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Flash Review 1, 3-14: "Kettentanz"!
...Latest Joffrey Program Celebrates the Bitter and the Sweet

By Tara Zahra
Copyright 2002 Tara Zahra

DETROIT -- The Joffrey Ballet of Chicago was nothing less than enchanting Saturday night, in a program that offered everything from Sacher Torte sweetness to down-home Americana and technical virtuosity to superb character dancing. For this first-time Joffrey audience member, it was a real treat (and well worth an hour drive through a blizzard) to see a company with such range and energy grace the stage at the Detroit Opera House.

It was with some trepidation that I noted that the first piece on the program, entitled "Kettentanz" (chain dance) was meant to evoke turn of the century Austria, the subject of my soon-to-be-written dissertation. Fortunately the choreography by Joffrey director Gerald Arpino was not too literal. Certainly this was a Vienna that never existed -- the quaint folk dances of Austria's 10 nationalities, waltz music by Strauss, and the sugary lightness of Viennese wines and pastries make for better entertainment than nationalist street fighting. But this piece was about the joy of dancing more than history, and even more, about the joy of dancing well. Fast and technically demanding choreography was performed crisply and vibrantly by three men and three women. Dancers paired in twos and threes wove on and off of a pastel stage. Jennifer Goodman shone with her exquisite timing and extensions in a trio, as did Erica Lynette Edwards and Elizabeth Mertz with a series of jumps, hops, and beats which looked too easy. While most of the piece featured the women, the athleticism and soft grace of Calvin Kitten and Masayoshi Onuki did not disappoint.

The bourgeois angst and melancholy of Antony Tudor's "Lilac Garden," a recent Joffrey acquisition, was sobering following "Kettentanz," but Maia Wilkins proved up to the task of dancing the profound psychological torment of a woman about to marry a man she doesn't love. Did her fiance's mistress NEED to be costumed in a whore's siren purple? (To contrast with the heroine's waiflike innocence, in virginal white?). Maybe in 1936, when the ballet was created. Regardless, the ballet successfully transported us into a beautiful twilight garden of unfulfilled love. Tudor's choreography was particularly moving in a section in which the two mismatched couples danced together, each focusing their longing on their secret lovers.

Agnes de Mille's "Rodeo" arrived as a welcome relief from all this misery, even as it continued the evening's theme of Ballets With Serious Gender Issues. For our poor cowgirl may have been a tomboy, but deep down she couldn't be happy 'til she had a cowboy by her side. And of course it took putting on a dress to get that cowboy's attention, in a classic Ugly-Girl-Transformed-To-Princess scenario. Still, the tiny Taryn Kaschock won the audience's favor with terrific comic timing and theatrical presence, and even after donning a dress and red ribbon, remained the feisty and tough cowgirl we were cheering for. Agnes de Mille's romantic vision of frontier America also managed to approach poignancy at moments. "Rodeo" is an ethnography in the midst of a spectacle. The square dancing, tap dancing, and a Saturday night dance at the ranch were all welcome celebrations of ordinary people in America dancing -- for fun, to socialize, to communicate, and just because.

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