Joffrey dancers Christine Rocas & Rory Hohenstein in William Forsythe's "In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated". Photo by Herbert Migdoll.
In a pre-show video at opening night of Joffrey Ballet‘s Winter Fire program, artistic director Ashley Wheater says, “This company is eclectic and diverse, the repertory should reflect that”. The three works presented from international contemporary choreographic stars William Forsythe, Christopher Wheeldon and Wayne McGregor were eclectic, diverse and showed the current company of dancers in a new light. A big, hot spotlight. This show reminded me of the Joffrey I fell in love with years ago. A company that always pushed boundaries with challenging, interesting new works. A company that made you sit up and ask,”What is happening on stage?”…in a good way.
This program pushed the dancers to a new level, challenging technique and complacency. They rose to the challenge – they were hot! The hottest of them all was Rory Hohenstein. He hasn’t been featured much in his first season with the company (aside from a stand out solo at Dance For Life last August), but wow, keep your eyes on this one. Last night, he was on fire. A fierce presence in every piece, Hohenstein showed off his partnering skills, flexibility and attitude with every flick of his wrist, penché pitch and swing of his head. Paired with Victoria Jaiani in two of the three pieces, he held his own with the dancer that has become the unequivocal star of the company (“All stars/No stars”? I’m not so sure that’s the motto here anymore).
Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated featured these two in dazzling duets that were so intricate and hyper-extended you wondered how they got through them without being tied in a knot. Jaiani’s incredible capacity for extension and impossibly thin frame punctuated the dark, downlit stage. Similar in build and flexibility, Christine Rocas – let’s call them the bendy/flexy twins – showed her stuff alongside a strong cast. There were some extraordinary things happening on the sidelines, particularly with April Daly, Amber Neumann, Anastacia Holden and Ricardo Santos that unfortunately got lost with so many things going on at once. Also, the two lead females (Jaiani and Rocas) were supple and strong in the partnering, but seemed timid on their own. I spotted Chicago Dancing Festival‘s Jay Franke and David Herro in the audience, with Mayor Emanuel and family. Hint: this would look great on the Pritzker Pavilion stage in August! Yes for the Fest?
Joffrey dancer John Mark Giragosian in Wayne McGregor's "Infra". Photo by Herbert Migdoll.
The LED projections of figures walking displayed above the dancers in Wayne McGregor’s Infra was distracting at first, but became part of the movement theme happening below. Inspired in part by the 2005 London bombings, McGregor takes the every day action of going to and from work and turns into an emotionally charged romp set to a cyber techno beat by Max Richter. You could see a hint Forsythe’s influence at work here. Again, a strong ensemble cast featuring virtuoso turns by all. Amber Neumann showed her acting chops with a mental melt down center stage. A large cast of extras walked across the stage sweeping her off with them alluding to the fact that life goes on. Jaiani and Hohenstein end the work with another eye-popping duet.
Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain was the mid-show palette cleanser offering a softer break from the hard-hitting opening and closing numbers. The music, Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel (which can make me weepy within the first three notes), was brought to life with accompaniment by Paul James Lewis, Paul Zafer and Carol Lahti. A stellar cast of Jaiani, Hohenstein, Daly, Matthew Adamczyk, Fabrice Calmels and Valerie Robin added maturity and nuance to the work that was a company premiere in 2010.
Joffrey dancers Victoria Jaiani & Fabrice Calmels in Christopher Wheeldon's "After the Rain". Photo by Herbert Migdoll.
The duet by Jaiani and Calmels, which was stunning last season, was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen on stage (aside, perhaps, from the Act II pas in Giselle). What once had a breathtaking romantic feel, like how a young girl dreams her first time in love will be, evolved into a heartbreaking, lifelong love shifting in need. For me, it took on a she’s-dying-and-he’s-taking-care of-her/Dying Swan vibe. Whatever the impetus, it works. As the donor’s rose to their feet in ovation, you could sense the many wallets falling open asking simply “how much?”.