Joffrey Ballet's "Swan Lake" Is Stunning on Opening Night Debut

October 16, 2014
Gaper's Block
Sarah Brooks


I wish I were a dancer, I thought to myself as I sat in the gilded Auditorium Theatre as the curtain fell following an exquisite performance by the Joffrey Ballet of the world-renowned ballet Swan Lake, completely in awe. Sitting elated, The show barely had time to officially wind to a close before audience members cried out exalted "bravos!" that rang throughout the theatre rich with history and artistry.

World-renowned, London-based choreographer Christopher Wheeldon dreamt up a masterful adaptation that proved to be equally stunning as it was technically gorgeous. In the Joffrey Ballet's 60-year reign, Swan Lake had yet to be performed, and this ballet lived up to its longstanding expectations. For 10 ethereal evenings, the reworking of the classic and pivotal ballet will help the Chicago arts institution of the Joffrey Ballet to celebrate its 20th anniversary of being centered in this great city that we are lucky to call home.

Find purpose in every moment you spend on the stage," Wheeldon told his dancers as the ballet was prepared, and it showed during each step of the performance on Wednesday evening. The reworking of the notable story delved into life at the Paris Opera Ballet in the 19th century, with tinges of the Impressionist art movement fluttering through each act, from Degas, to Toulouse-Lautrec's influence subtlely positioned throughout the work. The poses featured in Edgar Degas's most notable works of dancers appeared in snapshot movements during the ballet, paying homage to the great works of art that the past has given to our present. The time period illuminated the setting in which Tchaikovsky composed the ephemeral work of Swan Lakeitself, allowing the current reworking to contain numerous parallels in time.

Joffrey Ballet in Christopgher Wheeldon's Swan Lake - April Daly.jpeg
Photo by Cheryl Mann

Wheeldon toyed with the themes of time and illusion throughout the piece, allowing us to feel the intricate, imaginative storyline move through our souls. During Act II, as Prince Siegfried grew more enamored with Odette at the ballet studio, he was soon after transported into a visionary dreamlike world of Swan Lake, fighting the battle of true love trumping all evil versus the clutches of the Patron, Von Rothbart, who kept watch on the flock. As the storyline shifted from reality to gorgeous scenes of fiction in the Prince's mind, the worlds that we were transported to were effortless and mesmerizing.

The chemistry between principal dancers Victoria Jaiani, Odette, and Dylan Gutierrez, Prince Siegfried, was absolutely undeniable, as their lithe movements across the stage proved perfect synchronicity and a beautiful expression of emotion. We were allowed to sense what they were feeling, and enter into the imaginary world that was created before us. They made their difficult craft look flawless, as they twirled across the stage with ease and spun poised on one foot for longer than many of us can do for one second, pirouetting with grace. Their dance during Act II was remarkably electric, as chills were sent down my spine, watching their movements and finding myself almost forgetting to breathe in and out, captivated by the languid fluidity of their movements.

Joffrey Ballet in Christopher Wheeldon's <em>Swan Lake</em> - Dylan Gutierrez & Victoria Jaiani (3) - Photo by Cheryl Mann.jpg
Photo by Cheryl Mann

The storyline invited us in during Act III, which comprised the set elements of a gala dinner. Flickering chandeliers set with warm amber light descended above the gala-goers, with the ambiance abuzz and communicating the promise of new romance, as Odette and the Prince stole heated glances from one another across the crowded room. As we watched the entertainers showcase their dances for the patrons, we felt as if we too were guests, invited to the table to share in common experience.

We move back to the land of fantasy for Act IV, which is so stunningly beautiful that at times, my eyes glisten with pure, raw, emotion. The swans move in perfect unision in white costume, creating a glittering backdrop across the stage, with Odette and the Prince capturing the essence of romanticism each step of the way.

"I wish that I could stay and watch this over again once more," the woman sitting directly behind me aptly stated. We sat captivated, and stood proud of the brilliant talent that these dancers displayed for us, and that the choreographer developed for us. An Impressionist, romantic reworking of the classic ballet was a gorgeous, outstanding way for the Joffrey Ballet to celebrate its success. So much to celebrate, indeed.