One of the most truly inspiring films of the last year was Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance; while it was clearly a love letter to Joffrey’s legacy, the documentary made evident that the current company, under the artistic direction of Ashley C. Wheater, continues to be a forward-looking institution while honoring what came before. So, when the Joffrey Ballet announced that their upcoming mixed repertory, Spring Desire, is a program of three neo-classical works, the term “neo-classical” jumped out at me, as it literally means a revival of classical aesthetics and forms. From the beginning of his company, Robert Joffrey insisted that his dancers master the classical techniques, which in turn would nourish all other dance styles; it is this pioneering innovation that revolutionized dance in America, and Spring Desire, presented in ten performances only at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, April 25 – May 6, certainly lives up to Joffrey’s artistic vision. It also confirms that Wheater is in alignment with that vision.
The program will feature Incantations, a world premiere by San Francisco-based Val Caniparoli; In the Night, Jerome Robbins’ 1970 masterpiece; and Age of Innocence, Edwaard Liang’s critically acclaimed and highly successful 2008 world premiere. The word that springs to mind to describe this program is sensual.
The centerpiece of the Spring Desire program is Caniparoli’s new work for the Joffrey, Incantations, which is set to a meditative score of the same name by Russian minimalist composer Alexandre Rabinovitch-Barakovsky. The arc of the music and the ballet is continuous movement, akin to a vortex or a mantra. Underlying this spiral motion is a sense of human spirituality, mysticism and prayer. Supporting the ritual atmosphere of Incantations are set and costume designs by Sandra Woodall and lighting design by Lucy Carter, also the lighting designer for the Joffrey’s U.S. Premiere of Wayne McGregor’s Infra.
Caniparoli’s choreography is rooted in classical ballet but influenced by all forms of movement, including modern, ethnic and social dancing, and even ice-skating. His extensive knowledge and appreciation of music is reflected in the range of composers that have inspired his works. Mr. Caniparoli is most closely associated with San Francisco Ballet, his artistic home for over thirty years, but his versatility has made him one of the most sought after American choreographers in the United States and abroad, contributing to the repertories of more than 35 dance companies worldwide.
Also included in this exciting program is the return of Edwaard Liang’s critically acclaimed 2008 world premiere, Age of Innocence. For this piece, Liang was inspired by the novels of Jane Austen and the women of her time, when there was a struggle for self-expression in a world of social decorum. Liang’s choreography perfectly captures both the grace and the spirited determination that women needed to survive in that era. Imagine nineteenth century austerity mixed with contemporary athleticism and suggestiveness, as eight men and eight women dance to the energetic and intoxicating music of Philip Glass and Thomas Newman.
New York-based Liang, like his contemporary Benjamin Millepied, is an independent choreographer who has become a propulsive presence in dance around the globe. Formerly a soloist with New York City Ballet, Liang has been called a brilliant new voice in American dance. He danced with NYCB until 2001, when he joined the Broadway cast of Fosse. In 2002, Liang became a member of acclaimed Nederlands Dans Theater 1, where he danced, choreographed and staged ballets. After returning from Holland, Liang came back to NYCB from 2004 to 2007.
Also featured in Spring Desire is Jerome Robbins’ 1970 masterpiece In the Night, which is one of his most sublime works. Danced to Chopin’s piano nocturnes, Robbins portrays three markedly diverse couples whose relationships range from affectionate amorousness to indifferent restraint and fervent confrontation. The series of three pas de deux explores love in a range of stages, but as the six gather for a final dance, Robbins offers a window into universal human nature.
World-renowned choreographer Robbins worked not only in ballet, but also for theater, film and television. The American public may know the fiery Robbins from his directorial duties on the Broadway shows West Side Story, Gypsy, and Fiddler on the Roof (he was also a brilliant show doctor), but the ballet world can cite over sixty ballets, including Fancy Free, Afternoon of a Faun, Glass Pieces, and others which are in the repertories of New York City Ballet and other major dance companies throughout the world. He passed away in 1998.
“The human spirit is invariably the focus of dance and the dancers of The Joffrey Ballet,” said Wheater. “These three choreographers are able to touch audiences with vignettes drawn from the human experience. By combining their work in one program, I hope we provide a sense of the emotional range available within our art form.”
Age of Innocence and Incantation photos by Herbert Migdoll, In the Night photo by Sandro
Spring Desire (Age of Innocence, In the Night, Incantations) Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University in Chicago opens on April 25 and plays through May 6
tickets available at both Joffrey (10 E. Randolph Street) and Roosevelt Box Offices or Ticketmaster (800) 982-2787 http://www.ticketmaster.com
for schedule and info on all Joffrey Ballet programs, visit http://joffrey.org
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