Joffrey’s Stars are Rising

The Joffrey Ballet wowed the crowd last week on opening night of its Rising Stars program.  It’s always thrilling to be present for opening night of a world premiere (or two!), especially at the Auditorium Theatre.  There is an electricity in the air that is undeniable and contagious and this show was nothing short of astounding.  From the exciting, innovative choreography to every single dancer on the stage, Joffrey proved that it’s still shooting for the stars.

Amber Neumann, Joanna Wozniak & Christine Rocas in "Night". Photo by Herbert Migdoll.

The first star of the night was Anastacia Holden in Julia Adam’s Night.  Always a strong, bright presence, Holden was literally glowing in the lead of this dreamscape, with her smile lighting up the night.  (My notes actually say, “Go Stacia!”)  Adam underutilized the male dancers – in my opinion – by having them as secondary scenery like being the bed, waves and a fleeting romantic interest.  (Although I must say that seeing Michael Smith doing “the worm” made my night.)  Partway through, three females enter from stage left, upper bodies wrapped together in a sheer oval cloth.  It reminded me of the three witches from Macbeth.  Perhaps the dreamer had been reading a little Shakespeare before bed.  Strong in pointe work and intense in delivery, these three ladies created an ominous presence that fueled the dream.  One particularly nice section had Holden and partner Dylan Gutierrez dancing in slow motion, while everyone else was up tempo.  The piece ended with Holden climbing up her “bed” and jumping off backwards into the blackout, a nod to that falling dream I think every one of us has had.

Fabrie Calmels and Valerie Robin in "Bells". Photo by Herbert Migdoll.

Yuri Possokhov’s Bells (loved it!) brought out the fine-tuned technique and fierceness of the dancers.  Minimally clad in red pants (men) and leotards (women) as a base and adding various forms of a sheer white fabrice to accent certain sections, the costumes were edited to fit each part.  Open shirts for the men in a masculine, bravura section.  Red riding hood-esque hooded capes for flirty female trio.  Poufy ballet skirts with balls for another and for the duets, the pairs were stripped down to the bare essentials.  Not to overshadow the outstanding dancing, but the choreography and the costumes really showcased the extreme physicality of these ten artists.  (*Please note:  it takes balls to get up on stage in pink tights and pointe shoes.  It takes balls of steel to get on stage with NO tights and pointe shoes!)  There were no weak links in Bells.  I loved the pairing of Matthew Adamczyk and Yumelia Garcia.  Caitlin Meighan and Amber Neumann (who was in every piece and fearless!) showed that they are definitely ones to watch.  John Mark Giragosian was on fire!  Even the standard “stars” of Joffrey were in rare form.  Valerie Robin (one of my favorites for years) and Fabrice Calmels (audience favorite extraordinaire) were paired in a lovely duet that really showed her strength, control and physical prowess and his effortless, rock solid partnering.  Another duet had Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili together, which was a rare treat.  At one point, in a fast five-couple section, the women were sliding en point from side to side in front of the men…say what?  Then men were controlling the slides by holding on to the back of their

Victorial Jaiani & Temur Suluashvili in "Bells". Photo by Herbert Migdoll.

leotards!  Of the many memorable moments of the piece, the closing image stole the show.  A tender duet where the man and woman alternately placed a hand over the other’s mouth, deflecting a kiss.  It ended with a tender, impassioned kiss by real-life husband and wife Jaiani and Suluashvili.

If Possokhov’s Bells solidified the troupe’s rise to the top of their field, then Edwaard Liang’s Woven Dreams rocketed Joffrey to into the atmosphere.  I saw Liang before the show and he seemed happy and excited.  On stage for the bows, he was beaming with pride.  His seven-movement piece was smart, fresh and challenging.  This work seemed to push the dancers past previous boundaries and they came out on the other side quicker, cleaner and more self-assured.  They made it look easy and the choreography was anything but easy.  Normally I like to give a few shout outs to the dancers that stood out to me, but in this case, I should just print the entire cast list.  The two pas by

Liang's "Woven Dreams". Photo by Herbert Migdoll.

Jaiani and Calmels were, as usual, stunning (her develope is to-die-for!) and another with Suluashvili and Christine Rocas (originally created on April Daly and Miguel Blanco) was at once sultry and pristine.  The other star of this piece was the large woven fabric that stretched across the stage.

The through-line of the show is San Francisco Ballet.  Joffrey Artistic Director Ashley Wheater (member), Possokhov (member & choreographer in residence), Adam (member & choreographer) and Liang (choreographer) all have ties to the West Coast company.  There are critics that think Joffrey is turning into “San Francisco Ballet Midwest” and losing the sense of style that made it unique.  I disagree.  This show, to me, was quintessential Joffrey, maybe not in the Joffrey/Arpino aesthetic sense, but it was exactly what the company was built on:  presenting world-class vibrant work and pushing the envelope…always.  Even if it is Wheater’s vision now, “Bob” and “Mr. A” would be proud.

Rising Stars runs through May 15th.  Get thee to the Auditorium Theatre…pronto!  Tickets:  800.982.2787,

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