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The Joffrey Ballet

By Lynn Colburn Shapiro

The Joffrey Ballet
Auditorium Theatre
Chicago, IL
May 4, 2011
Reviewed by Lynn Colburn Shapiro

 

Edwaard Liang's Woven Dreams. Photo by Herbert Migdoll. Courtesy Joffrey.


Dreams, dreamers, and phantasms populated the Joffrey's “Rising Stars” spring season. The program featured two world premieres, Woven Dreams by Edwaard Liang and Bells by Yuri Possokhof, and the company premiere of Julia Adam’s Night (2000).


Master dream-weaver Liang knit all elements—from Jeff Bauer’s magnificent set piece to music by Britten, Ravel, Gallasso, and Gorecki—into a seamless wonder of abstract ballet built around the multi-layered concept of weaving. Bauer’s fabric web crisscrossed the entire stage, a constant visual reminder of Liang’s theme. It served alternately as canopy, backdrop, and giant prop, ingeniously changing levels and angles to alter spatial design and mirror the dancers’ movement. Jack Mehler’s lighting caught Bauer’s irridescent blue costumes like threads dashing across the loom.

 

Fabrice Calmels and Victoria Jaiani began the first of two brilliant duets suspended from the upstage web. Attitude lifts en tournant took one’s breath away as the two appeared to levitate in tandem against the backdrop of the web. In their second pas de deux, Calmels and Jaiani wrapped themselves around each other, her pliant spine practically singing longing and passion. Liang’s startling use of rhythm in a quintet for men, set to the familiar pizzicato section of Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, transformed the music with visual surprises, including a series of death-defying falls from tours en l’air. As the piece built to its finale, the full ensemble returned to a darkly driven tango feel. Couples, women draped backwards on the men, formed weird creatures of interwoven body parts. The work culminated in a return to the circular formation of the beginning, the web’s ceiling descending over the dancers in a dramatic finish.


Possokhov’s Bells, set to Rachmaninov, evoked his Russian roots. Folk forms—snapping fingers, flexing feet, crossing arms—invaded contemporary ballet movement like phantoms of the past. Weeping arms and distressed postures alternated with frolicsome group sequences. Of particular note was the duet danced by Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili. Jaiani’s incredible lightness and elasticity were part of her character in this dialogue of abandon and submission. She used her extraordinary technical facility and range of expression to create the drama of conflict, not simply transcending technique but elevating it to sublime expression. A spectacular lift sent her flying, until Suluashvili caught her in a breathtaking moment that defied belief, an exquisite instant of human interaction.

 

Adam’s Night provided light entertainment, with Anastacia Holden as a fresh young sleep-dancer journeying through a night of dream encounters with men in fluffy blue faun-pants. Intriguing ensemble patterns, while fun to watch, became a steady-state experience and ultimately disappointed with their lack of development. Matthew Pierce’s music, which did build drama, wasn’t enough.