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Dance Wed Oct 09 2013

The Joffrey Ballet: La Bayadère Premieres in Chicago


JoffreyLaBayadereDuggan.jpg

The trill of the piano. The squeak of pointe shoes moving across the wooden floor. The controlled breathing of the dancers as they complete graceful arabesques. I committed it all to memory as I sat against a curtained mirror in the rehearsal room, watching the Joffrey Ballet company prepare for their upcoming show, La Bayadère.

It's the first time in recorded history that Marius Petipa's classic ballet will be performed in Chicago. A tale of star-crossed lovers set in exotic India, the show has something for everyone: a slain tiger, snake charmers, opium-infused dreams, and intrigue. Yet the century-old ballet did not come without its own set of challenges, as choreographer Stanton Welch shared with me before rehearsal.

"A hundred years ago," he said, "stories moved at a slower pace than they do now. Male dancers didn't perform at the same level as female dancers did. I've tried to collect the most authentic pieces of the show that I could find, while keeping the story moving along quickly enough to captivate modern audiences. Of course, today the male dancers work as hard as the women."

Welch, who is the artistic director of the Houston Ballet, looked on as the women took to the floor to rehearse "The Kingdom of the Shades", a pivotal moment in Act III and a scene so famous it is often performed on its own. Their tutus pulled over leotards and leg warmers, the dancers began a slow, otherworldly repetition of arabesques, dancing ever closer to where we sat against the wall. As they danced, an instructor cried, "Breathe!" and I realized that I hadn't been breathing either.

"It's so simple," Welch explained when I asked him what makes the scene so famous. "It's like Shakespeare. Why is Romeo and Juliet still so famous? There are some stories that have a theatrical punch. Watching a sea of women descend onto the stage like angels, moving in simple, detailed ways... it still gives me goosebumps. If you love classical dance you cannot help but be moved by it."

LaBayadereDuggan.jpg

Historically, "The Kingdom of the Shades" established many of the things we immediately associate with the genre: dancers in white tutus, moving gracefully to the music in unison. La Bayadère is the spiritual predecessor of ballets like The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake and The Nutcracker. It's the first in a classical canon, and performing it builds a ballet company.

"The Joffrey is growing into a larger, more classically oriented company," remarked Welch. "Performing La Bayadère is a necessary part of that growth. Chicago is a huge, important, famous city, and it deserves ballet of that level."

La Bayadère will run from October 16th to October 27th at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University. Tickets are available on The Joffrey Ballet's website.

Photographs by Christopher Duggan.

 

Tim Hinkes / October 15, 2013 12:40 PM

"It's the first time in recorded history that Marius Petipa's classic ballet will be performed in Chicago." Not true. The Bolshoi Ballet performed the full length La Bayadere just ten years ago at the same venue. I was there. Breathtaking then; hopefully breathtaking again.

Danielle H / October 17, 2013 9:30 AM

As I was reading this article I had the exact same comment. I was at the Bolshoi Ballet's performance 10 years ago as well. It was absolutely magnificent when the Bolshoi performed 10 years ago. However this is a staple of the big classical Russia ballet companies. I am looking forward to seeing how the Joffrey tackles this work.

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Feature Thu Apr 16 2015

From Chicago to Senegal by Way of the Drum: Interview with Local Filmmaker Mallory Sohmer

By Ana Sekler

Mallory Sohmer is a freelance documentary filmmaker from Chicago and a Columbia College alumna. She co-directed the new film, Drum Beat Journey, the story of four inner-city youth who travel to Petit Mbao, Senegal, to participate in a drumming workshop. The program used music as a vehicle to capture and connect with the young men in an engaging and original way. But this is not just a film about drumming; it's about stepping into another culture to learn about oneself.
Read this feature »

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Terminator Genisys, Magic Mike XXL, The Little Death & Closer to God

By Steve Prokopy

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