces is a tour de force of movement and music for 42 dancers featuring urban, postmodern choreography, recurrent rhythms, shifting patterns and an energized pace to reflect the pulse of metropolitan America in the ‘80s. One of the great American choreographers of the 20th century, Robbins prolific career has made a profound contribution to the ballet world in addition to renown commercial credits as a director and choreographer for theater, movies and television including On the Town, West Side Story, The King and I, Gypsy, Peter Pan, and Fiddler on the Roof. Even after his death in 1998, his superb body of work continues to be celebrated and performed by companies worldwide. In its 62-year history, The Joffrey Ballet has presented numerous works by Jerome Robbins, including The Concert, Interplay, Moves and N.Y. Export: Op. Jazz.

 

Modern Masters is presented in 10 performances only, February 7–18, 2018.

 

April/May 2018

 

Celebrated around the globe for his originality and humor, Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekman brings his unique vision to the Joffrey with the North American Premiere of his Midsummer Night’s Dream, which made its world premiere with The Royal Swedish Ballet in 2015. A full-length ballet vastly different from Shakespeare’s tale, Ekman’s take on a Midsummer Night’s Dream presents a festive Scandinavian Midsummer celebration, as the border between the world of mortals and the kingdom of the supernatural becomes thinner, turning the celebration into a dreamlike fantasy. Ekman has collaborated with companies worldwide to create award-winning works that both entertain and challenge the observer, including the Chicago Premieres of Ekman’s Tulle in 2015 along with his wild and rhythmic Episode 31 which premiered on the Joffrey during the 2013 Chicago Dancing Festival. Ekman will also present the world premiere of a new work (untitled) during The Joffrey Ballet’s spring program Global Visionaries in April 2017.

 

Midsummer Night’s Dream is presented in 10 performances only, April 25-May 6, 2018.

 

Joffrey Gala Performance — April 20, 2018

For the third year in a row, The Joffrey Ballet will open its special, one-hour gala performance exclusively to Joffrey subscribers and gala donors. 

 

Lyric Collaboration — September 23 – October 15, 2017

This season, The Joffrey Ballet and Lyric Opera of Chicago will collaborate on a world premiere production of Christoph Willibald Gluck’s classic opera Orphée et Eurydice. Based on the Greek myth of Orpheus, Orphée et Eurydice features a modern-day Orpheus, a poet whose every word communicates an overwhelming love for his late wife, Eurydice. After refusing to accept her death, he courageously journeys to the Underworld to bring her back to life but first must face Love’s challenge. Lyric Opera will present Orphée in the Paris version, containing thrilling ballet sequences that will come to life under the direction and choreography of internationally acclaimed Director and Chief Choreographer of The Hamburg Ballet, John Neumeier. Most recently, Neumeier worked with the Joffrey, upon whom he set the North American premiere of his full-length story ballet Sylvia in October 2015. Orphée et Eurydice will be presented in seven performances at Lyric’s Civic Opera House, September 23 - October 15.

 

Tickets and Subscriptions

Three-program subscriptions, which do not include The Nutcracker or Orphée et Eurydice, start at $87. Subscriptions will be available for purchase as of February 22, 2017, online at joffrey.org, by mail (Joffrey Ballet Subscriptions, The Joffrey Ballet, Joffrey Tower, 10 East Randolph Street, Chicago, IL 60601), by telephone at 312-386-8905, by fax at 312-739-0119, or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Single tickets for the October, February and April performances as well as The Nutcracker will be available starting August 1, 2017. Single tickets are available at The Joffrey Ballet’s official Box Office located in the lobby of 10 East Randolph Street, by telephone at 312-386-8905, or online at joffrey.org.  

 

Orphée et Eurydice will be presented by The Lyric Opera of Chicago at the Civic Opera House (20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago). Joffrey Ballet subscribers will receive an exclusive pre-sale opportunity with a 20% discount. Tickets can be purchased through Lyric Opera audience services at 312-827-5600.

 

About The Joffrey Ballet

Classically trained to the highest standards, The Joffrey Ballet expresses a unique, inclusive perspective on dance, proudly reflecting the diversity of America with its company, audiences, and repertoire which includes major story ballets, reconstructions of masterpieces, and contemporary works.

 

The Company’s commitment to accessibility is met through an extensive touring schedule, an innovative and highly effective education program including the much lauded Academy of Dance, Official School of The Joffrey Ballet, Community Engagement programs, and collaborations with myriad other visual and performing arts organizations.

 

Founded by visionary teacher Robert Joffrey in 1956, guided by celebrated choreographer Gerald Arpino from 1988 until 2007, The Joffrey Ballet continues to thrive under internationally renowned Artistic Director Ashley Wheater and Executive Director Greg Cameron.

The Joffrey Ballet is grateful for the support of 2017-2018 Season Sponsors: Abbott Fund, Alphawood Foundation Chicago, NIB Foundation, and the Daniel and Pamella DeVos Foundation, Live Music Sponsor The Marina and Arnold Tatar Fund for Live Music, and 2017-2018 Season Partners: pamella roland and Fox Ford Lincoln, Clear Channel Airports, Chicago Athletic Clubs, JW Marriott, and Official Provider of Physical Therapy, Athletico.

 

For more information on The Joffrey Ballet and its programs, visit joffrey.org.

 

Published in Dance in Review

The Joffrey Academy of Dance, Official School of The Joffrey Ballet in collaboration with Chicago Public Library present four world premieres in the seventh annual Winning Works program, the culmination of Joffrey’s national call for ALAANA (African, Latino(a), Asian, Arab and Native American) artists to submit applications for the Joffrey Academy’s Seventh Annual Winning Works Choreographic Competition. This year’s Competition winners – Shannon Alvis, Sean Aaron Carmon, Karen Gabay and Jimmy Orrante each have choreographed an original work created on the Joffrey Academy Trainees and Studio Company. The Joffrey Academy of Dance’s Winning Works program is presented at the Cindy Pritzker Theater, Chicago Public Library Harold Washington Center, 400 South State Street, over three performances only: Saturday, March 11, at 2:00 PM and 7:00 PM and Sunday, March 12 at 2:00 PM.

 

“The artistry and diversity of the Winning Works choreographers provide an inspiring look at the world in which we live allowing us to deepen our understanding of the art form”, said Ashley Wheater, Artistic Director of The Joffrey Ballet. “The Winning Works program is an invaluable experience for our Joffrey Trainees and Studio Company providing them the opportunity to grow artistically and perform works created by important voices of dance today.”

 

“Winning Works empowered me as a female choreographer”, said Mariana Oliveira, 2016 Winning Works Choreographer. “Being a part of this program has opened many other doors for my career. It was a pleasure to work with fearless young talent. I will always hold this experience close to my heart.”

 

Shannon Alvis is originally from Greenwood, Indiana and received her training at Butler University and the University of Utah. She began her career with the second company of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC), then went on to dance and perform professionally with HSDC for nine years. In 2009, Ms. Alvis went on to further her growth as a dancer at Nederlands Dans Theater under the direction of Jim Vincent and Paul Lightfoot.

 

Her world premiere for the Joffrey Academy of Dance - Moonlight - is a contemporary piece with 5 men and 5 women featuring solo and partner work set to music by Debussy's Clair de Lune. Moonlight is inspired by the poem Clair de Lune by Paul Verlaine, and the beautiful potential that lies within each of the dancers.

 

Sean Aaron Carmon is originally from Texas and joined Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 2011 and has performed major solos and featured roles in ballets by many notable choreographers. His choreography has been performed all across the U.S. and internationally and is lauded as "everything and then some...", "powerful," and "seriously flawless" by major national print and online publications such as The New York Times, Newsweek, JET Magazine, BroadwayBlack, Dance Spirit, and 

Dance Magazine. 

 

His world premiere for the Joffrey Academy of Dance - Suite Hearts explores young love in all its varieties — romantic, friendly, playful, emotional, heartbreak, resilience, and the interconnectivity between each. This piece will be performed by 6 men and 10 women.

 

Karen Gabay grew up in San Diego and has had a career as a ballerina that spans over 35 years.  Ms. Gabay made her professional debut at the age of 18 as a principal dancer with Ballet San Jose (BSJ). Her repertoire includes Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, Giselle in the title role and her most favorite role of Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. As a choreographer, she created numerous ballets for the company including the 2012 production of BSJ’s annual production of The Nutcracker which led to her first children’s book, The Nutcracker: A Story in Verse. Gabay is the co-founding Artistic Director of her own ballet troupe, Pointe of Departure, which performs in the bay area and in Northeast Ohio.

 

Her world premiere for the Joffrey Academy features 10-15 dancers with the women dancing en pointe. The concept of the piece explores the lives of coming-of-age teenagers and will feature a combination of classical and neo classical ballet, acting, and theatrics.

 

Jimmy Orrante is a native of Los Angeles andhas danced with Nevada Ballet Theatre, Memphis Ballet, and 20 years with BalletMet where he had the opportunity to choreograph 15 premieres for the company. In addition to BalletMet, he has created ballets for Ballet Austin, Motion Dance Theatre, Rochester City Ballet, Ballet Arkansas, Atlanta Ballet’s Wabi Sabi, and UC Irvine’s National Choreographers Initiative. Mr. Orrante’s repertoire includes two full-length ballets, The Great Gatsby, which premiered with BalletMet in 2009 and was reprised in 2015, and the children’s ballet The Ugly Duckling for Rochester City Ballet.

 

His world premiere for the Joffrey Academy features 6 men and 6 women with the women dancing en pointe. The movement is inspired by the energy within the music, a combination of cascading momentum and a more formal, processional quality.

 

“The Joffrey is honored to collaborate with the Chicago Public Library Harold Washington Library Center for the first time to present this meaningful and innovative program”, said Greg Cameron, Executive Director of The Joffrey Ballet. “We are grateful for the support of Brian Bannon, Chicago Public Library Commissioner and Mayor Rahm Emanuel as we embark on fulfilling our shared mission and commitment to empowering the community through dance and storytelling.”

 

 

"By co-hosting these ambitious programs with The Joffrey Ballet, we are remaining dedicated to supporting lifelong learning for patrons of all ages, in this case, through performing arts”, said Brian Bannon, Chicago Public Library Commissioner. “We hope to inspire people of all backgrounds and ages to engage with both the Joffrey and the library in new and exciting ways.”

 

Ticket Information

Tickets for “Winning Works” at the Chicago Public Library Harold Washington Library Center are FREE. Tickets can be reserved at WinningWorks2017.Eventbrite.com.

 

The Joffrey Ballet is grateful for the support of its Winning Works Sponsor, The Edward and Lucy R. Minor Family Foundation, Video Production Sponsor Big Foot Media and to its Official Provider of Physical Therapy, Athletico.

 

About the Joffrey Studio Company

The Joffrey Studio Company is a scholarship program of the Joffrey Academy of Dance, Official School of The Joffrey Ballet. The Joffrey Studio Company consists of 10 outstanding students selected by Joffrey Artistic Director Ashley Wheater and Head of Studio Company and Trainee Program Raymond Rodriguez. The Joffrey Studio Company and Trainees have performed on some of the most prestigious stages, including Lincoln Center in NY, the Auditorium Theatre, Harris Theater for Music and Dance, Cadillac Palace Theatre and MCA Stage in Chicago, Music Hall in LA, The Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. and more. The individualized training and performance opportunities provided by the Joffrey Studio Company offers students unique insight into the life of a professional dancer, assisting students in preparation for a professional career in dance and helping them expand their technique and artistry.

 

About the Joffrey Academy Trainees

The Joffrey Academy Trainee Program is a one to two-year program for students ages 17 and older who are preparing for a professional dance career. Students are selected to participate in the Trainee Program by invitation from Artistic Director Ashley Wheater and the Head of Studio Company and Trainee Program Raymond Rodriguez. This esteemed and rigorous program gives students a unique and well-rounded experience to prepare them for the next step in their careers. Trainees rehearse and perform classical and contemporary works from The Joffrey Ballet’s extensive repertoire and have the opportunity to work with guest choreographers throughout the year. Graduates of the Academy have gone on to dance professionally with companies throughout the world including The Joffrey Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, Staatsballett Berlin, Dresden Semperoper, Complexions, Milwaukee Ballet, Memphis Ballet, Kansas City Ballet, BalletMet, Polish National Ballet, Slovak National Ballet, and many more.

 

For more information on the Joffrey Academy of Dance, Official School of The Joffrey Ballet and its programs please visit joffrey.org/academy.

 

About Chicago Public Library

Since 1873, Chicago Public Library (CPL) has encouraged lifelong learning by welcoming all people and offering equal access to information, entertainment and knowledge through innovative services and programs, as well as cutting-edge technology. Through its 80 locations, the Library provides free access to a rich collection of materials, both physical and digital, and presents the highest quality author discussions, exhibits and programs for children, teens and adults. CPL received the Social Innovator Award from Chicago Innovation Awards; won a National Medal for Library Services from the Institute for Museum and Library Services; was named the first ever winner of the National Summer Learning Association’s Founder’s Award in recognition of its Summer Learning Challenge; and was ranked number one in the U.S., and third in the world by an international study of major urban libraries conducted by the Heinrich Heine University Dusseldorf in Germany. For more information, please call (312) 747-4050 or visit chipublib.org.

 

Published in Dance in Review
Thursday, 15 December 2016 12:04

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

Everyone knows the story of Romeo and Juliet, a timeless tale of lovers kept apart by family and society, but the power of love allows them to fight through only to meet a tragic demise. The story has been told over and over again in stories, books, movies, plays and even real life. The Joffrey Ballet kicks off its 2016-2017 season with Krzysztof Pastor’s Romeo and Juliet and proves that the story can transcend time and stands tall even without the beautiful poetry of William Shakespeare. 

 

In this creative, three act re-imagining of the classic Romeo and Juliet, the audience travels through time as they are pulled into the gripping story of the love and loss. Starting in Italy in the 1930’s, during the rise of Mussolini and Fascism, the militaristic, strict Capulet family and the more free and relaxed Montague family encounter one another and Romeo and Juliet meet for the first time. The second act moves to the 1950’s with the rise of political terrorism and the Red Brigade, which compliments the increasing challenges that keep the true lovers apart. In the final act it is 1990 and as Berlusconi’s leadership drives increasing social divide in the country, Romeo and Juliet meet their tragic end.

 

The show is a multi-media story ballet and the video imagery projected on the backdrop compliments the story. The rest of the set is simple, consisting of some lightly reflective panels that add a lovely effect to indoor scenes, and a few dark pillars and benches.  It allows most of your focus to be on the dancers themselves as the story unfolds. The costumes are non-traditional with no tutu’s in sight, opting instead towards more street fashion. As we progress through the three acts, the costumes evolve moving through time. One of the most creative aspects of the costuming is how the colors change across the acts, starting in a simple black and white, next to sepia tones and finally more full color, and through it all Romeo and Juliet are clad in a pale blue reflective of their innocence and lightness.

 

The choreography by Krzysztof Pastor is phenomenal and breathtaking. There are so many variety of styles from the rigid and powerful movements of the Capulet family, to the fun and lighthearted flow of the Montagues and of course the beautiful range of emotions that Romeo and Juliet portray, played by Rory Hohenstein and Christine Rocas. Just as Shakespeare has been praised for his ability to switch between comedy and tragedy so effortlessly, the choreography does the same with some lighthearted moments that broke the tension, even bringing about a laugh from the audience. Mercutio, played by Yoshihisa Arai, was the best representation of this comedy through dance. He brought boundless energy to the stage in an exceptional performance that made the audience all but fall in love with Mercutio.

 

Overall, the performances by the entire company were fantastic. Dancers moved effortlessly and in beautiful harmony with one another and with the score by Sergei Prokofiev. It was a nice break from the more traditional style of ballet yet still showcased the natural grace and amazing talent of the entire cast. 

 

If you are a fan of the ballet, or have never seen a story ballet before, this is certainly a performance to see. The modern qualities of this show make it more accessible to those unfamiliar with ballet, and no one can argue the multitude of emotions that this performance evokes. It never ceases to amaze just how powerful the art of movement can be, and in this re-telling of the age old story of Romeo and Juliet that power is clearly evident. The show is playing at the stunning Auditorium Theater through October 23rd. Be sure to get your tickets and experience the magic of the Joffrey Ballet.

 

Published in Upcoming Dance

I haven't enjoyed a full night of dance as much as these three pieces presented by Joffrey Ballet at the Auditorium Theatre in a very long time, the first a world premiere and two marvelous pieces back by popular demand.

 

The world premiere is Ashley Page’s Tipping Point. Page refers to Adès’ music as the “primary investigator”, transforming its dark, dramatic tones into physical form. “It’s not easy to write so specifically about an abstract dance work that hasn’t been created yet,” he said, “but I want to stress that this will not be a narrative ballet… My task as choreographer is to try to harness this complex, often powerfully dark material and make it ‘visible’ to the audience.” And Ades does just that.

 

In Tipping Point twelve dancers, sometimes in pairs or groups of three, sway and are swept away by the music in beautiful free flowing gowns which reveal a hint of red or orange colors each time they leap, which is very powerful to watch. 

 

Although Page mentions this piece is not a "narrative" one, it does seem to allow the audience to unleash our own inner narratives while watching especially as it ends with a couple "trapped' or perhaps "saved" in what seems to be a box made entirely of white light. 

 

With lush, yet melancholic music by Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem, Jiří Kylián’s 1981 creation (performed by the Joffrey four years ago) its inspiration is Edvard Munch’s Dance of Life portrait from 1899 of a group of women staring hopefully at the sea.

 

In "Forgotten Land" six couples move in and among each other, sometimes dancing with modern and complex movements of joy and other times pulling apart in anger. It seems that all are haunted by some memories of loved ones and sometime delight and revel in their memories - while other times they are overcome with despair defeated or aggravated by the same ghosts floating like foam put of the gray seas  painted on the massive backdrop behind them.

 

The story ballet RAkU is artistically honest and truly narrative with a smashing score by Shinji Eshima. RAkU retells with beautiful video screens and exquisite choreography the torching of Kyoto’s Golden Pavilion in 1950, the work of an evil monk sexually obsessed with the Emperors wife. With the emperor away engaged in battle, the Monk takes advantage of the lonely Empress and after a frantic dance to get away from what seemed a dance meant to comfort her, she is raped by the priest, thrown finally way up against a giant white wall like a butterfly finally pinned into a glass case. Then the monk sets fire to her castle which was also her temple and their home. 

 

When her dutiful soldiers return and find her in this bedraggled state, using her last sword as a cane in order to crawl across the stage as if she still believes she has the strength to avenge her family, they have the awful duty of presenting her with a box full of the ashes of her own home and possibly the Emperor himself.

 

It is a moment in ballet that I will never forget when the Empress, played with magnificent emotion and perfection to craft and detail by the phenomenal Victoria Jaiani, takes down her jet black hair and pours the white ashes her own face and body before succumbing to her wounds with one last graceful breath and the deathly uncurling of her graceful white fingers and legs. Brava! 

 

I highly recommend seeing the well-chosen pieces in "Bold Moves" for a full night of dance that will leave you feeling both refreshed and deeply moved at the same time. 

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

The four performances that comprise “New Works” are also presented in a new venue for the Joffrey Ballet, The Cadillac Palace Theatre. Fitting, for the spring program which highlights four contemporary choreographers and leaves theater goers energized and refreshed. Joffrey’s usual home, the Auditorium Theatre, was being used for the NFL Draft, causing the temporary venue change.

Justin Peck, hailing from the New York City Ballet, holds up to his reputation with “In Creases” as the opening performance. The stage, outfitted with just two pianos, creates the perfect blank pallet to showcase the dancers. Outfitted in light grey, this piece takes all distraction away from the viewer, leaving you to appreciate the dancers ability, athleticism, and passion. The live pianos only amplify the risk of performing such a vulnerable piece. With nothing on stage to distract the viewer, any small mistake would be easily noticed, though the Joffrey ensemble danced this perfectly.

“Liturgy” is a brilliant pas de deux from Christopher Wheeldon, with the dancers exuding chemistry and pure passion. It is one of those pieces where you can feel the dancers’ love for what they do. Jeraldine Mendoza and Fabrice Calmels, while physically almost complete opposite, Calmels being an easy head and shoulders taller than Mendoza, the two are perfectly in sync and graceful throughout the entire performance. At parts, it is almost as though the two are connected by strings they are so perfectly timed with one another. The excitement and power coming from the stage is infectious and makes the viewers heart race.  

The story of an anguished poet in “Evenfall” is a romantic progression of a relationship, from the first days through to the later years. The stage is outfitted with four mirrors through which the poet views the couple. The poet seems to be contemplating the relationship, and struggling to do so, as though he is reflecting on what once was and possibly what could be. Once again, Fabrice Calmels is commanding as one half of the older couple, amazing the viewers with his ability to be so fluid and soft. The piece is emotionally charged and gives the dancers a chance to showcase not only their technical ability, but their acting chops as well.

The final performance, “Incantations” by Val Caniparoli, was originally created for the Joffrey in 2012 and is nothing short of thrilling. The high paced and demanding choreography cannot be ignored. The dancers outfitted in tan costumes with flashes of red are mesmerizing as they own the stage. The focus of the performance is on constant and different pirouettes and turns leaving the viewer in awe. Joanna Wozniak and Dylan Gutierrez make a dynamic pair that is thrilling and powerful in every turn.

Joffrey’s “New Works” is just as hopeful and fresh as one would expect. The Cadillac Palace Theater provides a beautiful historic backdrop to the contemporary choreography of these four performances. The Joffrey Ballet once again put together an amazing performance and a great way to kick off the spring season.  

For tickets and/or more show information, visit http://www.joffrey.org/newworks

Published in Dance in Review
Friday, 19 September 2014 19:00

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

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
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