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Tuesday, April 16

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Dance Thu Feb 19 2009

The "Rite" that Turned Ballet-Goers into Riotous Thugs

The Joffrey Ballet's Winter Season opened last night, and the audience managed to get through the whole show without attacking each other in the aisles. ... More on that in a moment.

AllisonWalsh.JPGThe program begins with "Kettentanz" (choreographed by Gerald Arpino, music by Strauss and Mayer), a ballet inspired by the social dances of Vienna. While the light, tripping steps might look like your stereotypical, charming ballet, it's impossible to forget that these dancers are athletes. If you watch carefully, you'll notice that the piece is a 30-minute-long race with hardly a break for these smiling, poised dancers who throw in a hearty feeling of camaraderie while making the intensely hard work look effortless.

Next up is "Mobile" (choreographed by Tomm Ruud, music by Khachaturian), which absolutely succeeds at recreating Calder mobiles with nothing more than a man, two women, and three white unitards. This isn't quite Cirque du Soleil, but even when the man isn't supporting the two women who are holding themselves at right angles to his body (wow!), the lighting, costumes, and shapes are full of the tension and energy that occurs when three individuals act as a unit.

The third piece is "Hand of Fate," the pas de deux from the Balanchine ballet Cotillon (music by Chabrier). I can't believe I'm saying this about the great Balanchine, but the dance, although executed beautifully, was more or less forgettable. Especially considering what came next.

Sacre_09.JPGOf course, the reason most of the audience was there was for Le Sacre du Printemps ("The Rite of Spring"), Vaslav Nijinksy's 1913 ballet that revolutionized the dance world.

The ballet cannot be imagined without Stravinsky's score, created for the ballet, that captures "the first moment of the Russian Spring, which, as [Stravinsky] said, was like the whole world suddenly cracking" (from the Joffrey program). The ballet depicts a pagan fertility rite in primitive Russia that involves a young woman dancing herself to death. The dancing could hardly be farther from the refined movements we saw in Kettentanz. These beautifully trained dancers -- nearly 50 of them! -- stomp around the stage flat-footed, with their toes turned in, their faces set in an almost trance-like stare. And the unpredictable effect is beautiful and overwhelmingly powerful.

The Joffrey's painstakingly researched reconstruction is generally considered to be the closest possible version of Nijinsky's original masterpiece, from the costumes to the scenery to the dancing. (Kinda makes this Chicagoan's heart proud.) Since that's the case, it isn't difficult to imagine how the 1913 ballet-goers, expecting to see Russian ballerinas frolicking in tutus, felt when confronted with a full cast in tunics, the men wearing bear skins, and nary a pointe shoe in sight. The premiere has gone down in ballet legend. The audience started by catcalling and ended by attacking one another with hat pins and throwing punches at each other in the aisles. Watching the Joffrey's Sacre today, one is intensely aware of witnessing a reincarnation of a historical moment, hopefully sans the compulsion to attack one's neighbor. And it's pretty convenient that the whole thing is euphoric to experience.

Feb. 21, 22, 23, 27, 28, and March 1 (7:30 Fri/Sat, 2:00 Sat/Sun). Auditorum Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy. Tickets $25-$145, available at Ticketmaster or by calling the theater (312.902.1500).

Note: If you can't make it to the ballet, I would highly recommend watching the video about Le Sacre that the Joffrey has on their website.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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