Under the Umbrella(s)

Choreographer Yuri Possokhov with dancers Valerie Robin and Fabrice Calmels in rehearsal for "Bells". Photo by Herbert Migdoll.

As soon as I walked in to the Joffrey Tower lobby last week, I looked up.  Umbrellas – black with the Joffrey logo on the outside and a big blue star on the inside – were hanging, open, from the second story ceiling.  As a new merchandise item*, they are stylish and perfectly in tune with the theme and title of the upcoming performance.  Rising Stars, featuring two world premieres and a Joffrey premiere, opens tonight at the Auditorium Theatre for a two week run.

I was lucky enough to spend an afternoon watching rehearsals for the three new pieces.  By the time I got there in the afternoon, two dancers had been injured with a third injury happening while I was watching, resulting in recasting situations, extra rehearsals, missing dancers and a number of calls to take those umbrellas down.  It’s the umbrellas!  Isn’t that some kind of curse?  The mood was a little frazzled and tense, but as we all know, the show must go on…and therefore, so do rehearsals.  First up, was Yuri Possokhov’s Bells (set to Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2) rehearsal already in full swing.  Possokhov, formerly of the Moscow, Bolshoi and San Francisco Ballet companies, looks more like a burly teddy bear that moves really well than a former ballet star.  Even with a bit of a language barrier through his thick Russian accent, charisma, thy name is Possokhov.  Joking with the dancers “girls, can I teach you how to catch?” and actively participating in this lively section of the five-movement piece, the room absorbs his personality.  Lifting, leaning, sliding en pointe…dangerous.  (I know I’m dating myself here, but it reminded me of former Chicago choreographer James Kelly’s work.)  At one point, the correction to the men was to “brutally push them and go!”  This isn’t Sleeping Beauty, kids.

Next, I was taken to a smaller studio down the hall to see a section of Julia Adam’s Night.  Ballet Mistress Char Arthur quietly lead Elizabeth Hansen and Abigail Simon through alternating runs of a solo from the work.  With a handsome Jack Thorpe Baker there to aid in the transitions, these three young dancers epitomize the Rising Stars theme.  This solo (a sort of elongated, emotive petite allegro) that the dancers have dubbed “Where the Wild Things Are – for girls” showcases the two girls’ technique, while illuminating their differences in style.  Night is loosely based on Chagall paintings and gives an intimate look into a woman’s night of dreams.

Dancers Miguel Angel Blanco and April Daly rehearsing a duet for Liang's "Woven Dreams". Photo by Herbert Migdoll.

Edwaard Liang is tall, lean and focused.  His 2008 Age of Innocence, made for the Joffrey, was instantly an audience favorite.  Back setting another world premiere on the company, he naturally demands and gives respect to every one in the room.  In a cleaning rehearsal for Woven Dreams, Liang was compassionate (apologizing to the dancers for his part in the drama of what he called a “frustrating ” rehearsal the day before), intense (sternly quieting the understudies chatting at the back, while working out a particularly complex sequence) and amiable (wryly telling a male dancer to not lift him “I’m a big girl” and noting a dancer getting into her part, even when marking “Live it, Yumelia!”).  The work, an abstract ballet with seven movements, weaves together dreamscapes with Liang’s sophisticated aesthetic and, of course, Joffrey’s technical prowess.

As I mentioned before, there were a number of casting changes necessary, so unfortunately some of the dancers the works were created on will not be performing them.  We wish a speedy recovery to the injured dancers, an empathetic hug to those not dancing this week and a hearty merde(!) to the understudies now taking the stage.  This is your chance to be…yes, rising stars.

Joffrey Ballet presents Rising Stars, May 4 – 15, Auditorium Theatre

Tickets:  Joffrey Tower Box Office, 10 E Randolph

or 800.0982.2787, www.ticketmaster.com

*Umbrellas ($25) will be on sale at the performances, as well as online at joffrey.com and at the Joffrey Tower on the 3rd floor.

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