Theatre 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
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

 

 

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