Joffrey Ballet shows it's in top form at the Touhill

March 12, 2012
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Calvin Wilson

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What enraptures so many people about dance is its sheer expressiveness — its ability to wordlessly engage the mind, relying on bodies moving across a stage to tell the story. That dynamic was on beautiful display Saturday evening at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center, as about 1,000 people watched the Joffrey Ballet demonstrate just why it’s one of the top dance ensembles in the world.

Presented by Dance St. Louis, the company performed the work of three esteemed choreographers: William Forsythe, Christopher Wheeldon and rising star Edwaard Liang. With its contemporary feel, the program was something of a departure for the Joffrey, which in recent years has tended to be more closely associated with classical repertoire.

Forsythe’s “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated” was an intriguing study in abstraction. To an electronic score marked by metallic hissing, the dancers performed with a bracing athleticism — figures in a stark yet kaleidoscopic landscape.

Wheeldon’s “After The Rain” moved the evening in a slightly more traditional direction, conjuring a contemplative mood that owed as much to the language of ballet as to the elegant Arvo Pärt score. This was a dance of vigorous couplings, poised on the edge of eroticism but quite content with romance.

Liang’s expansive “Age of Innocence” brought the evening to an exhilarating conclusion. Set to music by Philip Glass (including an excerpt from his score for the film, “The Hours”) and Thomas Newman, the piece seamlessly combined the grandeur of classical ballet with the verve of modern dance. A tapestry of runs, jumps and duets, “Age of Innocence” was at once energetically rendered and emotionally satisfying.

It would be easy for the Joffrey to coast along on its reputation, leaning on past glories and guarding its brand identity at the expense of artistic riskiness. That the company continues to stretch is commendable; that it does so with such brilliance is nothing short of astonishing.