The mixed rep Joffrey is currently presenting is an unusually good program (Stravinsky Violin Concerto, Tarantella, After the Rain, and The Concert), and the two performances I saw featured many youngish and promising dancers. Sadly, the orchestra is even worse than most modern orchestras; the soloist in the Stravinsky is utterly unequal to any of the piece's varied demands, from fingered tenths (which became out of tune ninths) to G-string acrobatics to accents, and Tarantella was played at a tempo so execrably slow and dull--it was essentially a PRACTICE tempo-- that I'm not sure even Villella and McBride could have saved it. That said--the dancing is good and worth seeing even under these circumstances. The gorgeous, opulent, and extraordinarily gracious Auditorium Theater would be worth seeing just for itself, in fact.
Wheater, who purged several 'older' dancers shortly after his arrival two years ago, is giving many of his younger dancers opportunities: the first week featured five (yes, five) different women as the Tarantella ballerina. I saw Anastacia Holden with John Mark Giragosian, who were both horribly impeded by the dreadful lack of speed (her turning sequence of piques and front attitudes was completely hung out to dry, for example) and who wisely decided near the end to forgo trying to be 'on the music'; I was sorry not to see more of the virtuosity of which I suspect Holden is particularly capable. The brief applause was the most lukewarm reception I have ever heard this ballet given, and it was not the dancers' fault. Allison Walsh and Derrick Agnoletti in the same roles were more brilliant (Walsh is perhaps the company's best woman jumper, and has strong feet as well), and I belive would be dazzling with an acceptable musical partnership--but again, we certainly did not see everything they had. Agnoletti has the kind of fire which is eminently appropriate in a Villella role.
After the Rain is a ballet which I have trouble imagining without Wendy Whelan in its central pas de deux; Victoria Jaiani, however, was nearly as good as Whelan: stretchy, long, elastic, daring, with beautiful line and bearing. Tall and prepossessing Fabrice Calmels was an admirable partner in every way and even made the stupid costume (modified sweat pants and bare chest) look less silly. Jaiani and April Daly danced leading roles in three of the four ballets (Jaiani in the Mazzo role in Stravinsky, Daly in the von Aroldingen) and Daly was also excellent in one of the supporting roles in the Wheeldon.
Daly was less good in the difficult gymnastics of the von Aroldingen role (this requires a steely technique)than Valerie Robin; Robin showed more attack and a bit more of the angularity of the accents. Christine Rocas was lovely in the Mazzo role, but she holds her shoulders badly, which is extremely noticeable in a part made on a dancer whose upper body was ravishing. Jaiani, much taller than Mazzo, had lyricism to spare in the part, and looked great in the passage with the four men; Mauro Villanueva, dancing the Martins role opposite Rocas, was brilliant in his opening 'variation' and showed tremendous verve. This is such a great ballet that one wishes profoundly for performers of the stature of Samuel Dushkin and Serge Koussevitzky with the Boston Symphony, who gave the American premiere.
The Concert is fairly sure-fire, but it can often be funnier and this was the case in both performances here. Jaiani has a willowy quality much like photos of Tanaquil LeClercq; she is very appealing and engaging as a slightly swacked 'diva' ballerina, especially in the opening penche on the piano and when she clings to the piano after her chair is summarily removed. Daly was good in the Queen of the Wilis bit near the end; Miguel Angel Blanco was EXCELLENT as the Husband and clearly has wonderful technique both comedically and balletically. The ensemble missed several opportunities for hilarity, notably in the Mistake Waltz, which requires split-second correct timing to work properly, and the umbrella passage to the E minor Prelude. However, the audience was warm, amused, and vocal in its appreciation of the humor, and this program is something worth a trip to see.
Joffrey "All Stars" (October repertory program)
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