Joffrey Ballet's Rising Stars

May 6, 2011
Chicago Stage Style
David Zak


Joffrey Ballet's 2010-11 season ends with the entertaining program Rising Stars, which includes world premieres by choreographers Edwaard Liang and Yuri Possokhav, and a company premiere by Julia Adam.  And while the choreography in the three pieces seemed strangely similar to me, the program brought the audience to their feet on opening night in a well deserved round of 'bravos.'

The evening began with an odd video in which the choreographers talk about their work.  This revealed that two of the dances would be about dreams, and one about memory.  I found this to be a strangely didactic piece that seemed like a public service announcement..."here is what you are going to see, in case you don't have time or interest to read your program."  Once the dancing got going, the evening improved.

First up was Julie Adam's work about dreams and nightmares unimaginatively titled "Night".  Anastacia Holden, clad in turquoise and white, was spell-binding as the lead dancer interacting with an ensemble that seemed to represent the joys and terrors of the night.  And while I found the dancing entertaining, I found the power of Adam's work strangely undercut by her designers.  Benjamin Pierce's costumes, as lit by Lisa Pinkham, are an oddly unattractive wash of mauve.  Pinkham further undermines the piece by lighting Holden with a harsh white follow spot, meaning those who partner with her are continually coming in and out of our focus.  Matthew Pierce's score is bright and entertaining.  But overall, despite the excellent attack of the seven men and four women in the company, I felt the piece lacked freshness.

Choreographer Yuri Possokhov warned in the opening video that as a memory of Russia, his piece "Bells" would be depressing.  I felt it was anything but.  From the opening chords struck by the two pianists Mungunchimeg Buriad and Paul James Lewis playing live, "Bells" is a triumph.  Sandra Woodall's costumes features beautifully patterned burgundy tights for the men that embody Russian tradition, with complimentary bodices for the women.  The outfits are completed with sheer skirts for the women and sheer shirts for the men that in various scenes came on and off bringing speed, movement, and sensuality to this program.

But the dancing supersedes the designs.  Whether featuring the entire company of 10 or smaller duos or groupings, every episode was successful.  Full of romance, athleticism, sexuality and regret, I wondered how Possokhov would bring "Bells" to fulfillment, when suddenly the dancing stopped.  As the pianists continued their excellent work, the company of ten stayed perfectly still, silhouetted against the cyc, which ever so slowly faded to black while the music completed.  It was a great, unexpected effect.

The program ended with "Woven Dreams" by Edwaard Liang, the only piece which featured a greatly appreciated scenic element - an enormous drop of interwoven pieces of fabric, which could be used on the floor, overhead, or elegantly draped across the dancers.  Coupled with Jack Mahler's dynamic lighting design, the visuals are gorgeous in "Woven Dreams".  My only reservation about the design was the oddly shiny aqua-marine leotards for the men (with sheer backs for some reason) and unflattering outfits for the women.

As in "Night," the dancers are excellent, with the duo pairing of Christine Rocas and Temur Suluashvilli particularly elegant, only to be superseded by excellent work in two duets from Frabice Calmels and Victoria Jaiani.  The dancing of the entire company of eighteen left the audience moved, invigorated and cheering.  The Joffrey has been a pillar of the Chicago arts scene since moving here from New York in 1995.  Rising Stars will please its fan base, and be an excellent introduction to the company for those seeing the Joffrey for the first time.