By Venus Zarris
The title ALL STARS might bring to mind a baseball game or perhaps an exhibition of figure skaters, but this is the Joffrey Ballet. When you hear ALL STARS
think radiant, think constellation, think SUPERNOVA! Also think
fleeting, as in a blazing comet across the sky, because this resplendent
season opener closes soon and should not be missed.
ALL STARS opens with Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto,
choreographed by George Balenshine. You listen to Stravinsky’s concerto
and you hear whimsical math. You watch Balenshine’s choreography and
you see whimsical math. The ballet is slightly static yet organically
playful. This Joffrey Premiere perfectly sets the stage for the dazzling
Act II opens with Tarantella,
music by Louis Gottschalk, also choreographed by George Balenshine.
This pas de deux explodes with childlike charm that directly engages the
audience in a folk dance of unbridled joy. The dancers impishly flirt
directly with the audience, bringing lighthearted chemistry to their
audacious movement that is irresistible.
After The Rain,
another Joffrey Premiere, follows and is nothing short of breathtaking.
The music of Arvo Pärt is haunting and the linier staging at the
opening of Part I, set to Tabla Rasa, is striking.
Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon created a powerfully delicate
masterpiece, rich with dramatically visceral human symmetry set to a
compelling melancholy of overcast musical atmospheres. You savor every
visual aspect of the ballet, like a meal that you wish could last
forever. Part II, set to Spiegel im Spiegel, delivers the evening’s most awe-inspiring pas de deux.
Of all of the magnificent Joffrey dancers, and they are all magnificent, Fabrice Calmels is the zenith of the ALL STARS.
His very physical presence is a wonder. He is a titan on the stage,
looming over the other dancers and yet delicately in place. Calmels’s
body appears to be chiseled by August Rodin. He is both an incarnation
of strength and of grace. His partner, Victoria Jaiani, is a beguiling
dancer. She is dwarfed by Calmels’s height and yet they move in a
flawlessly fluid partnership. Their chemistry together connects with the
chemistry of the music and the dance to create something otherworldly.
Art illustrates to us the best that we can be and illuminates the divinity of our humanity. The music and movement of After The Rain
is so transcendent that you could easily envision it as being hailed as
divine by viewers from any place and at any time. The abstract impact
of music, combined with the abstract impact of dance, connects the
audience to emotion in a way that is not clouded by language. After The Rain is a spellbinding example of this alchemical connection and a ballet that can quite literally bring you to tears.
Act III mischievously shifts gears with The Concert (Or, The Perils Of Everybody).
Set at a piano recital of Frédéric Chopin’s music, Jerome Robbins
imagines and then exaggerates the idiosyncrasies of those in attendance.
Edward Gorey’s minimally stylized scenery and Irene Sharaff’s
cartoonish costuming create the perfect visual milieu. It opens with a
little Victor Borge-esque shtick, hilariously executed by piano soloist
Paul James Lewis. Then the Joffrey gets silly and even goes a bit
slapstick with their premiere of Robbins’s wonderfully playful romp. The
most hysterical and surreal vignette comes when a parade of mannequin
ballerinas are carried out in all different poses. The
dance that follows is sheer comic genius, as one nearsighted dancer is
always just slightly off from the others and thereby creates a whimsical
parody of ballet’s synchronized structure.
We knew the Joffrey’s dancers were ALL STARS, but who knew they had such endearing comic chops?
To move from such poignant physicality in Act
II to such hilarious physicality in the third act is a staggering
display of the Joffrey’s world-class talent and incomparable
versatility. Shifting from heart attack-serious perfection to clowning
silliness makes the humor all the more funny and the evening’s program
all the more delightful.
There is another gathering of ALL STARS
that must be acknowledged in this evening of brilliance. The Chicago
Sinfonietta, under the extraordinary direction of Scott Speck, provides
music that stands on its own as an evening’s worth of magic. The
marriage of the Joffrey Ballet and The Chicago Sinfonietta is a match
made in heaven and makes the excellence of this fantastic season opener
all the more imperative.
The Joffrey Ballet’s ALL STARS
is more than just a thrilling night of astonishing music and dance; it
is an event that defines Chicago as a cultural and artistic powerhouse
and delivers and evening that you will never forget.
(“All Stars” runs through October 24 at the Auditorium Theatre, 80 East Congress Parkway. 800-982-2787)
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