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Dance Tue Apr 28 2015

Joffrey's New Works Takes an Intimate Look at Contemporary Ballet

7_Liturgy_April Daly & Dylan Gutierrez_Photo by Cheryl Mann.jpgBecause of the NFL draft, The Joffrey Ballet had to move its final series of the season to the Cadillac Palace Theatre this spring. The placement of seating offers a more intimate venue than the Auditorium Theatre does; the Cadillac Palace provides an up-close look that dance audiences aren't often afforded in larger venues.

From the perspective of someone steeped in the visual arts, one of the things that I love and appreciate about contemporary works of dance is the attention to lush visual and physical sensibilities by choreographers, costume and set designers. In this way, New Works didn't disappoint. The various palettes of the works and the variety of movement styles held my attention throughout most of the program.

The first piece, In Creases, by Justin Peck, set four pairs of dancers in grey and black-trimmed leotards against a blue-grey backdrop with a pair of live pianists (clad in all-black) providing the music. The piece was set to Phillip Glass' "Four Movements for Two Pianos" and the pianists silhouetted against the background (almost as though they were a re-envisioning of 18th century paper cuts) were the perfect background for the movements of the dancers as a re-imagining of the corps de ballet as a contemporary dance work.

With dancers moving both in synch and breaking apart the symmetry found in a lot of classical ballet, the piece created memorable images--some of the most striking to me were the moments where the whole company formed a line facing the audience and moved arms and legs in and out of geometric phrases; the moment at the beginning of one of the seven sections, where two female dancers were placed back to back, arms linked behind, seemingly struggling out of one another's grasp; and the multitude of moments where single dancers and pairs were absorbed by the larger group to extend and interrogate the movements of the previous.

The second piece felt by far the most contemporary of the four. Liturgy, by Christopher Wheeldon, was set to Arvo Pärt's "Fratres" for violin, string orchestra and percussion. This duet, danced by Jeraldine Mendoza and Fabrice Camels, felt luxurious and sensual. Utilizing unusual body movements, lifts and configurations the dancers folded over one another again and again in supple elegance. The movements reminded me of the best of contemporary dance mixed with partner acro/dance or acro/yoga. Once again, the color and feeling of the costuming and lighting didn't disappoint. Camels was clad in a deep magenta-purple unitard and Mendoza in a lilac leotard, both with mesh cutouts that highlighted both the sensuality of the piece and lithe and muscular athleticism of the dancers.

Evenfall by Nicholas Blanc was set to music by Max Richter with a poem by Josh Schmidt. The poem was read in the beginning of the piece. Utilizing the most set design of the program, the piece involved dancers dancing in and out and in front of and behind giant gilt silver frames. Richter's music (found often in contemporary works, such as that of Hubbard Street's Alejandro Cerrudo) is described as being like a vintage movie score, which is perfect for the type of narrative that Evenfall tries to construct.

The piece was supposed to be held together as one story, with the two couples dancing representing one couple in the very beginning and nearing the end of their lives (which I read in the program after the fact) with a soloist representing the author of the poem. The main detail that jumped out that didn't hold the story together for me was the clear difference in the physicalities of the dancers portraying the same couple. I had no idea that was supposed to be the thread that ran throughout the piece.

That said, the choreography had some interesting moments and I was drawn to the 1920s female dancer's costume in particular (I do love floaty pink chiffon and marcel waves). In particular, the use of the frames as moments in time from a couple's life reminded me of my grandparent's house, which had photos of my grandparents going back to when they were dating hung on the walls. The piece made that unfolding of time interesting and introspective. Also, the moments where the poet, danced by Yoshishi Arai, pushed his large, clear plastic and mirrored desk around the stage in various combinations was inventive. I would question the obvious use of the Mac computer in the beginning ("Are they a sponsor? What is this trying to say?," my mind raced), and the odd snowstorm that occurred at the end.

The last piece in the program was Incantations by Val Caniparoli, which was set to a piece of the same name ("Incantations" by Alexandre Rabinovitch-Barakovsky). I found this piece to be the least interesting of the four. While the dancing, costuming, set design and music all seemed to work in the same spiraling manner, it didn't speak to me as the rest of the program. While the set design is interesting, the spirals hanging above the dancers reminded me of the giant skirts in Jiří Kylián's Petite Mort and I spent a lot of time trying to decode the male dancers' leggings, which seemed to have some sort of writing (or sepia-toned hieroglyphics?) on them.

Overall, though, it was an interesting and diverse night of dance with some fresh perspectives and interesting pieces. I'd highly recommend this to anyone with an interest in contemporary dance or ballet with a twist.

The Joffrey Ballet performs "New Works" at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., through May 3, with evening and weekend matinee performances. See the performance schedule here.

Single tickets, priced from $32 to $155 are available for purchase at The Joffrey Ballet's box office in the lobby of Joffrey Tower, 10 E. Randolph St., as well as the Cadillac Palace Theatre box office, all Ticketmaster outlets, by telephone at 800-982-2787, or online at www.ticketmaster.com.

 
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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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