Joffrey Ballet of Chicago

October 11, 2001

Deanne Brown was one of three Chosen Ones in the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago’s production of Le Sacre du printemps.
Photo by Herbert Migdoll

The Joffrey Ballet of Chicago

The Auditorium Theatre
Chicago, Illinois

October 11?14, 2001

Reviewed by Daniel Gesmer

Despite ongoing controversy over the reconstruction of his “lost” choreography, one hopes that ballet legend Vaslav Nijinsky would have been impressed with the American flair that the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago has spun on three of his works. In 1987 it became the first company in more than seventy years to stage his 1913 masterpiece, Le Sacre du printemps, bravely and painstakingly excavated by the London-based husband-and-wife team of Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer.

For its seventh season since moving from New York to Chicago, the Joffrey dusted off its Sacre revival and the groundbreaking 1912 L’Après-midi d’un faune (long in repertoire) and added the 1996 Hodson-Archer reconstruction of Jeux to create the first all-Nijinsky evening ever seen in America. In the newly restored Auditorium Theatre, the event, called “The Nijinsky Mystique,” made for big news in the Windy City.

The program opened with the American premiere of Jeux, Nijinsky’s 1913 exploration of three-way courtship dynamics set during a nocturnal tennis match. The opening night cast consisted of gifted veteran Deborah Dawn (the only artist who remains from the 1987 world premiere of the Sacre reconstruction), Maia Wilkins, and Willy Shives. The Joffrey made the ballet’s abstract story line of triangular seduction more palpable and transparent than its previous interpreters in Italy and London, though the emboldened pelvic undulations and artful facial expressiveness may have overstepped Nijinsky’s original plan and diluted the work’s political suggestiveness. In the second cast, Calvin Kitten captured an enigmatic resignation evoked in the surviving photographs of Nijinsky in the role.

“The Nijinsky Mystique” continued with the version of Faune passed down by Nijinsky to a succession of early interpreters and preserved by Elizabeth Schooling from Ballet Rambert, the first group to produce the work after Diaghilev. The Joffrey’s reverent, powerful reading spoke of supreme confidence in a ballet that has been in repertoire since 1979. The concluding masturbatory movements (the cause of a legendary scandal in 1912) were somewhat overstated. But company star Davis Robertson gave a rare and inspired performance that perfectly balanced the Faun’s innocence and curiosity with animal grace and power and the discovery of potent desire. Trinity Hamilton beautifully evoked the Chief Nymph’s complex mixture of fear, curiosity, and ambiguous longing.

The concert concluded with the ever-tectonic Sacre. With sets and costumes from their original 1987 production, the Joffrey confidently made the movement crisp, big, and strong. It seems to be the Joffrey’s own ballet, a cornerstone of their lineage and identity.

Apart from the Chosen One’s solo, it is difficult to critique Sacre as dancing per se. The primal, percussive, turned-in movement vocabulary makes any traditional sense of line obsolete and must create terrible challenges for group synchronization. One cannot cease to marvel at Nijinsky’s invention, made while he was barely in his 20s, of utterly unique and internally coherent movement styles for each of the three ballets on the Joffrey bill.

Three brave women shared the role of the Chosen One, the young maiden who must dance herself to death?Wilkins, Taryn Kaschock, and Deanne Brown. In the second cast, Brown briefly struck an interesting and understandable note of anger regarding her fate, something not clearly seen with previous interpreters. In the third cast, Wilkins began the solo with a light, girlish quality and underwent an impressive transition to underscore the deathly drama.

On October 13, Hodson and Archer lectured at the Art Institute of Chicago about Nijinsky’s artistry onstage (as a dancer and choreographer) and offstage (as a visual artist). From October 5?19, Chicago’s Columbia College Art Gallery displayed noted dance photographer Herbert Migdoll’s “The Chosen One,” an interactive mixed-media installation based on his photographs of the Joffrey’s original Chosen One, Beatriz Rodriguez.