Joffrey Ballet soars in challenging "New Works" program at Cadillac Palace

April 23, 2015
Chicago Sun-Times
Hedy Weiss


The Joffrey Ballet’s spring program of “New Works” has come with a rare change of venue (the NFL draft is being staged at the Auditorium Theatre, so the company has had to move to the Cadillac Palace Theatre, where it looks every bit beautiful). What has not changed at all in the process is artistic director Ashley Wheater’s ongoing efforts to bring the troupe’s repertoire catapulting into the 21st century — challenging  both his dancers and his audiences with the work of a wide range of contemporary choreographers.

The four ballets on the “New Works” program also reveal Wheater’s gift for curating such work and for juxtaposing pieces in a way that created just the right dynamic balance.

Highly recommended
When: Through May 3
Where: Cadillac Palace Theater, 151 W. Randolph
Tickets: $32 – $155
Info: (800) 982-2787;
Run time: 2 hours  and 10 minutes with two intermissions

Opening the program, and receiving its Joffrey premiere, is “In Creases,” created three years ago for the New York City Ballet by Justin Peck, the prolific 27-year old resident choreographer of that Balanchine-bred company. A technically difficult work, it is set to “Four Movements for Two Pianos” — an unusually lyrical piece by Phillip Glass, played to perfection by Grace Kim and Paul James Lewis, whose grand pianos are fully visible upstage. And in its structure it suggests the sort of complex symmetrical patterns you might see by looking through a kaleidoscope, although that symmetry often shifts to asymmetry at various points, too.

 Cheryl Mann)

The Joffrey Ballet in Justin Peck’s “In Creases.” (Photo: Cheryl Mann)

The Balanchine influence is clearly apparent in Peck’s work, in both the patterning and speed, but it is heightened exponentially, with floor work, a sequence of playfully successive jumps over bodies, some tricky partnering and moments of much-needed stillness. The dancers, in pale gray leotards with black edging, seemed a bit tense at the start of it all, although Amanda Assucena (a dancer whose strong attack and musicality invariably carries the day), and Rory Hohenstein (whose easy elegance and unforced turns makes for a seamless, poetic flow of movement), were at the top of their game. And once the rest of the cast found their groove (a few more performances will surely do the trick), Victoria Jaiani (beautifully partnered by Graham Maverick), along with Christine Rocas, Jeraldine Mendoza, Yoshihisa Arai and Alberto Velazquez, all became one with the piece.

There was nothing but perfection on display in “Liturgy,” the breathtaking pas de deux, set to achingly lovely music by Arvo Part, and choreographed in 2003 by Christopher Wheeldon (now acclaimed as both director and choreographer of the new Broadway musical, “An American in Paris”).

With their equally slender, leggy, perfectly proportioned forms, pristine technique and musicality, April Daly and Dylan Gutierrez made an unusually beautiful pair. And they tapped ideally into Wheeldon’s gift for seamlessly blending the subtly erotic and romantic. The duet, which involves some exceedingly complex partnering (including some wonderful crablike intertwining), as well as simple but intriguing exits and returns, suggests a relationship that could run hot and cold. These two shared an intense intimacy, but much was left to the imagination, too.

The relationships in “Evenfall,” a work created for the Joffrey dancers by company ballet master Nicolas Blanc, comes with a very clear story attached. Set to Max Richter’s fascinating “recomposed” take on Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” it features an anguished  Poet (Hohenstein,who is ideal in this role), as he looks back at the relationship of a couple seen both in their exuberant youth (captured thrillingly in the fiery dancing of Anastacia Holden and Derrick Agnoletti), and in the far more seasoned years of middle age (the exquisite Victoria Jaiani, paired with her ideal partner, Fabrice Calmels). All this may be a reflection of the Poet’s own relationship with someone, but, as he views the couples through four giant mirrors, it feels more like one he is imagining for a great epic romantic novel.

The Joffrey Ballet’s Rory Hohenstein and Anastacia Holden in Nicolas Blanc’s “Evenfall.” (Photo: Cheryl Mann)

Despite a brief malfunction in the Poet’s wheeled desk, and the fuzzy sound of the spoken lines of poetry that opens the piece, “Evenfall” revealed the Joffrey dancers at their dramatic best. They can dance up a storm, but they also have a great feeling for playing characters.

 Cheryl Mann)

The Joffrey Ballet’s Dylan Gutierrez and Joanna Wozniak (center) in Val Caniparoli’s “incantations.” (Photo: Cheryl Mann)

The final work on the program, the altogether magical and fiendishly difficult “Incantations,” was created specifically for the Joffrey in 2012. Set to a ravishing score of the same name for amplified piano, bell-like celesta and chamber orchestra that is the work of the contemporary Russian-born, Swiss-based composer, Alexandre Rabinovitch-Barakovsky, it fits the dancers like a glove. And they dance it with ferocious virtuosity.

The patterns that drive “Incantations” are mostly  spirals — something echoed by Sandra Woodall’s  silvery light fixtures (five large springlike forms suspended above the stage), and costumes (leotards emblazoned with deep-red swirls). But everything is about circles and swirling movement in this work — the torsos of the dancers, the partnered spins that suggest the moves of ice skaters, the many variations on the pirouette.

Joanna Wozniak and Dylan Gutierrez were nothing short of sensational as the central couple. But it also was great fun to watch the power dancing of Amber Neumann and the impressive emergence of Dara Holmes (a tall, leggy beauty, and the only African American dancer now in the company), along with the beautiful work of Rocas, Assucena, Hohenstein, Agnoletti, John Mark Giragosian and Lucas Segovia. All in all, the perfect bravura showpiece to send the audience spinning home.