'Bells' and 'Dreams' flowing with passion

May 6, 2011
REVIEW by Chicago Tribune
Sid Smith


New work is all too rare in ballet, so it's doubly impressive that the Joffrey Ballet is greeting our lagging spring with two original creations during its engagement at the Auditorium Theatre.

One of them, "Bells," is by Yuri Possokhov, a onetime Bolshoi Ballet dancer who wound up at the San Francisco Ballet, where he eventually premiered a dozen works. "Bells" is his first Joffrey effort but by no means will it be his last: He returns this fall to fashion the troupe's first "Don Quixote." Meanwhile, "Bells" is luxuriantly, passionately Russian, its various movements set to piano music by Sergei Rachmaninov, its invigorating ensemble opening a kind of elaborate riff on the trepak of "The Nutcracker." Throughout, Possokhov mixes classic form with seething intensity and a love of odd gesture — Valerie Robin twitching her outstretched leg as if in a spasm or Elephant Man-like jerks and contortions from one of the men. In an entertaining trio starring Victoria Jaiani, she executes a series of turns, employing her heel instead of her toe in just one of them. Possokhov embraces an often exhilarating tradition only to tease and tickle it whenever the mood strikes.

He sometimes goes too far, odd for oddity's sake (a fine silhouette ending, for example, is marred by a needless and ineffectual arty prolongation of the fall of the curtain). But "Bells" boasts two fine pas de deux, Robin and Fabrice Calmels in a gloriously technical but contentious one, she stepping over his rolling body with a sneer at one point; and Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili in an angular, sensual, magnificently driven portrait of blistering romance.

Edwaard Liang's "Woven Dreams" is also driven and passionate, inhabiting an extravagant landscape beautifully defined by Jeff Bauer's giant woven set. Liang is painterly and deep, ending many of the seven movements with jarring images — the women held and leaning over, their legs stretching up and behind them in living sculpture. Though two duets for Jaiani and Calmels prove too much, "Dreams" is ambitious and striking, its male quintet stately in design and split-second timing.

Julia Adam's "Night," from 2000, is a richly designed dream ballet and a great showcase for rising Joffrey dancers, most especially Anastacia Holden, a delightful, winning lead.