Joffrey’s Russian Masters: Review

Joffrey's Joanna Wozniak in "Le Sacre du Printemps". Photo by Roger Mastroianni.

Russian choreographers don’t do light and fluffy. At least the ones presented in The Joffrey Ballet‘s Russian Masters program don’t. The four works on the bill, which opened last night and runs through Sunday, span nearly a century of dancemaking and represent pure aesthetic dancing to literally dancing oneself to death. Great “Russian masters” Balanchine, Nijinski, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky and Khachaturian were joined by the only living artist represented, San Francisco Ballet’s choreographer in residence, Yuri Possokhov, for an evening of daring, dramatic dancing accompanied by the phenomenal Chicago Philharmonic.

Balanchine’s 1956 Allegro Brilliante opened the program with a dazzling display of pure dance. No story to follow here, just fast feet and sparkling technique. Not surprising, the perky cast, lead by the lovely April Daly and Dylan Gutierriez, studied or danced at places that have a heavy Balanchine/neoclassical influence in their rep: Washington Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet and, of course, School of American Ballet. Their solid grasp and love for the style/technique (speedy petite allegro, elongated lines, open arabesque, etc.) really shined. I guess it could be considered light in comparison to the rest of the evening, but definitely not fluffy. Any Balanchine work is hard – understatement – but these dancers were more than up to the task.

A 2012 duet by Possokhov created on Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili (look, more Russians!) set to an adagio from Spartacus proved a dramatic display obviously focused on Jaiani’s incredibly flexible technical facility. Adagio incorporated interesting inside/out partnering with tricky, twisted grips (some more solid than others) and some trust-inspiring inverted lifts in the couple’s first pas de deux of the night. Possokhov’s Bells, created for Joffrey in 2011, provides another “pure dance” piece, in that there is no story, just his interpretation of the music and some clever creative tweaks on classical technique and traditional Russian folk dance. Slides en pointe, snapping fingers, kisses on each cheek add a fun element to the devilishly difficult choreography. Pas de deuxs by Anastacia Holden and Matthew Adamczyk (flirty), Daly and Fabrice Calmels (sultry), and Jaiani and Suluashvili (passionate) did not disappoint.

The highlight of the evening was the 1987 reconstruction by Millicent Hodson of Vaslav Nijinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. In an introductory video of the work, Hodson called it “the ballet that changed the course of history”. Its premiere in 1913 famously invoked a riot in Paris due to the discordant music, non-traditional choreography and shocking ending. The dancers stomp, flat-footed with turned in feet, fall to the ground repeatedly wearing pagan villagers costumes complete with painted faces, braids and animal skins. The “Rite” is a virgin sacrifice of “The Chosen One” (danced with haunting brilliance by Joanna Wozniak) where she must dance until she dies. The women of the clan offer her up as the weakest link and leave her alone to be encircled by the men, who oversee her fate. (Thanks ladies!) Wozniak stands center stage with her head tilted, palms out, feet turned in, still and staring at the audience for what seems like forever only to suddenly burst into rapid, consecutive jumps…a LOT of them. She eventually drops to the ground and the men lift her dead body to the sky. The End. What an image to finish the night on.

An enormous BRAVO to the Chicago Philharmonic and director Scott Speck for a fantastic evening of music. From the beautiful Khachaturian adagio (which sounded so perfect and like a recorded soundtrack that I had to check to make sure it was live) to the notoriously difficult to play – and to listen to – Stravinsky score, they played everything to perfection.

CDF13: The Harris at 10! Anniversary Special

Tamako Miyazaki and Brooklyn Mack in "Diana and Actaeon pas". Photo by Sarah Weymar.

Opening night of the 7th annual Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF13) was in honor of the Harris Theatre‘s 10th anniversary – and what a celebration it was. A packed house was treated to a star-studded, eclectic evening of beautiful dancing. It is an amazing thing watching local audiences witness for FREE what I am humbly privileged to see all the time as a dance writer and from the reaction (thunderous applause, mini standing ovations and, what I can only call, whooping), they enjoyed it as much as I did.

Pieces are announced by a Let’s-get-ready-to-ruuuuuuuumble! voice over giving pertinent details of the upcoming work. The show started off with a bang – or stomp – with a CDF13 commissioned work by local artists Lane Alexander and Bril Barrett. Chicago Human Rhythm Project busted out some crazy mad beats in a showcase of a groovy, partially improvised master tap class. Shout out to the ladies Donnetta Jackson and Starinah (“Star”, yes she is) Dixon. The flaptastic opening was followed by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago performing Little Mortal Jump (2012) by their resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo. (If you’ve ever read my blog, you know I’m a huge fan of AC.) This fun, theatrical work never ceases to impress. Retirements and injuries updated the original casting and added new, interesting timing and phrasing choices. The slow-motion duet near the end by Ana Lopez and Jesse Bechard always gives me goosebumps. A woman sitting near me started a chorus of “Bravos”, while a number of people jumped to their feet with enthusiasm.

Washington Ballet dancer Brooklyn Mack and Tamako Miyazaki of the Columbia Classical Ballet and Dortmund Ballet stunned in the Diana and Actaeon pas de deux. I wasn’t familiar with this pas based on a greek myth where a goddess turns a man into a deer like a 1935 balletic version of Beauty and the Beast. The casting of Miyazaki (tiny, pale and petite) and Mack (tall, dark and massive) was perfect. Both were exceptional dancers showing off technical tricks in a classic forum. While Miyazaki breezed across the floor with fleet footwork, Mack defied gravity with amazing jumps. Those jumps!** A friend said it was a switch leap, jete coupe with a 520…huh? I still can’t quite figure out what that is, but WOW! And he did it more than once. Not to be outdone, Miyazaki more than held her own with beautiful extensions, pristine pointe work and top-like turns. Her fouette run in the coda with a double every other turn and a lightly landed triple to finish was only topped by the supported turns with Mack that were so fast, furious and frequent that I lost count. (Yes, I do count them). Get thee to the Pritzker Pavillion in Millennium Park to see this for yourself on Saturday at 7:30 pm. What a way to end Act I.

The only work that seemed to leave the audience perplexed was festival co-founder Lar Lubovitch‘s Crisis Variations (2011), which was likely from a lack of exposure to this style. Set to a musical suite of the same title, and played by the amazing Le Train Bleu, Crisis was difficult and dischordant from the start. The swooping, circular flow that I love about his choreography was absent here, likely on purpose, but I missed it. The dancers of his company began in formations on the floor and for most of the dance, the majority stayed on the floor as if grounded by a magnet or unbearable burden. A couple performed a dependent and (again) difficult duet, climbing and resting on top of one another as if struggling and helping each other at the same time. Perhaps that was the point. Something can come out of a crisis that is unique, strong and loving, but not necessarily pretty.

Brian Brooks in "I'm Going to Explode". Photo by Christopher Duggan.

New York-based artist Brian Brooks followed with a quirky solo I’m Going to Explode (2007). Beginning in a chair on stage left, the suited and ready for work Brooks took off his shoes and jacket, walked to the other side of the stage and started swishing his arms from front to back, then side to side. The movement became more frenetic as if he indeed was going to explode. He looked like a human washing room, but with the cycle going backwards. He started off crisp and dry and ended soaked and disheveled. As he made his way back to the chair, the audience couldn’t wait for him to put his shoes back on before starting to clap. Rounding out the show was a balls-to-the-walls performance of Stanton Welch’s Son of Chamber Symphony by the Joffrey Ballet. This work, created for them last season, demonstrated the opposite end of the classical ballet spectrum. With inside-out tutus, impeccable, off-kilter technique to a contemporary score, Son is almost a ballet inverted. My notes are basically a list of the cast as every dancer brought their ‘A’ game and then some.

It was a spectacular night of dance to open the festival. It makes me proud to be a Chicagoan. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

**UPDATE: I sat next to Brooklyn Mack at CDF’s Dancing in Chicago show last night (08/22/13). He told me the jumps are a twist on a 540, not 520 as I originally reported. Here is a video of a Le Corsaire pas. The male dancer does two 540s at the beginning, so you can see the base of Mack’s incredible jump.

Guest Review: Joffrey Ballet’s Othello

Joffrey dancer Fabrice Calmels in "Othello". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

How cool is this? My friend was so impressed with Joffrey Ballet‘s Othello that she took it upon herself to write a review! And the fact that we both led with the same Shakespeare quote proves that brilliant Libra minds think alike. Thanks Joc :)

REVIEW: Othello by the Joffrey Ballet
By Jocelyn Fuller

“O, beware, my lord, of jealousy!

It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock

The meat it feeds on.”

- Iago in Othello

Note from author: I have NO IDEA how to critique or write about dance, so please don’t be offended.

“How are they going to pull this off?” That’s what I asked myself when Rogue Ballerina invited me, a ballet novice and Shakespeare fanatic, to Othello by the Joffrey Ballet. The Bard is known as a wordsmith, not a choreographer. And Othello, my favorite Shakespeare story of manipulation, jealousy and death? I owed it to myself and all Shakespeare fans out there to see it for myself. Don’t get me wrong; I’m a Joffrey believer. I’ve been to four or five shows and never been disappointed, but Shakespeare? Hmm….

Not only am I believer, I may be the maker of the Joffrey kool aid now after seeing this show. It wasn’t just the stunning choreography by Lar Lubovitch, or the dancers, or the chilling sets, or perfectly crafted costumes; it was the riveting score of Elliot B. Goldenthal performed by The Chicago Philharmonic that made the show so electrifying. The way in which this performance told the tale of such a tragic, gut-wrenching story through movement and music was astonishing to me. I found myself more connected and emotionally attached to the characters of the ballet than I have of most theatrical performances I’ve seen in years past.
Fabrice Calmels as Othello was breathtaking. The only other man I’ve seen play Othello on stage who exposed his soul to the role more was James Earl Jones – and that’s probably only due to his bellowing tone and 40+ years he probably has on Calmels. I felt Calmels’ pain, his jealousy, and his rage with every movement as the Venetian Moor.

Oh, Iago. One of the most hated men in all of Shakespeare. How I love to hate thee.  Matthew Adamczyk was spectacular with his sharp movements of scheming and evil, making you feel hatred at his every step. He would make the old Bard himself proud. Many find Othello to be the star of this play, but I always lean a little more towards Iago.

The rest of the cast was equally as talented. April Daly as Desdemona was sweet, innocent and angelic, just as Desdemona should be. Her story telling through her dance was exquisite.

I will most certainly be raving about this show for weeks to come. My passion for Shakespeare has been reignited once again with this powerful performance by a very talented group of people that this city should be so proud to call our own. I am a believer.

 

Joffrey Ballet’s Othello 2.0

Joffrey dancers April Daly and Fabrice Calmels in "Othello". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

O, beware, my lord, of jealousy!

It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock

The meat it feeds on.

Othello: Act III, scene iii

Nobody does drama like Shakespeare. The Bard, who had a birthday this week, adapted the story Othello from a 1566 work by Geraldo Cintio and in turn, Lar Lubovitch, who just turned 70, adapted the tale into movement for the dance stage. Add in an original, chilling score by Oscar-winning composer Elliot Goldenthal and the incomparable opening night cast of Joffrey Ballet principals and you have something extraordinary. Last night, Othello: A Dance In Three Acts, the story, the choreography, the music and the cast all came together in a perfect spiral of love, deceit, beauty, betrayal and death. Joffrey performed this ballet in 2009 to great reviews, but the second time around is even better.

The story. Although Lubovitch doesn’t directly follow Cintio or Shakespeare’s versions, the essence of the story is embedded in his movement. Ballet steps get a contemporary twist with a flexed foot, bent arm or parallel leg. Corps scenes take an ominous edge with twitchy, staccato moves. Each principal’s character is revealed in everything they do. The simple turn of a head or placement of a hand relates the intention in a second. The dancers don’t have to act for the story to be told, yet this cast acted their roles to perfection.

The choreography. For me, Lubovitch’s genius lies in the intuitiveness of his partnering. Sweeping, circular lifts with unexpected holds float to the floor and back up again with amazing fluidity. The strength required for most of his partnering is immense, yet the dancers never look taxed.

The music. Dark and dangerous like the plot, this music isn’t your typical ballet score. Loud timpani drums, saxophone, and oboe punctuate the lighter notes of the marriage pas de deux. Iago’s sharp, thrashing solo is all but dictated by the angry horn section’s shouts. The Act II tarantella speeds to its conclusion carrying the storyline along with its pace. A few Psycho-esque moments let us in a fracturing mind that’s ready to kill. The difficult score was beautifully played by the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra led by Scott Speck.

Joffrey dancers Fabrice Calmels and April Daly in "Othello". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

The cast. This cast. The originals. Bravo for bringing back the five original principal dancers. Fabrice Calmels (Othello), April Daly (Desdemona), Matthew Adamczyk (Iago), Valerie Robin (Emilia), and Aaron Rogers (Cassio) were completely committed to their characters as if letting them simmer and age for four years made them exquisitely ripe. Calmels was strong, fierce and frightening, cutting an imposing, yet ultimately fragile figure on the stage, his solos impassioned and impressive. Daly made an impression with her first solo (the “Look, he gave me a hankie!” dance) with her bourrees as fast and light as butterflies and beveled extensions to the skies. The two together created something magical with her tiny, delicate, light frame next to his tall, chiseled and dark body. I really can’t say enough about how beautifully these two dance together. Adamczyk personified evil, lurking on the edges spider-like, then creeping in to weave his tragic web with one raised eyebrow revealing the murderous thought in his head.  Robin, a seriously strong dancer, played the battered wife role with aplomb. You have to be that strong to be thrown around like that and make it look easy. Rogers, always delightful, brought his precise technique and ballon to his wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time role. Stacia Holden stood out as the sassy Bianca and special shout outs to Mahallia Ward, Amber Neumann and Michael Smith for their extra reckless abandon in the tarantella.

Cast, composer, conductor and choreographer were all on stage for the ovations and applause, recognition for a job more than well done. This is your last chance to see Lubovitch’s Othello, as it is being retired from Joffrey’s active rep. There are nine performances left. You should get your tickets NOW.

Joffrey Ballet presents Lar Lubovitch’s Othello at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy. through Sunday, May 5. Performance times vary. Tickets are $31-$152; call 800.982.2787 or visit joffrey.org.othello.

Joffrey’s Fabrice Calmels on being Othello

Joffrey Ballet's Fabrice Calmels and April Daly in "Othello". Photo by Herbert Migdoll.

At 6’6″ and 216 lbs, this 32-year-old Joffrey Ballet dancer stands out on stage…or anywhere. In 2009, landing the lead role in Lar Lubovitch’s Othello solidified him as a star. “It’s the ultimate role,” said Fabrice Calmels*. This week he revises this life-changing role as Joffrey presents the three-act ballet for a two-week run at the Auditorium Theatre before it is retired from the active repertory.

Calmels grew up outside Paris, France and began dancing at age three at a small school in Magnanville. By 10, he was studying at the Paris Opera Ballet School and by 16 things really began to change. “I became very tall and it became an issue,” he told me over tea last week. “They told me I wouldn’t do very well in the company, that I wouldn’t be dancing very much.” He came to the States to study and dance at The Rock School in Philadelphia, then traveled across the country auditioning. After a year dancing with Boston Ballet II, he accepted a spot with Joffrey in 2002. He’s now finishing his 11th season here in Chicago.

Being plagued with a back injury (two bulging discs) for almost a year hasn’t slowed him down much. He’s hard at work preparing for the Othello run, bulking up and building stamina. Calmels spoke with RB about dancing this signature role.

You’re almost a week before opening. What was your schedule like today?

We’ve been very meticulously working on the first act now for a few weeks trying to really get all the dancers to understand Lar Lubovitch’s style. Lar has a very specific style that’s very circular and grounded. When you’re dealing with younger dancers who’ve been training in mostly ballet, they’re up, up, up and he wants down, down, down. To get his style ingrained in your brain and to really feel confident takes a while. When you understand, it becomes easier. The second act came together really quick. Now we’re working on the third act. Today we ran the first and second act…not right away. We ran one, then had notes and then the second act and notes. I think tomorrow we’ll run all three acts and start getting momentum, because we need it.

This role made you a big star here. What are you doing to take it to the next level?

I follow different training. I want my body to be very strong and tense. I need that frame to be really solid, so I don’t hurt myself. I needed to gain weight. In a long run, you tend to lose weight because you’re so tired and overburning. I bulk up to become the character, one, and so I have the structure that I can handle the ballet. I’m working out a lot more. I’m working out my legs more. I run more. I do like ten miles every other day to build stamina in my legs. The last production my upper body was strong, but by the middle of the third act, my legs were burning. In terms of character, I want to completely submerge myself in the character and be able to be the character through the three acts. My goal this time is to stay in character, even though there’s intermissions, and see where it leads to. I want to be able to produce that all the way through. The character and the role is as important as the dancing. Otherwise, you lose the audience very quickly. They want to hear the story, they want to care, they want to hate you, the want to feel emotion. What will make a huge difference is what reads. It’s not a battement. It’s the emotion and the acting.

What does dancing the role of Othello mean to you?

The role Othello is really magic. It’s magic. I saw “Othello” when I was younger. Desmond (Richardson)…he’s a legend. There aren’t many that have done the role. To be asked to do it, at first it was a lot of weight. It’s huge. I feel really fulfilled. Thank you Lar. He’s a master to create such a piece. It’s a difficult role physically. It’s tense. It’s a marathon. You have to be powerful all the way to the end. 

You’re dancing with April Daly again. Do you find you’ve evolve as partners in these roles?

Of course. There’s the experience. The second shot. It’s the big problem in ballet, you get that one first shot. Now we can look back and see that we were able to do it, but the first time, it was a challenge for us. They were big roles for us. I think we were taking it a little bit too tense even though it was a good run. It was a huge risk for the Joffrey and it was a big deal. The second time around, we know we can deliver. We know what to do. We know how people reacted the first time, so we can do better. It can only go up. She knows she can trust me.

Are you nervous? Do you get nervous?

I’m a perfectionist. When I do well, I expect to do better. When I don’t get this, sometimes it really pisses me off. I want consistency. I hate roller coaster seasons. I hate roller coaster performances. I think they are the worst. I want to deliver great and above. That’s my only concern. It’s myself. I want to have always great, better, better.

Joffrey Ballet presents Lar Lubovitch’s Othello at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy. Wednesday, April 24 – Sunday, May 5. Tickets are $31-$152. Call 800.982.2787 or visit joffrey.org/othello.

*Calmels performance schedule:

Wednesday, April 24 at 7:30 pm

Friday, April 26 at 7:30 pm

Saturday, April 27 at 7:30 pm

Saturday, May 4 at 2 pm

Sunday, May 5 at 2 pm

Joffrey’s American Legends Review

Joffrey dancer Victoria Jaiani in Stanton Welch's "Son of a Chamber Symphony". Photo by Herb Migdoll.

Last night, the Joffrey Ballet opened a 10-performance run of American Legends at the Auditorium Theatre. History was in the air as legendary choreographers Jerome Robbins, Twyla Tharp and Joffrey’s own Gerald Arpino’s works took over the stage, but it was the newest work, Stanton Welch’s 2012 Son of a Chamber Symphony, that stole the show. Three stylish looks back and one big jeté forward to the future.

Robbins’ 1945 Interplay opened the show with a fast, flirty and fun piece showing the playfulness of youth. Dancers in colorful costumes zipped through the movement showcasing technical feats with huge, laughing smiles. Strong dancing from the entire cast with stand outs John Mark Giragosian performing four sequential double tours (move over OMG, new catchphrase is JMG!) and Cara Marie Gary whipping off a la secondé turns en pointe with the boys. After a short pause, Arpino’s 1962 Sea Shadow transported the audience to a secluded seaside and a dream of love. Young up-and-comers Jeraldine Mendoza and Dylan Gutierrez danced a lovely pas de deux in honor of the company co-founder’s 90th birthday year. (Happy bday Mr. A!) Her liquid bourrées enchanted, while his partnering proved strong and sure. Height difference made some of the floor work awkward, but these two will grow and thrive in these roles.

Joffrey dancer Aaron Rogers in Stanton Welch's "Son of a Chamber Symphony". Photo by Herb Migdoll.

Get in the DeLorian and fire up the flux capacitor because we are flying from the early ’60s to 2012 and beyond. Welch’s Son of a Chamber Symphony, created for and on the Joffrey dancers and set to music of the same title by John Adams, delightfully deconstructs classical ballet, turning steps, structure and the costumes inside out to create a fresh, exciting new form. Ballerinas undulate in slicing tutus hovering at the far edges of their technique. Men hang mid-air in leaps only to land and take off in a flurry of footwork. Three movements each feature a central – and stunning – pas (Amber Neumann and Matthew Adamczyk, Victoria Jaiani and Fabrice Calmels, April Daly and Temur Suluashvili) that take seemingly normal moves like a promenade and skew it on an extreme angle or by a surprising hold highlighting fierce female flexibility and ultimate trust in partnering. The square structure and choreographic edginess was reminiscent of William Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated with obvious nods to classics like Swan Lake and Giselle, yet Welch takes the dancers natural talents and pushes them to new, exciting ends.

After Welch’s wonder, going back to 1982 for Tharp’s sultry and sassy Nine Sinatra Songs provided a bit of choreographic whiplash. The cast of seven couples lead by the dashing Daly and Calmels gleefully glided through the nine sections of jazzy ballet laced with ballroom chic. Each duet had its own characters and story to tell under a gigantic, twirling disco ball. Lucas Segovia, paired with Jaiani, shown with dapper, distinguished star power and technical chameleon Elizabeth Hansen never disappoints. The dancers were lovely – sorry ladies, but those shoes are horrible! – and the audience was clearly wooed by the romance and velvet voice of Sinatra. Since the final piece was to recorded music (the previous three were accompanied by the wonderful Chicago Philharmonic) necessity dictated the order of the show. The performance would have been better served, in my opinion, if it had followed the evolutionary and chronological arc of the choreography.

 

 

 

Joffrey’s Nutcracker: Clean, Crisp, Classic

Joffrey Ballet dancers Yoshihisa Arai and Jack Thorpe-Baker battle in "the Nutcracker". Photo by Herbert Migdoll.The Joffrey Ballet‘s production of The Nutcracker still sparkles in its silver anniversary. Opening night, Friday, December 7 at the Auditorium Theatre, marked the 25th year for this particular magical tale choreographed by Joffrey co-founders Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino and the magic and choreography still hold up today. With beautiful accompaniment by the Chicago Philharmonic, under the direction of Scott Speck, this version of the holiday ballet boasts clean dancing, crisp choreography and classic storytelling.

Joffrey’s Act One is notable for its speed and depth of action, especially the Party Scene. There is a lot going on in that Victorian living room. Too much for one set of eyes to catch it all, but that also speeds the story along and sweeps you Clara’s world, so you’re ready to fight and dream right along with her. Opening night’s casting had Clara and Fritz almost as tall as their parents, a distraction from the illusion of them really being children. That uneasiness was quickly erased by the dancers commitment and enthusiasm to their characters. Caitlin Meighan was delightful, youthful and vibrant as Clara, her rapid bourrée runs full of excitement. Ricardo Santos was obstinate and ornery as Fritz before taking a star turn as the Snow Prince in the Snow Scene at the end of the Act. His lightening quick jumps and spot-on turn sequences dot the fiendishly fast Arpino choreography amid a flurry of snowflakes. Solid dancing from the entire company lets the choreography shine. I know Mr. A. liked things brisk, but the speed of this evening’s performance surely made it the fastest Nutcracker in the Midwest!

Joffrey dancers Dylan Gutierrez and April Daly in "The Nutcracker". Photo by Herbert Migdoll.

Act II transports to us to The Kingdom of Sweets where the dancers took bravuro turns in each variation. Highlights were Amber Neumann as the sassy Spanish Chocolate, the pristinely perfect Marzipan Shepherdesses (Jeraldine Mendoza, Catherine Minor and Jenny Winton) as well as Kara Zimmerman and Elizabeth Hansen as the lead flowers in Waltz. Always a crowd pleaser, the Russian Nougats (Jacqueline Moscicke, Derrick Agnoletti, Yoshihisa Arai and John Mark Giragosian) did not disappoint. Arpino’s Waltz continues to be an all-time favorite for me, however, this year incorporated some costume updates that marred the visual cohesiveness of the dance. The Sugar Plum Fairy (April Daly) and her Cavalier (Dylan Gutierrez) raised the bar with strong, stellar performances. Daly, as fresh and lovely as her month’s namesake, lit the stage with dazzling effervescence, exquisite extensions and beautiful balances. Gutierrez continues to come into his own in lead roles, establishing himself as a solid, sure partner and delivering a clean, commanding variation. These two definitely proved the saying ‘save the best for last’.

The Joffrey Ballet’s The Nutcracker runs through December 27 at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy. Tickets are $31-$132. Call 800.982.2787 or visit www.ticketmaster.com.

 

Joffrey Enthralls with Spring Desire

Joffrey Ballet dancers in Edwaard Liang's
Joffrey Ballet dancers in Edwaard Liang's
Joffrey Ballet's Fabrice Calmels & Victoria Jaiani in Edwaard Liang's
Joffrey Ballet's Fabrice Calmels & Victoria Jaiani in Edwaard Liang's
Joffrey Ballet's Fabrice Calmels & Victoria Jaiani in Edwaard Liang's
Joffrey Ballet's Fabrice Calmels & Victoria Jaiani in Edwaard Liang's
Joffrey Ballet's April Daly & Miguel Blanco in Jerome Robbins'
Joffrey Ballet's April Daly & Miguel Blance in Jerome Robbins'
Joffrey Ballet's April Daly & Miguel Blanco in Jerome Robbins'
Joffrey Ballet's Christine Rocas & Mauro Villanueva in Jerome Robbins'
Joffrey Ballet's Victoria Jaiani & Fabrice Calmels in Jerome Robbins'
Joffrey Ballet's Christine Rocas & Rory Hohenstein in Val Caniparoli's
Joffrey Ballet's Joanna Wozniak & Matthew Adamczyk in Val Caniparoli's
Joffrey Ballet's Joanna Wozniak & Matthew Adamczyk in Val Caniparoli's
Joffrey Ballet's Joanna Wozniak & Matthew Adamczyk in Val Caniparoli's
Joffrey Ballet's John Mark Giragosian & Yumelia Garcia in Val Caniparoli's
Joffrey's Ballet's Lucas Segovia in Val Caniparoli's
Joffrey Ballet's Lucas Segovia in Val Caniparoli's
Joffrey Ballet's Rory Hohenstein in Val Caniparoli's
Joffrey Ballet's Rory Hohenstein in Val Caniparoli's
Joffrey Ballet's Jeraldine Mendoza & Mauro Villanueva in Edwaard Liang's
 
1/22
 

All photography by Herbert Migdoll.

Joffrey Ballet‘s Spring Desire program, which opened Wednesday evening and runs through May 6th, lured the audience in with romantic notions, then turned up the heat with stunning displays of technical bravado and elite gracefulness.  This talented group of dancers ends the season on a high note with an impressive, progressive rep tackled and another stellar world premiere, Val Caniparoli’s Incantations.  This new work, set to music of the same title by Russian composer Alexandre Rabinovitch-Barakovsky, was a study in constant motion threading quick masterful feats (huge jumps, multiple turns and tricky partnering) with a zen-like through-line of lead couple Joanna Wozniak and Matthew Adamczyk.  Their calmness in execution of difficult partnering differed from the frenetic energy surrounding them culminating in the ending pas de deux (gorgeous!) that consolidated light and energy directly on them in ever-shrinking  revolving spirals.   Caniparoli goes against the norm by ending the multi-sectioned work on a somber calming note.  After the “shot-out-of-a-cannon” start, the audience lulled into a tantric swirl of beauty.  He takes a common jete and inverts and arm or places a hand behind the head to make it seem new.  Pirouettes ending with a swivel of the head add an edge and remind of Forsythe.  Congrats to the entire cast, choreographer, sets/costume designer (Sandra Woodall) and lighting designer (Lucy Carter) are due.

Leading the program was Edwaard Liang’s Age of Innocence originally choreographed for the company in 2008.  The large group piece inspired by the novels of Jane Austen started off a big shaky with timing and formation being a bit off, but made up for it with some stellar dancing in the smaller sections.  Jeraldine Mendoza showed that she can hold her own with the big guns in a fearless duet with Mauro Villanueva.  (She was also a stand out in Wayne McGregor’s Infra earlier this season.)  The men’s section – literally titled The Men – showed off the virtuoso talents of Raul Casasola, Aaron Rogers, Ricardo Santos and Temue Suluashvili in a spectacular game of one-upmanship.  It should be no surprise that the pas de deux by Victoria Jaiani and Fabrice Calmels (a staple for galas) was a luscious lesson in stunning lifts and exquisite partnering.  She flies across the stage at him and flings herself backward into his arms, open and vulnerable like a resting butterfly only to be pressed to the sky by her adonis of a partner.  They make everything look simple.  Simply beautiful.

Sandwiched between the two larger works was Jerome Robbins’ In The Night.  Created in 1970, it features three couples in separate pas de deux representing differing stages of love.  With live accompaniment by long-time Joffrey collaborator pianist Paul James Lewis, six of Joffrey’s top dancers transported the theater to a by-gone era.  Christine Rocas and Villaneuva, along with Jaiani and Calmels offered soft, romantic duets with a more fiery pas in between danced by April Daly and Miguel Angel Blanco.  This was Blanco’s first performance since an achilles injury took him out last season requiring two surgeries.  It was great to see him back strong and handsome.  While Robbins’ is a master (and West Side Story is my all-time favorite movie), compared to the other, more contemporary ballets on the program, In The Night seemed a bit boring.

For ticket and performance information call 800.982.2787 or visit joffrey.org/spring.

Bringing the Heat

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?”.