Mainly unadorned, the shapes and sinews of the dozen dancers move with such complexity and in such configurations as to leave us breathless.
There were four ballets new to Chicago or the United States on the program. The most anticipated was “Liturgy” by the country’s hottest choreographer, Christopher Wheeldon, who directed and choreographed Broadway’s “An American in Paris,” now running to rave reviews (and a slew of Tony Award nominations).
In this Chicago premiere, dancers April Daly and Dylan Gutierrez thread their limbs together in strange shapes and curious curves creating an organic pas de deux. The dance begins in shadows, suggesting prototypes. Under the spell of Arvo Part‘s relentless “Fratres,” however, a flesh and blood relationship unfolds. They tangle, mesh, separate. However graceful, this pairing is far from easy. Still as the stage fades to black, the connection continues. Even in darkness, the relationship goes on.
If there is an iconic pair in the Joffrey troupe, it is Victoria Jaiani and Fabrice Calmels, she so lithe her movements seem to be liquid, he at six-foot-six named the world’s tallest ballet dancer by the Guinness Book of World Records last year. The ballet “Evenfall” was set on them, plus Anastacia Holden and Derrick Agnoletti, who play the couple in their younger years as well as Rory Hohenstein, who plays the near-suicidal poet trying frantically and often comically to narrate the couple’s journey through life. The choreographer of this piece is Joffrey’s ballet master Nicholas Blanc. The soundtrack is from Max Richter’s lush reworking of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” which emerged in 2012 and, far from being a sacrilege, has been accepted as a worthy companion to the original.
The music is ideal for a life journey, fresh and lively, warm and intimate, conflicted, falling, finally cold and at last, over. Jaiani and Calmels express the latter moments through movement, while Holden and Agnoletti dance as the pair in their early days. Holden does not have the typical ballerina’s body, but she is light as a feather, spirited and joyful.
Also on the program is “Incantations,” in which bell-like music accompanies the quicksilver movement of the ten dancers, who leap and turn, pair up, do a bit of ballroom, then jump off into the wings. The choreography by Val Caniparoli is hand in glove with the music of Alexandre Rabinovitch-Barakovsky. At one point, the dancers stop moving, the light changes and they look like bronze statues. The original lighting design by Lucy Carter, recreated here by Jack Mehler, deserves applause.
The program opens with the highly athletic “In Creases,” choreographed often playfully for eight dancers by Justin Peck, soloist and resident choreographer of the New York City Ballet. It is performed to percussive music by Philip Glass, played expertly by two on-stage pianists Grace Kim and Paul James Lewis. Unfortunately, for the rest of the program, the dancers are accompanied by recorded music.
Why is the Joffrey at the Cadillac Palace? Because the National Football League is holding its draft at the Auditorium Theatre, so the company did a grand jeté from Congress Street to West Randolph for their spring program. The Cadillac has 2,300 seats, while the vast Louis Sullivan-designed Auditorium has 3,901. That made for a nice cozy opening night!
The remainder of the Joffrey Ballet schedule is as follows: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 30; 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 1; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 2; and 2 p.m. Sunday, May 3.
Tickets are $32-155 and may be purchased at The Joffrey Ballet’s official Box Office located in the lobby of Joffrey Tower, 10 E. Randolph St., as well as the Cadillac Palace Theatre Box Office, all Ticketmaster Ticket Centers, by telephone at 800-982-2787, or online.