Joffrey Ballet

March 16, 2000

The Joffrey Ballet in Massine’s Les Présages.
Photo by Herbert M. Migdoll, courtsey of the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago

Joffrey’s Vibrant Revivals

The Joffrey Ballet of Chicago
Auditorium Theatre

Chicago, Illinois

March 16?26, 2000

Reviewed by Ann Barzel

Artistic Director Gerald Arpino of the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago routinely arranges satisfying programs that include premieres and astutely chosen revivals from the company’s treasure trove of 225 ballets by eighty-five choreographers. This season gave a historical perspective of Russian ballet of the twentieth century: Nijinsky’s L’Après-Midi d’un Faune (1912, music?Debussy, design?Bakst); George Balanchine’s The Prodigal Son (1929, Prokofiev, Roualt); and Leonide Massine’s Les Présages (1933, Tchaikovsky, Masson).

Ballet revivals by the Joffrey are meticulous; attention is given to every aspect of production. For Faune, the languid pace and the decor contributed to the atmosphere; one almost felt the shimmering heat of a summer afternoon. In the piece very little happens, and the action is slow and clearly defined. The authenticity of this production made one realize how and why this ballet was so revolutionary.

Balanchine’s Prodigal Son, a Joffrey premiere, was created by the very young Russian who was adapting himself to sophisticated Paris. The grotesqueries of the sinister outside world, the wanton Siren, the clever décor were all marks of “Diaghilev Ballet.” The Joffrey successfully recreated a remarkably accurate production of the style. In the role of the Prodigal, Calvin Kitten gave a powerful performance as the wayward lad eager to taste the excitement of the outside world. His return, broken and contrite, was poignant and dramatic. Deborah Dawn and Trinity Hamilton, alternating in the role of the Siren, succeeded in making that villainess lascivious rather than grossly sexy.

With its huge dancing cast, Massine’s Les Présages was a revelation to a generation of dance aficionados accustomed to the economies of their time. Massine’s choreographic innovations and excellence were clarified by the Joffrey’s strong technical dancing. Dawn as Passion and Maia Wilkins as Action and were adept in the memorable leading roles, and Guoping Wang as Fate was a standout in a role that was not so noticeable in the early productions.

The second week included revivals of Balanchine’s Square Dance (1957, Corelli and Vivaldi), Limón’s The Moor’s Pavane (1949, Purcell), Alwin Nikolais’s Tensile Involvement (1953, sound score), and Arpino’s rock ballet Trinity (1970). Parts of Trinity’s score by Alan Raph and Lee Holdridge had been distorted by the improvisations of prominent percussionists during the heyday of the ballet, and for this revival of Trinity, Raph restored the original parts.

Instead of the usual taped music, audiences enjoyed a full orchestra for Moor’s Pavane and Trinity, conducted by longtime musical director Allan Lewis, and a live string ensemble on stage for Square Dance. Also, there were the angelic voices of the Chicago Children’s Choir for passages of Trinity.

The Joffrey revival of Square Dance included not only the requisite speed, but also exquisitely correct classical dancing, especially by principal Tracy Julias.

Limón’s masterpiece, The Moor’s Pavane, was clearly that as a “variation on the theme of Othello.” Cornel Crabtree moved beautifully and strongly as the Moor’s Friend; newcomer Domingo Rubio was the quick-tempered Moor; Wilkins and Suzanne Lopez alternated as the innocent Desdemona. Dawn, remembered for her Juliet in the Joffrey’s long-ago three-act Romeo and Juliet, had the versatility to shine here as the dramatic wife of the Friend.

The multimedia Tensile Involvement was exciting and amusing in its clever use of devices, and it was wisely short?eight minutes. Elastic streamers attached to the ceiling were woven into geometric figures by lithe dancers, moving athletically to the pleasant sound score. The super-supple soloists were Michael Levine and Taryn Kaschock, alternating with Pierre Lockett and Emily Patterson.

Intrinsically a powerful work, Trinity did not seem dated, and the audience demanded and was granted encores. Throughout there were high-decibel performances by the large cast. Lockett, Davis Robertson and Patrick Simonello were memorable in leading parts. An especially attractive dancer in the piece, Jennifer Goodman started her career with the company’s arrival in Chicago in 1995 and has developed into a versatile company artist.

Excellent revivals are always due in part to an excellent rehearsal staff, balletmasters and mistresses, here Mark Goldweber, Cameron Basden, Charthel Arthur and Adam Sklute, all former dancers with the company.