The Chicago-based Joffrey Ballet brought nearly 50 dancers to The Smith Center on Tuesday evening in a program that showcased pure talent and skill.
From a piece first danced in 1913 to a work just a few years old, the differences in choreography, design, manner and mood seemed only to challenge the troupe to top each movement with the next.
The company, founded in 1956, moved from New York in 1995 but maintains its school there. It is under the artistic direction of Ashley Wheater.
The evening opened with "Age of Innocence," choreographed by Edwaard Liang to the music of Phillip Glass. It premiered with the Joffrey Ballet in 2008.
Inspired by 18th century romantic novelist Jane Austen, this was the gentlest dance of the evening. Sixteen women in gauzy skirts and men in briefs and jerkins showed the grace one would expect in more classical ballet.
A quartet of male dancers provided the most athletic sequence of the evening, with quick jumps, collapses, twists and turns - perhaps indicating the tortures of love. Two lovely pas de deux, featuring Jeraldine Mendoza and Mauro Villanueva and, later, April Daly and Dylan Gutierrez showed sweeter attraction.
"In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated," was choreographed by William Forsythe and created in 1987 for the Paris Opera Ballet. (The title refers to the placement of two small, golden cherries hanging far above the dancers as a tribute to the ornate home of the Paris ballet.)
With its percussive, electro-pop score by Thom Willems, the bright teal leotards and tights of the nine performers, the exaggerated moves and a general "no one could ever top this" attitude, this was beyond in-your-face dance. Occasional swaggers emphasized it all. However, the length (around 30 minutes) somewhat dulled the shock value.
After a second intermission, the troupe returned with "Le Sacre du Printemps" (The Rite of Spring). With an enveloping Stravinsky score and Nijinsky choreography, this was created for the Ballet Russes in 1913 and revived by the Joffrey Ballet in 1987.
It wasn't perfect - the musical prelude and the entr-acte were a bit tedious since the music was recorded and there was nothing to see - but the dance was lively and engrossing.
The setting is described as "pagan Russia," with dancers in the garb of Old World villagers. Members of the troupe did not miss a step despite the odd, pigeon-toed choreography or the varied hats, wigs and layers of clothing.
Erica Lynette Edwards and Gerard Charles earned special recognition for their commanding portrayals of a 300-year-old woman and an old sage.
Joanna Wozniak as the chosen sacrifice was outstanding, alternately frozen and increasingly frenzied, with jumps and dips too numerous to count as she was surrounded by dancers in bear skins awaiting her death by dance. The climax, expected yet jarring, was a forceful and dramatic end to the evening.
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