On Thursday, November 3rd, a group of Joffrey dancers performed in the black box studio theater at the Joffrey Tower to benefit local non-profit EMBARC. A New Movement was an evening of in-house choreography, plus a duet from the Joffrey rep with a reception and silent auction following in an adjacent studio. The benefit performance was delayed temporarily due to bad weather and to let everyone in the theater (it was full), but once things got started, it went swimmingly. A portion of the front row was roped off for the guests of honor – three students from Harper High School that are part of the EMBARC program which empowers students from socially and economically isolated areas through mentoring and cultural interactions. After a few words from co-founders Imran Khan (Executive Director) and January Miller (Program Manager), the show began.
New works created by Joffrey dancers Derrick Agnoletti, Shane Urton, Aaron Rogers and Michael Smith were shown along with a premiere from Joffrey Ballet Master Nicolas Blanc. Agnoletti’s dramatic African-influenced Incantation started the show danced by students from the Strobel Step Up program. If these kids were nervous dancing on a bill with professionals, it didn’t show. Agnoletti’s other offering Strange Fruit: Solo of the Disinherited danced beautifully by Erica Lynette Edwards was one of the highlights of the night. The long skirt and lyrical moves were Ailey-esque and her emotional intensity added a personal touch to the piece. During a pause in the music, she let out an audible sigh/cry that had the audience rapt. Fabrice Calmels and Victoria Jaiani danced a duet from Edwaard Liang’s Age of Innocence, a gorgeous work that was well worth the price of the $100 ticket to see it up close and personal. What struck me most was that it was performed in this small studio theater as if it was on stage at the Auditorium Theatre. To them, there was no difference – they gave it their all. Another choreographic highlight was Michael Smith’s “_________” (and yes, I gave him crap about not having a title!). Set to music by Arvo Pärt, the work for six dancers was earthy and beautiful inspired by a quote from the book of Revelations. The dancers seemed most honest in pedestrian moves, particularly a recurring theme where they held a hand to the forehead of a fellow dancer following them on or off stage. The dancers took clothes on and off on stage with all but one ended up “naked”, which warranted a joke from one of the EMBARC students after the show. Shout outs to Elizabeth Hansen (strong and clean) and Aaron Rogers (I could watch him do anything – he’s like butter!).
After the performance, Miller told the audience how you can see Willis Tower from Harper High School, but most of the students had never been downtown, had never been out of their neighborhood and after starting with EMBARC programming their attendance and grades improved. The three students in attendance came up to speak. Terence, once overcoming his nerves, was eloquent telling how “you can learn things you’ve never done before” and declaring that most kids think Batman and Superman are super heroes, but his super heroes are Mrs. Miller and Mr. Khan.