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Joffrey Winter Program


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What a bizarre little program! Something for everyone to love, and, I imagine, something for everyone to loathe.

The opener was Kettentanz, Gerald Arpino’s homage to Austrian social dance. Within a few seconds, the words “froth” and “eye candy” popped into my mind. I found the choreography silly and uninspiring, with much posturing and mannerisms. Which is not to say it wasn’t technically challenging. Indeed, some parts looked fiendishly difficult, but to what end? A few of the dancers struggled to keep up, and even if done technically brilliantly it would not have been particularly pleasing. The backwards bourées by the solo female (Christine Rocas) still stunned me, as they did seven years ago, but I’m afraid the rest of my tastes have changed. (I like to think they are more informed now.)

Okay, so can you tell which one I loathed? However, it was the favorite of the eight-year-old sitting near me.

Mobile (choreography Tomm Ruud/music Aram Khachaturian) was visually stunning and contemplative. Reminiscent of a piece by MOMIX or Pilobolus, it featured one man and two women in ever-changing counterbalanced poses. Lovely; like a palate cleanser.

Balanchine’s Hand of Fate pas de deux from Cotillon closed the first half. Though perfectly ably danced by Victoria Jaiani and Thomas Nicholas, it felt like what it was: a snippet from a longer piece. Lacking any context – and having arrived too late to read the program notes -- we were left scratching our heads. Our party agreed we wanted to see more of those gorgeous women in the colorful costumes: who were they, and where did they go? (Those of you who have ‘known’ me since the start of my ballet journey will, I hope, understand my satisfaction at having actually identified this as Balanchine in the opening movements.)

The entirety of the second half was taken up by Le Sacre du Printemps. Or, nearly the entirety. We actually were treated to a video introduction. How weird is that? It was actually very well done, if a bit self-congratulory and hyperbolic (Ashley Wheater saying something like “this dancer literally sacrifices herself by dancing to exhaustion – which, of course, every dancer does in every performance.”). My guest, who had never seen Sacre before, found the introduction helpful, both in interpreting the action and explaining the deviation from classical dance. She said she understood how such a warning – for that’s what it really was – would forestall, if not riots, at least customers leaving unhappy and feeling cheated. I thought it was also useful to reveal that the choreography is a re-creation, a best guess, and to put the ballet in historical context vis a vis the Ballet Russes.

I liked the dance. I liked the interweavings and counterpositionings of the different groups and their different movement sets. Hard to call it ballet, but very satisfying at some core level.

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Thanks, Treefrog. It does seem like odd programming. I was also suprised to see, from the company website, that they are doing only 9 performances of the program. Is this the usual run in Chicago nowadays?

The video you describe sounds like the one that you can click to from the home page of the website:


Wheater sounds quite articulate. A small warning light flickered in my brain, however, when I saw that the home page is already touting his "visionary leadership." Right now it sounds as though things are still pretty much in the visionary stage.

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We apparently have short attention spans or shallow pockets here in the heartland, as nine performances it is. This has been standard for many years.

Yes, that's the video -- minus an interesting introduction that places this ballet in the context of the Ballet Russe and its other cutting-edge productions (e.g. Parade), and plus some annoying ad-type stuff.

My mistake, though -- the quote I attributed to Wheater is actually made by Millicent Hodson.

Nice views of the new Joffrey studios! (By the way -- this is totally off topic -- in real life one can from street level see students at the barre in the third-floor Academy studios. From a crowded downtown intersection. A little creepy, but mostly cool.)

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I respectfully disagree with Treefrog's "thumbs down" to Kettentanz. I think Gerald Arpino cleverly set these Strauss waltzes and polkas - simple, popular dances - on his contemporary ballet dancers in a way that does come off -- well, simple and broadly appealing. But isn't that appropriate for the material? I think that's one of Arpino's signature strengths as a choreographer: his ability to get to the heart of the music and weave his keen musicality with emotion, the unorthodox, and a nod to populism. In Kettentanz, he constructed short, classical (or should I say neo-classical?) variations for his company, which tended not to do the big story ballets.

At any rate, in this program these balletic divertisements were a welcome balance for me, especially placed at the beginning. I'm happy to see the recent technical growth evidenced by the young dancers under Ashley Wheater. He is willing to take chances through his multiple castings -- and the Joffrey audience will reap the benefits of this increasingly over the coming years.

I do agree about the odd insertion of the Cotillon pas de deux/excerpt. It was difficult for me to appreciate this scene out of context.

I hope audience members appreciated the physical marathon that the "Chosen One" endures during a performance of Sacre.

I thought The Chicago Sinfonietta did a fine job with Sacre.

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