Joffrey Ballet announces 2011–2012 season; Tharp returning to Hubbard Street

March 2, 2011
Time Out Chicago Blog
Zachary Whittenburg

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As in the theater world, Chicago’s biggest dance companies have started dropping details about upcoming plans. Although its lineup was stuffed into programs for The Merry Widow a week earlier, the Joffrey Ballet officially took the wraps off its 2011–12 season February 24. Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, meanwhile, is mum on its shebang until later this month (other than calling it a “blockbuster” season), but confirmed one major guest for fall in addition to its already-announced partnership with LINES Ballet.

Twyla Tharp: If you don’t know her work then you at least know her name, which is more than can be said for most concert choreographers. Her work’s been seen lately in Chicago in the hands (and feet) of ballet dancers: The Joffrey licensed Waterbaby Bagatelles in 2008 while American Ballet Theatre, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet and Miami City Ballet all included her choreography on their most-recent tours. In 2002, her Billy Joel dansical Movin’ Out previewed in the Loop ahead of its Broadway opening but, despite the Hubbard Streeters in that show’s cast, HSDC hasn’t danced much Tharp since their multi-year affiliation in the early ’90s. Her last original work for Hubbard was 1995’s I Remember Clifford.

Her next will premiere during the company’s fall series at the Harris Theater, October 13–16. Four months before that, she’ll receive a Spotlight Award from the company, presented by HSDC founder Lou Conte (the gala, also to honor McDonald’s, is scheduled for June 2). Hubbard Street calls it a “six-month celebration” of Tharp and her career.

What the 69-year-old choreographer will create for Hubbard is anyone’s guess but hopefully this reunion rekindles the magic of the Conte era and earlier. Tharp’s latest large-scale projects play too eagerly to the middle of the road, Movin’ Out–style jukebox franchises to Dylan and Sinatra. Press materials quote Tharp hoping to get “a challenge for me as well as [for the dancers]” out of the deal. HSDC season packages, $75–$282, are on sale May 1 with single-sale to follow in August.

Tharp’s off the menu at the Joffrey next year but big names and difficult ballets figure prominently. (The company’s also confirmed another year of live accompaniment by the Chicago Sinfonietta, praise be.) As with its current season, it offers two themed mixed bills, one evening-length ballet and the Nutcracker in December, natch.

Yuri Possokhov and Helgi Tomasson’s staging of Don Quixote, premiered by San Francisco Ballet in 2007, goes up in October. The eccentric Don mostly wanders in the background in Petipa’s 1869 adaptation of Cervantes’s novel; the ballet’s plot instead focuses on village politics and a young couple’s wedding, with a dreamily mystical “white act” in between. There are richer ballets in the classical repertoire but Don Q done well can be a hoot, with its endless supply of flashy solos and Ludwig Minkus’s punchy, hummable score.

Shorter works go onstage in February and April–May. The first mixer is titled “Beyond the Threshold” and features those works requiring “very serious technique” director Ashley Wheater was talking about last fall. Wayne McGregor, hot right now for his twitch-and-glitch choreography for Thom Yorke, gives his multimedia Infra (2008) its American premiere. Interestingly, it’ll run alongside the 1987 masterpiece to which McGregor and so many others are indebted: William Forsythe’s in the middle, somewhat elevated. Season closer “Attractions” sees the return of Age of Innocence (Liang, Glass/Newman, 2008) and In the Night (Robbins, Chopin, 1970); they’ll be accompanied by a premiere from prolific and widely produced American dance maker Val Caniparoli, an artist all over the map in style and mood. Season packages are available now and start at $75, Nutcracker sold separately. Single-sale follows on August 1.