The Joffrey Sets Winter On Fire

February 13, 2012
Michelle Meywes


This week the Joffrey veers away from its traditional root of ballet with an all-contemporary program they’re calling “Winter Fire.” Comprised of three pieces from choreographers that are shaping the future of dance, "Winter Fire" is minimalist--no elaborate costumes or sets to distract from the dancers’ aptitude, allowing the choreography to speak for itself. The program features After the Rain by New York City Ballet’s Resident Choreographer, Christopher Wheeldon, and former Joffrey dancer William Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated. This also marks the U.S. Premiere of Wayne McGregor’s Infra. In fact, Joffrey will be the first company to perform the piece outside of McGregor’s home of the Royal Ballet in London.

Infra (Latin for “below”) explores the thin line between the harsh edges of urban life and the beauty that lies beneath. McGregor’s choreography and the accompanying music score by Max Richter share the same juxtaposition mixing industrial with classic ballet and string orchestration. At times blithe, the piece delves into emotional spaces that can be suspenseful or sorrowing. And rightly so, considering the piece was created in the aftermath of the London subway bombings, which was a time of reflection and mourning for the city. In hint to the influence, dancers perform below a stage-wide LED screen with monotonous images of pedestrians walking back and forth.

We had a chance to catch up with McGregor:

Chicagoist: We saw Infra’s contrast between the animation above and dancers below as an interpretation of the chaos happening below ground on the day of the subway bombings, but also a reflection of the drama that lies below the surface in all of our lives. Could you elaborate more on the motivation behind the piece?

Wayne McGregor: Infra isn't explicitly a narrative ballet so there isn't a concrete meaning you must understand. I would love the audience to construct their own meanings from the piece, surf the work and see what emerges. As a creative point of departure, I used the latin term - vide infra - see below as a reference ---and wanted the work to explore in some ambiguous way, under the surface of our city, our lives our skin.

C: Was Max Richter’s score composed specifically for Infra?

Wayne McGregor: The Max Richter score was a new commission and I wanted to work with Max exactly because of his amazing ability to conjure up the sonic world that surrounds us and that we often ignore with an elegiac and hauntingly beautiful orchestration. The music connects us with our memories and touches us deeply at our centre.

C: This is the first time you've allowed Infra to be performed outside of the Royal Ballet. How do you feel the restaging compares to the original, and is there any unique aspect/technique/style that the Joffrey has brought to the production?

Wayne McGregor: The Joffrey dancers have been a pleasure to work with. They are very hungry for new challenges and want to explore their bodies and evolve their technique. Re-staging Infra on different dancers initially feels a little strange - as you have the imprint of the past dancer in mind whilst watching a completely new interpretation. The best dancers though grab this challenge and really stamp their own self on the role, making us see the piece in a dazzling fresh light.

C: What do you think of the new television show Smash? It’s more Broadway than ballet company, but it provides a glimpse behind the scenes of how a major production comes together.

Wayne McGregor: I have not seen SMASH. But I love GLEE. I think it’s very important to experience a balance in the theatre/arts/film/TV of pure entertainment and more intellectually challenging work - both ends of the spectrum can be equally rigorous and important. One feeds the other. I see no issue in loving GLEE and loving Merce Cunningham at the same time or even on the same day! We need to be open to what moves us, stimulates us, makes us think, makes us not know what to think - the contrasts keep us feeling alive.

"Winter Fire" runs from February 15-26 at the Auditorium Theatre. Tickets start at $30 and are available on Joffrey’s website.