Joffrey’s gamble on new works pays off

May 8, 2011
REVIEW by Chicago Sun-Times
Hedy Weiss


It is an undeniably bold step for a dance company to present a full evening of “new works.” But that is exactly what the Joffrey Ballet is doing with its “Rising Stars” program, which runs through May 15 at the Auditorium Theatre, and proves that risk-taking can result in great rewards. And while I’m not a big fan of pre-performance explanations, the superb video by Malachi Leopold that prefaces this program is a zesty introduction to the wit and thought processes of the three choreographers (Julia Adam, Yuri Possokhov and Edwaard [cq] Liang), whose ballets, all dealing with various notions of the dream state, are on display.

The program opens with Adam’s “Night,” created for the San Francisco Ballet in 2000, but “new” to the Joffrey. At its center is a young woman in a “boyfriend shirt” (the dynamic, very contemporary Anastacia Holden), who is curled up, sleeping, atop the back of a faunlike man. More of these male figures in faunlike pantaloons (costumes by Benjamin Pierce) haunt her dreams during the course of the work, as do a trio of girls (Amber Neumann, Cristine Rocas and Joanna Wozniak), who arrive wrapped in a gauzy gray cocoonlike fabric. Lofty lifts (with the dancer often held upside down), modern-style floor work, and the undulating motion of the men perched on all fours suggest the many disorienting states of dreams. And there is a pervasive hint that the solo woman is dealing with relationship issues, with Dylan Gutierrez, Derrick Agnoletti, Fabio Lo Giudice, Aaron Rogers, Michael Smith, Graham Maverick and Lucas Segovia filling her dreams. Matthew Pierce’s soundscape score is more tedious than scintillating. And frankly, for purposes of contrast, it might have been better had the Joffrey opened the program with the quintessential modernist dream ballet, “Afternoon of a Faun,” which is part of its treasured archive.

In the video, Possokhov, a former dancer with the Bolshoi and San Francisco Ballet, playfully quips that unlike Americans, who focus on the future, Russians tend to think about the past. And his lush, sensual new ballet, “Bells” — a series of supremely difficult, intriguingly romantic, yet edgy duets interspersed with intimate ensemble sections — is a sort of “scenes de ballet” from the Old World. (The work is set to rapturous piano music by Rachmaninoff, played beautifully by Mungunchimeg Buriad and Paul James Lewis.)

While the connective tissue in the ballet could use some smoothing out, the duets are gorgeous, original, airy and brilliantly danced, with Matthew Adamczyk and Yumelia Garcia full of confidence and heat; Fabrice Calmels and Valerie Robin wholly riveting in their strong, mature, emotionally jagged pairing; and Victoria Jaiani and (real life husband) Temur Suluashvili in a melding of absolutely exquisite sensuality, delicacy, rapture and edginess. Sandra Woodall’s sexy yet antique costumes are lovely, and the finale (the curtain is the star) is a neatly “dreamlike” fade-out.

Liang’s “Woven Dreams,” set to sections of Ravel’s thrilling String Quartet, as well as music by Benjamin Britten and Michael Galasso, is the most tightly structured of the three pieces, with the choreographer’s long association with the New York City Ballet and the work of George Balanchine clearly apparent in its complex patterning, tricky partnering and even some primal moves reminiscent of Balanchine’s “Prodigal Son.”

With Jeff Bauer’s basketweave fabric “cloud” suspended at various levels throughout, it was again several duets that captured most of the attention here, with beautiful work by Rocas and Suluashvili, and particularly stunning dancing by April Daly and Calmels. The vigor of the Joffrey men was deftly displayed in a quintet featuring Agnoletti, Rogers, Segovia, Mauro Villanueva and John Mark Giragosian,