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Free Performances By The Joffrey


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In June, the Joffrey will treat Chicago to a week of free performances and events in the city's outdoor Millenium Park.

From the Chicago Tribune story (free registration may be required):

The lineup includes:

- A performance of mixed repertory programming at the Harris June 13.

- A program called "Tchaikovsky's Fifth and the Joffrey Ballet" (with the Joffrey performing "Afternoon of a Faun") June 14 and scenes from "Romeo and Juliet" June 16 with the Grant Park Orchestra at the Pritzker.

- High school students, working with choreographer Kimosha Murphy, performing the "South African Gumboot" dance at various times June 16, 17 and 18 in the Crown Fountain.

- An ice-cream social hosted by Joffrey dancers in costume for youngsters June 16.

- A Father's Day "Nutcracker" parade June 18 starting at Wrigley Square and winding throughout the park, with parents and kids welcomed to join.

- A special edition of the park's SummerDance program June 16 with an hourlong lesson and public dancing to a live Latin band.

- A benefit gala including a performance at the Pritzker and a host of other events June 17.

"The Harris" is the Harris Theater, which is indoors. "The Pritzker" is the outdoor Pritzker Pavilion. The Crown Fountain is a fabulous pair of huge video screens that face each other across a watery plaza; the screens show huge faces, which occasionally spit out water. (Sounds gross, but it is very, very cool, and the plaza is a gathering place for waders of all ages.)

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The week of free events kicked off last night with a reprise of the Cool Vibrations program that was performed in the spring (and will be reprised AGAIN in August at Ravinia -- this is apparently a very successful, accessible program!)

I won't review the program again -- it was substantially similar to the May performance -- but I will note that the Harris Theater was packed to capacity. This is good; I frankly wasn't sure what to expect. The audience was hugely enthusiastic; the dancers received prolongued, heartfelt applause after each piece. I got the impression that the audience was not so much applauding the particular performance as expressing their appreciation and love for the company.

The schedule for the rest of the week can be found here.

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I just returned from the final performance of the week: the 50th Anniversary Gala, performed at the outdoor Pritzker Pavilion in Millenium Park (which is the northern end of Grant Park).

On the program: excerpts from Romeo and Juliet, Pas des Déesses, Ruth: Ricordi per Due, and Celebration!

It was a somewhat bizarre experience.

When we arrived, most of the seats were roped off for the bigwigs who had paid for tickets to the Gala (which I think was a pre-performance reception and a post-performance dinner). We got three seats far back, but center stage -- then noticed the large grey box between us and the stage, which presumably shields the lighting board or something. Then noticed it is clearly designed to roll back and down. But usher said it probably wouldn't be moved, so we changed to seats farther back and over to the side. Can't see much from there: no rake. Then another usher says it definitely will be moved, so we change BACK to seats just behind where we had been. At this point, the box IS rolled back and into its home, and the sight lines are clear.

The bigwigs arrive. We have some fun ogling the fancy dresses (everyone else is in shorts and t-shirts, as it is about 85 degrees and muggy). After a bit, all the bigwigs are seated and there are still plenty of seats, so the ushers open it up to the hoi polloi. We change seats AGAIN to about 10 rows closer. The view is noticeably better.

The program begins: first an orchestral piece, and then R & J . For a while, all is lovely -- if you don't mind the visual confusion of sumptuous gold and black costumes dancing against a backdrop of a seated orchestra in black pants and white short-sleeved shirts. Then it starts to rain a bit, and the wind picks up. (Remember the scene in The Company ?) Umbrellas get opened, blankets are thrown over heads, and all the bigwigs hustle off to the protection of the side structures. Lots of other people just get up and leave. For a few minutes, the whole audience area is a-bustle and the action on stage is totally lost. Then the big grey box is rolled out of its home, and instantly we are no longer seeing Romeo AND Juliet , but Romeo OR Juliet -- whoever happens to be stage left, as the box completely obliterates the whole of stage right. We move AGAIN to seats further on the side that the bigwigs have vacated.

We get to watch most of Pas de Déesses unhindered.

Suddenly the woman in front of me vomits. Copiously.

We move further down the row.

It stops raining. In fact, it never did much more than drizzle. In dribs and drabs, the bigwigs return to the seats -- wherever they can find them, as the hoi polloi have moved in some more. I lose some concentration as I wonder if they are really annoyed at the whole thing, and what they think about Joffrey management, and whether support is going to plunge or Someday We'll All Laugh About This.

The performance ends with Celebration , which I still think is about the silliest, most random, most banal piece of choreography I've ever seen. However, the audience is appreciative and sends off the company -- by now, the whole company, some in costume and some in tuxes and gowns for the Gala -- off with a standing O.

So ... was it a colossal blunder scheduling this important event outside, in an unprotected pavilion? Or was it a really good PR move to expose all the people wandering by on this summer night to the unexpected treat of this 'foreign' artform?

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Just returned from one of the last of the free activities this week: Workout with the Joffrey, and a performance of South African Gumboot Dance in the Crown Fountain.

The Workout was fun. Former Joffrey dancer -- and now Outreach Coordinator -- Pierre Lockett led us through a fast-paced barre (sans actual barres), and then taught us part of one of the Billboards dances. This was all on the grass of the Great Lawn. There were about 100 people participating by the end, of varying ages, training, and abilities. Some had come just for the event, and some were just passersby. It was not a gentle workout, though! He ran us through the dance about 10 times nonstop, and it's a very energetic dance.

The dance in the fountain was pretty cool. It was performed by members of the Joffrey's Strobel Step-Up program, which culls the best dancers from three programs the company operates in the city schools and park district. They were clad in yellow waders and white rainboots. The dance was based on dances the miners in South Africa do. It involved lots of rhythmic clapping and slapping of feet -- and LOTS of splashing! The kids were really great. Afterwards, they invited the crowd into the fountain and Lockett taught the basic step to everyone.

All in all, this is GREAT PR for the Joffrey. I love the way they are putting themselves out in front of the city. (They've been doing these Gumboot dances every day this week, I t hink.)

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What can we add to Treefrog? Actually not much. We also saw the Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday night performances. The Harris was SRO on Tuesday but there were lots of seats open on Thursday. We were lucky Saturday night because we have permanent seats for Summer concerts so we

were close enough to see expressions on the dancers faces. Kepley, Goodman and Wilkins were great at all the performances. Off to NY to see the final weekend of City Ballet, but Joffrey did a really great job and got alot of exposure to people who ordinarily do not see Ballet. Also attend a panel discussion wednesday afternoon with some of the previous dancers of Joffrey and were telling stories of the old days with Mr. Joffrey. Did you know that Kevin McKenzie danced with the Joffrey?

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