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'Game Changers' mixed bill


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This program began with Wheeldon ('Fool's Paradise') and continued with McGregor's 'Infra' and Peck's 'Year of the Rabbit.' Joffrey has done 'Fool's Paradise' before, several years ago, but I believe this performance was better. Victoria Jaiani did the adagio pas de deux with her usual partner Temur Suliashvili, with beautiful extension, off-center turns and elasticity; April Daly and Fabrice Calmels, who must be the company's best partner--he is quite tall, with big hands which seem infallible in putting a ballerina on her leg--were marvelous in the central pas. Daly's cambres and backbends were especially fluid. Amanda Assucena, a young rising star from Rio who like several other women is dancing principal roles in all three ballets this rep. was incandescent in the solo female role in the pas de trois. The final scuptural pose is one of Wheeldon's best moments.


'Infra' has interesting steps--McGregor's movement vocabulary is complex, with twitches and jerks as well as slightly altered classical steps, sometimes simultaneously--and, unfortunately, a dreadful LED display above the stage, rather like a marquee from hell, with figures walking along it. Not only does this detract from the choreography's impact, which could be considerable, it is garish and hurts the eyes as one tries to focus on the dancers--who are less brightly lit, for dog only knows what reason. When all six couples are doing difficult and intricate steps simultaneously, as they do in one of the ballet's high points, the last thing on earth we need is a visual handicap while trying to watch them all closely. The electrical distortions in the score, which may be intended to be trains braking but sounded like the sound engineer was screwing up, hardly improved the ballet. This ballet is said to have been 'inspired' by the 2005 London subway terrorist attacks, which may be the case but which certainly does not make scenic and auditory excrescences useful or necessary.  In this ballet Assucena and her partner were superb in the third pas de deux--which seems to treat a tragic and doomed love--and Assucena's collapse behind the entire cast walking slowly across the stage was moving. Yoshihisa Arai's solos , as they were in the Peck, were brilliant. It almost seems that McGregor is uncertain of the effect of his chorography and chooses to add obvious 'dramatic' schticks to try to produce something harder-hitting. It's a mistake.


I had only seen one Peck ballet, which I was underwhelmed by, so was interested to see 'Year of the Rabbit.' I liked the ballet very much; the dancing is flashy, fun, interesting, and the corps groupings and general corps work are extremely strong. One sees some Balanchinean bits but no literal imitation, and a ton of originality in groupings of soloists against the corps. The female soloist role was for Ashley Bouder, and one can see exactly why; Anastacia Holden here burned up the stage in every passage she danced. Arai was equally good in the male soloist role. Jeraldine Mendoza danced the role made on Teresa Reichlen, and though she is much more petite than Reichlen her elegance and ability to make any step look its best served her well. The motif which often recurs of the principal woman doing a lifted arabesque with a kind of arm salute --which is also echoed by the corps--was particularly striking, both from Mendoza and Holden. Assucena, in yet another principal part, was exquisite in the largest pas de deux, essentially the adagio, near the end. (This part was made on Janie Taylor, who staged the ballet.) She has high extensions which appear unforced and natural, and is only about twenty-one years old; every performance she gives seems to make new strides. Alberto Velazquez was her excellent partner. The whole company danced with huge verve, elan, and scale in this ballet, and appeared to be having an absolutely tremendous time doing it.

Edited by jsmu
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I saw this program as well and agree with your review. The dancers certainly made with best of the music and lighting in Infra. I was squinting to try to focus on the dancers. I too enjoyed Yosh's solo, despite the cracking static he was performing to. I hope the Joffrey retires this piece for a long time.

Edited by chicagoballetomane
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Having attended on Thursday the 23rd and Friday the 24th, I'm in general agreement with my two predecessors here, especially their ranking order of the three ballets.  Wheeldon is capable of beautiful effects, but both his and McGregor's dances often seemed arbitrary, unmotivated - I like to see what I hear, one way or another - and, especially McGregor's, busy and lacking point.  Wheeldon's last construction, with the girl on top just lifted up there and held there, epitomized his procedure, not that there were no admirable phrases or passages along the way.  (Polyphonia remains my favorite of the few Wheeldon ballets I've seen.)


On my second visit I could focus my attention to much better effect all the way through - the luminous promenade above Infra was just as visible the second time but no longer a distraction, just defining a performance space below it, which I looked into steadily.  The first time, I kept checking back for some relations among the movements, above and below.  Uh, uh.


As in Wheeldon's new The Nutcracker a couple of months ago, the Joffrey dancers were so differently good in these two different ballets, they made me want to see them in something better; betting on Peck's Rabbit was what got me into the Auditorium, and right away it was the payoff I'd hoped for.  And then some.  And then some more.  A lot more.  


But never too much, nowhere near too much:  It's all constantly rearranged in fresh and refreshing ways, like a high-speed kaleidoscope, as Tobi Tobias put it; as a long-time professional critic, she also found specific references to Balanchine and others I was less concerned to look for, but all the same, I was struck by the final tableau, when the music becomes more deeply dramatic and Peck arranges his stage into two parallel diagonal lines of dancers forming an alley for his soloist to fly down - and be lifted by three men waiting upstage, heroically, joyfully, facing us - arms up in a V, this time, not back, as in the end of Serenade.


The dancers excelled themselves here - having attended the presentation before Thursday's performance, I learned from AD Ashley Wheater's remarks that not only had Janie Taylor set the work (as jsmu mentions in his comprehensive account) but afterward, Peck had come to give the movement quality, the bright crispness (my phrase, not Wheater's).  And there were other - what I might call Balanchinesque virtues, not absent in other choreographers' work, though not the other ones on view here - the way you can always see all of the dancers, what Edwin Denby called Balanchine's "luminous spacing," and the way much of the shape of the flow of the movement, not only its quality and substance, is directed from within the music.   


Yes, put McGregor away, please - and let's see what else Justin Peck can do!  


Edited by Jack Reed
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