The Joffrey Ballet All Stars

October 15, 2010
REVIEW by Stead Style Chicago
Lawrence Bommer


A celebration of choreography also delivered four calling cards for the new dance season.  Joffrey Ballet’s fall dance recital debuted last night at the Auditorium Theatre, a diverse program perfectly balancing the company’s strengths and skills while showcasing their flawless zest for making the right moves and the moves feel right.

There were no world premieres but, since all but one were splendidly restaged Joffrey debuts of works by resident choreographers of the New York City Ballet, they were new to Chicago.  Even better, they felt as perfectly suited to the ensemble as they ever felt at first view.  Just as right, the Chicago Sinfonietta played them with love and accuracy.

The first offering, George Balanchine’s 1972 creation “Stravinsky Violin Concerto” (with violin solo by Paul Zafer), was playful and passionate.  Its sprightly first movement allowed the entire company, clad in very slimming black and white costumes, to erupt in precise and sometimes precious steps and twirls.  Suddenly striking charming tableaux, they processed in and out as hungrily as the melody was tossed around by the orchestra.  It recalled the puppet-like Petruska innocently scampering around with a heart as light as his legs, his antics fueled by Georgian folk melodies that all but dance themselves.

The heart of the work was the second and third movements, “arias” that delivered dynamically different pas de deux.  April Daly and Miguel Angel Blanco vied with Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili in finding lovely ways to swirl around the score as much as each other.  The concluding “Capriccio” was just that, a tour de force in a full controlled frenzy a la Balanchine.

Next up was a much more familiar delight from the master, Balanchine’s equally exuberant “Tarentella” to Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s delightful piano piece.  It’s a totally bravura Italian confection, with Yumelia Garcia and Derrick Agnoletti courting each other through the tarantula-like changes of this madcap pas de deux.  If a perpetual motion machine is ever invented, it will look exactly like this cavorting dizziness.

The night’s big discovery was the exquisite two-part “After the Rain,” choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon in 2005 with a delicate score by Arvo Part.  Its first part, performed in steel-gray costumes that turned appropriately liquid green against the burnished backdrop, was a charmer, pulsating with lifts and swirls that mirrored each other and finally yielded to a sensuous and almost stately pas de deux by Jaiani and the muscular and bare-chested Fabrice Calmels, a gentle and graceful giant.  He silently molded her to his magnificence, and she pliantly complied, though the electricity between them hardly needed contact to be felt to the back row.  There were in fact three pas de deux, with elaborate variations throughout, in this seamless work -- but the final movement stood out for acrobatic fervor and hushed intensity.

Finally and amusingly, “The Concert (or the Perils of Everybody),” was a delectable trifle from 1956 in which Jerome Robbins merrily mocks the supposedly pompous audience members of a Chopin piano recital (played with unflappable dignity by Paul James Lewis and the orchestra).  Initially playing a game of musical chairs (since the usher got their assigned seats wrong), these types—the Ballerina, Angry Woman, Shy Boy, Husband and henpecking Wife, chatty Matinee Girls and other usual suspects—dance out the fantasies they entertain as they listen to Chopin’s very malleable and suggestive melodies.

The dancers indulge in their own increasingly elaborate distractions, mixing and matching up or somberly carrying umbrellas to match Chopin’s “Rain” etude.  Finally, they burst out in cartoon-like butterfly outfits and flutter all over the stage, themselves as virtuosic as the music (which clearly is what they wanted all along).  We can only relate.