Joffrey Ballet Presents New, Winning Works From Choreographers Of Color

March 8, 2013
Chicagoist
Michelle Meywes

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The Joffrey Ballet’s Choreographers of Color awards recognize aspiring minority choreographers and celebrate the unique perspective that they bring to dance. This year’s winning choreographers are Jeremy McQueen, William McClellan and Ma Cong, and the new pieces they've created speak volumes, albeit through very different voices. This Sunday’s “Winning Works” program at the Harris brings these works to the stage with the help of the young dancers of The Joffrey Academy of Dance, the official school of the Joffrey.

We had an opportunity to preview the program this week and talk briefly with Academy Artistic Director Alexei Kremnev, who is also debuting a new piece. He was excited about offering a program that would appeal to a younger audience and get them interested in performing arts. This is also a less expensive show than many of the main company’s performances, which may be easier young fans to afford.

The first piece on the program is McQueen's Black Iris. Dedicated to his mother, godmother and aunt, this piece pays respect to African American women and the strength they show with the challenges they are given. He was inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe paintings, and while the piece is not a direct interpretation of flowers, there are plenty of moments of bloom. Centered around a single female African American dancer, the piece and the costuming by LaQuan Smith showcase how these women are graceful and delicate yet strong and bold.

Rise/Rebuild to the Occasion is an outstanding contemporary piece from Chicago native and Whitney Young grad, William McClellan. He was inspired by the resiliency of communities faced with disaster such as Japan’s tsunami, Haiti’s earthquake, and even gun violence at Sandy Hook and right here in Chicago. The piece begins very wild and chaotic, even animalistic, but then in the second half, set to the strong beat of Henry Schwarz’s remix of The Detroit Experiment’s “Think Twice,” the dancers slowly organize and come together as if they are growing in confidence and strength, truly rising above adversity.

Ma Cong’s Impulse Within is a more traditional ballet, beautiful and fluid with minimal pale and sheer costuming. Set to and inspired by Schubert’s familiar Piano Trio No. 2, four couples lead a corps of six female dancers on an emotional journey.

Kremnev’s Carnival of the Animals embodies the fun spirit that appeals to that young (or young at heart) audience. We watch as turtles, a kangaroo, fish and even human visitors and zoo animals dance about the stage. The interpretations are very literal, but Kremnev finds a nice compromise with creative portrayal while staying firmly rooted in the aesthetic of ballet.