Get cultured: Joffrey's 'American Legends'

February 18, 2013
The DePaulia
Mike Horky


Today’s young crowd of entertainment seekers likes to go to movies, concerts and, to a lesser extent, musicals. That might explain why everyone who attended The JoffreyBallet’s “American Legends” was probably over the age of 40. But that’s not to say this ballet is only for the more experienced in age because it isn’t. I’m not typically a fan of the ballet, but “American Legends” was an enjoyable experience.

Founded by Richard Joffrey in 1956, the Joffrey Ballet has been around for more than half a century, and it shows. The master and craft put behind the performance of “American Masters” is amazing. Each member is classically trained, expressing a unique variety of performances to entertain the widest variety of audiences. Based in Chicago, the ballet tours the globe performing old classics and new, exciting arrangements.

The ballet is composed of 45 ballerinas and dancers and is presented by Artistic Director Ashley C. Wheather and Executive Director Christopher Clinton Conway. But this isn’t your daughter’s childhood ballet recital – this one’s much cooler. Featuring four choreographed numbers by Gerald Arpino, Jerome Robbins, Twyla Tharp and Stanton Welch, “American Legends” shines unlike any performance.

The show opens with Jerome Robbins’ “Interplay,” arguably the most lighthearted and brightly colored performance of the night. What’s so amazing about “Interplay” is that while the story isn’t directly stated, the dancing and energy of its eight performers are enough to show its celebration of youth. It was a great piece to start with, and all the performers danced with diligence and grace (most notably dancer Ricardo Santos).

Next came a much slower and methodical performance, Gerald Arpino’s “Sea Shadows.” A very sensual duet, it revolves around a man stranded on a beach and being enchanted by a sea nymph. The dancer and ballerina who performed here should be commended, as they captured the theme of this story perfectly, and their chemistry was impeccable. It flowed smoothly and created a sense of mysticism on the stage, like watching something magical.

Third was the weakest performance of the night, but that’s not to say it wasn’t very good. It just wasn’t as exciting as the others. Stanton Welch’s “Son Of Chamber Symphony” was reminiscent of other works like “Swan Lake,” with a fantastic set and a definite sense of theatricality. However, this was the only piece that seemed to drag. The pacing appeared off, and at times I felt bored. It’s not that the performers were bad. It was simply just a very odd piece to put in the midst of the others. “Son Of Chamber Symphony,” in its own respect, felt like an entirely separate piece, while the others flowed effortlessly with one another. It just didn’t fit.

Finally, Twyla Tharp’s “Nine Sinatra Songs” is the real reason to come to “American Legends.” It captures the dancing of the 1950s set to the classic songs of Frank Sinatra. It is definitely the most entertaining of the four segments, incorporating performances that are romantic, sensual, extravagant and, at times, comical. It’s brilliantly choreographed and flows with a subtle intensity that transports you back to the ‘50s. It was an excellent finale to an excellent show.

“American Legends” runs Feb. 13-24, and tickets range from $31-$151.