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Flash Review, 3-27:
Circus at the Joffrey
Four-ring Ballet in Chicago
By Asimina Chremos
Copyright 2000 Asimina Chremos
was a loose, convivial atmosphere among the matinee audience in
the cavernous Auditorium Theater for the final performance of the
Joffrey's Spring Program II Sunday. It was a fun afternoon at the
theater. Silly, deep, and joyful, all the works presented were beautifully
danced and there was terrific live music by the Joffrey Ballet of
The program opened with
"Square Dance," one of the most absurd works that Balanchine ever
cobbled together. I'm not sure this one ever should have lived on
much past its origination date of 1957. My friend said it was like
a homeopathic version of a real square dance, as if a farm-raised
square dancer had quickly run through the room while a ballet rehearsal
was going on. The odd melange of music of Vivaldi and Correlli,
very formal if delicately off-center Balanchine danse d'ecole, and
a square dance Caller in jeans and gingham shirt made for an absurd
spectacle of the highest order. The musicians were on a raised black
platform upstage right, with the Caller (John Oldfield) with microphone
downstage right, a formal reference to how things might be inside
a barn on a happening Saturday night. The male dancers had red bandannas
around their necks. Too bad there wasn't a little hay here and there.
The one thing that I
personally would have salvaged from this odd experiment is the beautifully
brooding male solo. Balanchine, with all his "ballet is woman" philosophy,
is not known for his attention to displaying the male dancer. However,
I think his choreography for a solo man is some of his deepest and
most intriguing stuff. Dark and introspective, hardly virtuosic
in the usual ballet way, the solo for the male lead in "Square Dance"
is up there with the Melancholic solo in "The Four Temperaments."
The movement delights in intricate little turns on flat, and very
"modern" (read 50's) body shapes combined with classical carriage
and grace. Willy Shives danced this part very nicely, but somehow
I got the notion that the choreography was more intellectual than
Tracy Julias was a sprightly
and charming female lead. Her dancing was full of vigor and generosity,
and she delineated the choreography with precision and command.
To my eye, the Joffrey dancers in general are a little too precious
with Balanchine's style. They don't GO for it, they don't squat
enough on pointe in plié, and they don't push their physical
limits of space, strength, and flexibility in the time allotted
to do each thing. It makes the choreography look Nice instead of
Shocking, like it could.
Next was the Serious
Piece of the afternoon. In "The Moor's Pavane," the Joffrey dancers
did a fine justice to José Limón's 1949 masterpiece
to that fabulous Purcell score. Every gesture and look was relished
and fully demarcated in space, time, and effort. Suzanne Lopez was
a snow-white innocent Desdemona, Domingo Rubio a fearsome Moor,
Deborah Dawn a deliciously smug and power-hungry Lady. The slimy
and secretive Iago character was excellently played by Cornel Crabtree,
who was not listed on the program, but an announcement was made.
He was awesome! I can't imagine anyone else bringing more texture
and pliancy to the role. All of the artists gave depth and lushness
to the dancing, very satisfying deep plies in second and nice rich
sidebends, and good healthy strong work on the floor. Not things
that every ballet company can muster.
What is lovely in "The
Moor's Pavane" is the use of color in the composition of the work.
The Moor in red, Desdemona in white, Iago in yellow, his wife in
orange. As the four characters move throughout the courtly chess
game of their intrigue, their Shakespearean costumes enhance their
presences and raise the dance to the ancient, symbolic level of
a morality play.
Alwin Nikolais's 1953
"Tensile Involvement" was a real crowd-pleaser. I remember seeing
this performed by the Nikolais/Louis company years ago and thinking
it was kind of a dumb dance, but this time I just loved it! The
audience clapped and clapped for all the amusing tricks with the
giant rubber bands, like when the dancers held them around their
hands and feet making big squares that tilted in time with Nikolais's
innovative (for the time) electronic music. Taryn Kaschock was especially
deliciously fierce, taking center stage with sharp-angled virtuosity.
Pierre Lockett has a wonderfully mobile torso, which he used to
great effect. The company performed this work with brio and released
exhilarating energy to the eager audience (also inspiring me with
strange alliterative powers)
Gerald Arpino choreographed
the final work on the program, "Trinity," in 1970 to an exciting
rock/jazz fusion score by Alan Raph and Lee Holridge. The choreography
was developed during the Joffrey's residency at the University of
California at Berkeley, and it emanates the feel of a rock musical
like "Hair," but it is Very Ballet. Ballet looks funny sometimes,
mixed up with other kinds of movement like vernacular dance and
Was it in the 70s that
ballet companies started using unitards as costumes? In "Trinity"
women all wore them with their pointe shoes, and the men all wore
tights and leotards. All costumes were in brights and pastels. This
dance seemed to say: We are all young and we are all kinds of Ballet
People and we are full of love and passion and we are together.
We can do amazing lifts with women soaring, pointed toe leading
forward upon the long straight arms of our men. We can kick our
legs, swing our heads around even with a bun, and move our hips
and do a grand jete. We march together, we are beautiful and innocent.
There were three male
leads in this rangy, very entertaining and exuberant work. Pierre
Lockett carried the piece in a central role, commanding the stage
with his long body extending far into space. However, it was Calvin
Kitten who rocked my world. Kitten dances with an open heart and
an organized body. He can shuck and jive with soul and then kick
out a gorgeous spiritual ballet line. He did a wonderful job of
integrating the disparate moves of the choreography. Davis Robertson,
who was such a tasteful Faune last week, can do some mean breakdancing!
Who knew? But he is held in in the heart area when he dances.
At the end of "Trinity,"
which featured a ritual placing of candles on the stage, the audience
leapt to its feet in wild admiration and applause. They were rewarded
with a full encore of one of the sections of the work. Everyone
went home happy.
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