Joffrey Ballet New Works Review - Rising Stars Illuminate Joffrey's Repertoire

May 11, 2011
REVIEW by Chicago Splash
Christopher Rutt


Two world premieres and one Joffrey premiere comprise the “Rising Stars” lineup currently being presented at the Auditorium Theater.  In a well-crafted pre-show video, Artistic Director Ashley C. Wheater states that the goal of Rising Stars is to give “incredible, talented people a platform” for expression, and it provides brief glimpses into the process of creating dance.  Interestingly, two of the works – “Night,” choreographed by Julia Adam, and “Woven Dreams,” by Edwaard Liang – use dream landscapes as inspiration for movement.  The third and best, “Bells,” is choreographed by Yuri Possokhov and, as the W.H. Auden quote in the program suggests, explores “the difference between the ache of being with his love and being alone.”

Throughout the performance, one gets the sense that Mr. Wheater is both aware of the programming risks he is taking as well as the general sensibilities of his patrons.  Consequently, there is a feeling of “yes, modern…. but not too modern.” Of course next season’s McGregor and Forsythe ballets on the slate will undoubtedly push that envelope.  In the meantime, the Rising Stars offering provides a glimpse into the expanding Joffrey repertoire.  

Adam’sNight,”while inspired by the paintings of Marc Chagall, unfortunately contains none of his paintings’ whimsy or surreal aspects.  Soloist Abigail Simon begins her nocturnal flight in a fetal position on two males downstage.  Jonathan Dummar, along with the other men in the cast, then takes her through many supported lifts as they glide through attitude turns and gentle phrasing, a travel spot following her across the stage.  The costuming by Benjamin Pierce is a twilight- tinged bluish lavender with woven netting that adds depth and texture.

The entrance of three women encased in a gray gauze and jabbing angular limbs offers a nice counterpoint to the flowing lifts and harkens to the Greek choruses of Martha Graham’s work.  Jenny Winton, Jaime Hickey, and Alexis Polito come on like sirens luring Ms. Simon into an otherworldly adventure.  Meanwhile, the men snake on and off the stage in gorgeous sequential ripples and at other times hinge backward, melting to the floor.  

Yes, there are moments of flight – the aspect of dreaming that seems to have inspired Ms. Adam – but the sequences could use a more unique vocabulary.  We expect the soloist to be supported in a walk over another dancer.  We anticipate the lilting lifts that ascend and descend as if dancing in clouds.  But, unlike Chagall’s paintings, one never feels the fun.  Or the fear.

“Woven Dreams,” choreographed by Edwaard Liang, begins with much promise.  An enormous fabric sculpture, like an open-weave basket, enfolds the dancers on the stage.  Designed, along with the bluish unitards/leotards, by Jeff Bauer, this billowing shape ascends to hover above the dancers heads and mirrors the interweaving of bodies and spatial patterns in the choreography.  At one point the set hangs down like an enormous rib cage, at another time it resembles a cocoon from which April Daly descends.  Throughout much of the dance, the cyc is pitch black, hinting at infinite space beyond.

It’s a striking visual, and the choreography often rises to the occasion. Mr. Liang, no stranger to sensual duets, includes three of them here.  Danced by Christine Rocas and Temur Suluashvili in the second movement, and Fabrice Calmels and April Daly in the fourth and sixth movements, the dancers are strong and capable.  Arms reach with longing, only to have a partner dodge them; or a woman’s hands caress a man’s head, then manipulates it into another position.

Accompanying the three duets is music by Michael Galasso, while the other four movements use compositions by Maurice Ravel, Benjamin Britten, and Henryk Gorecki.   

While Mr. Liang’s work is inspired by dreams and the idea of collective consciousness, the lack of group unity sometimes clashes with this concept.  Missing in some of the larger sections is the awareness of other dancers, the sense of collective breath and rhythm that are the lifeblood of strong unison passages.

Yuri Possokhov’sBells” is a gorgeous collaboration of sound and visuals on the nature of relationships.  This former Bolshoi dancer has choreographed a work that is both romantic and edgy, full of tender touches and surprising twists.  Accompanied by a Rachmaninov score played live by pianists Mungunchimeg Buriad and Paul James Lewis, the dance boasts unique, folk-infused movement, inventive partnering, and strong musicality. 

Several movements comprise this work, and five couples in reddish orange costumes -- leotards without tights on the women and gauzy shirts on the men show off their lean muscularity -- are highlighted in evocative duets.  Two couples stand out:  Fabrice Calmels and Valerie Robin are stunning not simply for their impossibly long lines, but for the subtle, gut-wrenching moments (Take note as the shiver motif in her leg movements later transfers to his body at her departure); similarly, Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili steal the spotlight with gestures that are at once playful and sexy, then turn forceful (A resounding slap is heard as her hand makes contact with his back).

Further groupings offer more layers to the complexity of relationships.  A trio of veiled women quickly beat their legs like agitated birds mourning a loss.  In the same section, a dancer supported in arabesque is suddenly abandoned, her body collapsing to the floor. Men lift each other as women dart across the stage like coquettish butterflies.

The ensemble work is outstanding, as each dancer relies on each other and brings depth to the nuances of Possokhov’s choreography. Surprising folk dance touches add flavor to the entire work, as fingers are clicked, thighs slapped, and a turn is taken on the heel of the foot. Couples kiss each other on both cheeks prior to bowing before their partners.  In fact, it is the image of supplication with which the choreographer leaves us; standing silhouetted before the prostrate men, the women stand in powerful solidarity as the curtain, ever so slowly, descends.  This is a dance that resonates.


Performance Schedule and Tickets

The performance schedule for Rising Stars at the Auditorium Theatre is as follows:  Wednesday, May 4 at 7:30 pm; Friday, May 6 at 7:30 pm; Saturday, May 7 at 2 pm and 7:30 pm; Sunday, May 8 at 2 pm; Thursday, May 12 at 7:30 pm; Friday, May 13 at 7:30 pm; Saturday, May 14 at 2 pm and 7:30 pm; and Sunday, May 15 at 2 pm.


Single tickets, priced between $25 and $145, are available for purchase at The Joffrey Ballet’s official Box Office located in the lobby of Joffrey Tower, 10 E. Randolph Street, as well as the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University box office, all Ticketmaster Ticket Centers, by telephone at (800) 982-2787, or online at  

All photos by Herbert Migdoll

The Joffrey Ballet is grateful for the support from its 2010-2011 Season Sponsors and extends special thanks to Abbott Fund and NIB Foundation, co-sponsors of the Stars season; United Airlines, Official & Exclusive Airline; Weiss Memorial Hospital, Official Healthcare Provider; UBS, Live Music Sponsor; AthletiCo, Official Provider of Rehabilitation, Fitness and Performance; and MAC, Official Cosmetic Sponsor.  The Joffrey would also like to acknowledge its Stars Season Partners, including: Sara Lee Foundation, Groupon, Whole Foods Market and theWit Hotel.  The Joffrey Ballet gratefully acknowledges the following sponsors of Rising Stars:  City Arts, the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, and the National Endowment for the Arts.  Production sponsors for the World Premiere of Yuri Possokhov’s Bells are Bruce Sagan and Bette Cerf Hill.  Production sponsors for the World Premiere of Edwaard Liang’s Woven Dreams are The Jerome Robbins Foundation and Orli and Bill Staley.