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Flash Review 2, 3-30: Back to the Future
NYC's New Joffrey (Ensemble) Company

By Alicia Mosier
Copyright 2001 Alicia Mosier

The Joffrey Ensemble Dancers gave a lovely performance last night at Pace University in Manhattan that, despite getting almost no publicity, was fairly well attended. Those who were there got to see the fruits of the Joffrey Ballet School's labor. The company draws its dancers from the school, which Edith D'Addario has directed for 40 years; it is clearly continuing the tradition of classical panache that has been a hallmark of all things Joffrey for more than four decades.

This was a very nicely crafted program, each of its six pieces well suited to these classically-trained dancers. Three of the more distinctive dances were choreographed by Elie Lazar, a former star of the New Jersey Ballet who now serves as artistic director for this company. His "Suite Fragments," which opened the evening, showed the dancers to their best advantage. It was an utterly traditional divertissement in the "Raymonda" vein for one man and six women (the women in white and gold tutus, with tiaras), but with some unusual turns and lifts spicing things up. From the first moment we saw these dancers‰ we saw training coming through: the deliberate placement of the feet, the attention to hands and heads, the serene epaulement. (The company's ballet mistress is former Joffrey dancer Meg Gurin-Paul.) Ivanova Aguilar, an elegant brunette from Mexico, danced the pas de deux with Raul Peinado, who (the program notes say) only started dancing at age 18. He has a lofty jump, not much turnout, and an absolutely smashing stage personality. (He looks exactly like fresh-faced Chris Klein, who played the guy running against Reese Witherspoon in the movie "Election").

Lazar collaborated on "Ripples" (which premiered last month in New Jersey) with composer David Sampson, whose score sounds like early Stravinsky filtered through Thom Willems. Its plucked strings and dark, hopped-up rhythms were an excellent spur for Lazar's "Agon"-style choreography for two couples, Juliana Scarpelli and Keelan Whitmore with Rachel Sullivan and Justin Koertgen. Scarpelli caught my eye right away in "Suite Fragments," and for the rest of the evening she continued to gleam. She's a sensational dancer, musical and with lots of attitude. Whitmore is the most accomplished of the company's men; he and Scarpelli were in a cool world of their own here, flinging each other and the other two dancers into on-an-angle lifts and off-balance pirouettes.

I liked Lazar's "Night in the Tropics," too, a rich, sunny dance for five couples set to the Spanish-tinged music of Gottschalk. Its play with spacing and the basics of partnering was surprising and quite beautiful. Here as elsewhere Paul H. McRae provided exquisite costumes (always a plus to see good dancers so well-dressed). Lola Stuart, a small blonde with gorgeous feet, stood out here for her brisk disposition, as she did also in the "Capriccio Pas de Deux" (from an evening-length ballet by Trinette Singleton, who, along with Francesca Corkle, Eleanor D'Antuono, and John Magnus, serves as artistic advisor to the company). "Capriccio," a walking-in-the-forest-at-dusk duet set to the moody second movement of Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 2, was the least satisfying piece on the program, in part because it needed dancers more confident in partnering than Stuart and Angelo Giglio to give some flow to all the lifts and leans.

In the midst of all these quirkily classical dances it was a great to see the pas de deux from that wonderful warhorse "La Fille Mal Gardee," wonderfully danced by Peinado and Jun Min Lee. Lee has strong legs and a calm, sweet, airy style. Maybe it's something in the Joffrey School's technique that teaches the women not to point their feet all the way (they stretch the arch but leave the toes relaxed); also, a more forward placement of the upper body would give them much-needed momentum in chaine and pique turns. But these are minor points. This is a quintessential young people's pas de deux, and Lee and Peinado (cheers to him for hanging onto those turns a la seconde, as well as for that smile) executed all its little beats and floating promenades with youthful delight.

Rounding out the evening was a marvelous piece called "And Now There's Three," choreographed in 1980 by former Ailey dancer Marla Bingham to music for classical guitar and orchestra by Vivaldi. I liked this one best of all; the choreography sings with open fourth positions and buoyant balances. It fits these dancers perfectly, letting them show off their technique while giving them chances to challenge it. I wish we'd seen more of Sara Scully and the excellent Summer Lindsey, who, with Atsuko Minoura, all in pretty pink dresses, formed a breezy, passionate trio.

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