Opening night for Joffrey’s Spring program Eclectica was Wednesday night and wow! – they really brought it to the stage. The energy in the audience, displayed by spontaneous bursts of applause, a couple shouts of brava! and a standing “o” or two, and that emanating from the dancers on stage was palpable. Whether it was the excitement of two world premieres, Spring fever or just opening night anticipation, the vibe was electric. After the obligatory pre-show announcements from Artistic Director Ashley Wheater, a video was shown with interviews of the choreographers and footage of the dancers in rehearsal. This glimpse into the work involved in creating the evening’s performance added a feeling of inclusiveness and understanding for those that often – for whatever reason – choose not to read their program before the show begins. (And let’s face it, opening night tends to be a hodge-podge of staff, board members, donors, press, fellow dancers, etc that are more interested in being seen and catching up than reading the preliminary facts before curtain.) Mr. Wheater talking about Mr. Arpino and his vision gave words to an ever-present spirit in the theater, most notably felt by the empty seat in Box 1, stage left.
Arpino’s Reflections started the program with the pared down accompaniment of just a piano and cello (live). A neoclassical delight with fast pointe work, a blizzard of turning combinations directed down center toward the audience (the “spot” light got a work out) and eight sections of pure dancing for the fun of it, showed off the Joffrey’s technique in classic Mr. A style. There were a few opening night adrenaline wobbles in the first few sections, but overall the dancers delivered a bright, energetic piece. The pas de deux with Victoria Jaiani and Fabrice Calmels was…like butter. Ms. Jaiani’s extensions, floating port de bras and waif-like frame were an exquisite pairing with Mr. Calmels, whose flawless partnering skills made her every move seem effortless. When the three men danced together, the timing was slightly off on the jumps, but considering the size/height difference, it was understandable. Some stand outs: April Daly – every time she’s on stage, she gets better and better; Anastacia Holden – her smile lights up the whole place; and Valerie Robin – her strength, technique and timing are outstanding.
World premiere #1: Jessica Lang’s Crossed. Set to music inspired by religion with moving set pieces that formed random right angles (or crosses) and the same configurations displayed prominently on the costumes, this piece was strangely not religious. Certainly there were religious undertones and overtones, but it wasn’t about that. For me, at least, it was about the dancing. By far the audience favorite, Crossed came across as a joyous tribute to movement. The dancers I spoke with prior to the show were very excited about this piece. One of them stating that the movement was so gratifying that it was one of his favorite ballets to dance. That is a wonderful tribute to the choreographer and the fact the dancers were so into it really made the piece shine.
World premiere #2: James Kudelks’a Pretty BALLET. The first image you see when the curtain goes up is a ballerina held in a horizontal position over the head of her partner. The lights are dark, the back drop is dark and she is in a white, romantic tutu with red pointe shoes. She looks dead or asleep, held aloft in the silence. It is quite dramatic and one cannot deny the intended splash of color on her feet and its ties to the ballet movie that doesn’t end so well. In the opening video montage, Kudelka says that in creating this ballet he is “trying to take care of the muse”. The music, Bohuslav Marinu’s Symphony No. 2, sounds like a Danny Elfman soundtrack to a Tim Burton movie. In fact, the entire piece seemed Burton-esque (I half expected strange looking creatures to start coming out of the wings) with a little Giselle and Les Sylphides thrown in for good measure. Again, the timing of the dancers was off in the ensemble movements, but for once, I didn’t mind. Another wonderful duet involving Ms. Jaiani, this time partnered by Miguel Angel Blanco, was the stand out in the ballet that ended with the cast around the couple in the same lift as the opening, but with the ballerina moving her arms and feet in a trance-like way, like she was walking on air.
The “all stars/no stars” policy that makes this company unique gives all the dancers a chance at a good part. It is not only fair, but lifts the level of dancing across the board. Each dancer brings their own style to the table, which you can clearly see on the stage. I think that’s why the timing issues didn’t bother me. By definition it is a troupe that is most comfortable in not being the in sync corps. The evening lived up to its name. One of the reasons the Joffrey is so beloved is their tendency to really push the envelope of what they present. That had been lacking in recent years, but Mr. Wheater & Co. really made some bold, interesting choices for Eclectica that, I think, really paid off. Kudos! I can’t wait to see it again.