The Joffrey Ballet
The Auditorium Theater
April 28–May 9, 2010
Reviewed by Lynn Colburn Shapiro
Crossed. Photo by Herbert Migdoll, Courtesy The Joffrey.
“Eclectica” is an apt title for The Joffrey Ballet’s spring program, which included two world premieres that mixed innovation with reverence for tradition. Gerald Arpino’s lyrical Reflections (1971) served as a prelude to Jessica Lang’s ecclesiastic Crossed, a meditation on faith, and James Kudelka’s Pretty BALLET, a personal essay on his love affair with the classics. Together these works charged the evening with a diversity of style, music, and movement, while complimenting each other in a provocative blend of modern and ballet.
In Crossed, massive vertical and horizontal panels (designed by Lang herself) slowly traverse the stage in their own choreographed patterns, defining physical boundaries and evoking religious symbolism. Their movement heightens the impact of the choreography, alternately devotional and celebratory, set to the spiritual music of Mozart, Handel, and Josquin des Pres. The theme of the cross echoes throughout: whole groups crossing each other in sweeping rushes, crossed arms, crisscrossed hands, even the cruciform bands bisecting the women’s long-sleeved dresses and men’s shirts. Gestures of penitence and supplication draw on the archaic dance forms favored by Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey. But the stylized hands with fingers pressed together, parallel arms hugging the torso with elbows bent backwards, flexed-foot extensions, and breathy suspensions never overwhelmed Lang’s own inventiveness.
Mirroring the musical canon of Gregorian chant, Lang’s bare-chested male quintet, led by Fabrice Calmels, created its own stunning gothic architecture. Their longing for salvation was in direct dialogue with the towering icon of faith suspended above them. Lang unleashed the raw expressiveness of Victoria Jaiani and Valerie Robin in a compelling duet. These superb classical ballerinas performed a liturgy of falls, contractions, wrenched fingers, and torso isolations with authority and dramatic depth.
Where Lang’s work integrates modern dance idioms with balletic form, James Kudelka calls on Giselle and friends to waft throughout Pretty BALLET. Ethereal Wilis in long white tutus usher in the spirit of ballet past, danced by Jaiani. She enters born aloft by a chorus of men, a slim blood-red band across her bodice and red pointe shoes distinguishing her from the other women. In a breathtaking performance, she comes to life for an exquisite duet with Miguel Angel Blanco, only to recede again into a doll-like apparition in her living museum of sylph memories.
Kudelka conjures a cinematic surrealism, accentuated by a black cyclorama and white clouds. The women’s lyricism contrasts with the men’s geometric movement, as torso swings and body thrusts punctuate classical vocabulary. The piece gives the Joffrey dancers ample room to show off their technical brilliance, especially in the harlequin motif of Movement III, where tours, beats, and sissonnes abound. The curtain lowers on the silent perpetual motion of windmill arms and repetitive leaps, as Giselle is raised up once again, surely not dead, but merely asleep until the magic or the magician rouses her again.