Joffrey Ballet Presents: Rising Stars

May 5, 2011
See Chicago Dance
Sid Smith


The Joffrey Ballet's "Rising Stars" program, the troupe's final engagement of the season, plays this Wednesday, May 4, through May 15 and features works by a trio of contemporary choreographers.

Two of the pieces are by choreographers Joffrey artistic director Ashley Wheater grew to know out West in his days with the San Francisco Ballet. Yuri Possokhov, a onetime dancer with the Bolshoi Ballet, has been associated with the San Francisco troupe for many years, but he is creating a brand new work for the Joffrey: "Bells" set to Sergei Rachmaninoff. Julia Adam trained in Canada, danced with San Francisco, and first premiered her "Night" with that company in 2000. She came to town to re-stage it for the Joffrey.

But for all this Golden Gate glitter, "Rising Stars" has a work very much tinged by the country's East Coast ballet aesthetic as well. Edwaard Liang, the talented dance maker who created his earlier complex and richly designed "Age of Innocence" for the Joffrey, is a former New York City Ballet performer. "Woven Dreams" is his second original work for the Joffrey, this one set to music by four different composers.

"Innocence" throbbed with a subtext, its ballroom trappings part of Liang's empathy for the plight of women in an earlier, more repressive time.

"I think with this new one I wanted to do something different," Liang said in an interview last week. "It has ideas, but it's definitely more abstract."

The title says it all. "For a long time, since I was little, I've had recurring dreams, and I wanted to make a ballet about those feelings, about changes in consciousness. When you dream, images come in different segments, kind of connected, but not really," he continued. "In one, you're flying across a cornfield. In the next, you're in Paris having dinner. Or at home having a conversation. Every piece is different, and yet they're the same, too, maybe the same friend is in all three dreams. Maybe the person in the dream actually stands for someone else, I've read in books. The premise here is what is reality and what are projections."

Certainly a great idea for a ballet. Just as interesting is the plucky mix of composers: Benjamin Britten, Maurice Ravel, Henryk Gorecki and Michael Galasso, a multi-disciplinary music maker whose credits include theater and the movies. "I've loved his music for a long time," Liang said. "The overall mix of this score is quirky, but, when I listen to it, it feels right."


One thing "Woven Dreams" shares with "Innocence": a large cast. There are 18 dancers this time around, suggesting a choreographer comfortable working on a large canvas. Also, Liang worked in collaboration with set designer Jeff Bauer, in a way that converts the "woven' in the title into something of a pun. "The set is a woven fabric, connected to the rigging system and moving up, down and sideways," Liang noted. "It's black, but with this iridescence, so the lighting can bring it out or make it dull."

Odds are, given Liang's brief-but-brilliant track record, those segments of blandly lit fabric will be the only dull thing in "Dreams."

"Rising Stars" plays May 4-15 at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy. For tickets: (800) 982-2787, or online at