Joffrey teems with imagination in 'American Legends'

February 14, 2013
Chicago Tribune
Sid Smith


Choreographer Stanton Welch is on board to stage the classic "La Bayadere" for the Joffrey Ballet next season, but, in the meantime, it's reassuring to witness his deft, contemporary touch in "Son of Chamber Symphony," now on view at the Auditorium Theatre.

Created for the Joffrey, this intelligent three-part piece is a steely but imaginative take on John Adams' score, enhanced by Jack Mehler's scenery (four grayish squares that break a back wall of black) and Travis Halsey's costumes, distinguished by saucy, onion-skin-thin tutus. Adams' music is harsh and meandering, with percussive touches evoking machinery. Welch works tirelessly to meet it head on with inventive, exotic ballet and a darkish, driven world.

Bursts of originality are everywhere. Near the end of the first section, Amber Neumann and a quartet of men manage an unorthodox mechanical sequence, as puzzling as it is delicious, in which she shifts back and forth, with marvelous intricacy, while they circle her like insane creatures in a postmodern Swiss clock. Neumann, with her poise, strength and smart footwork, is among the stars, as are the men, with Derrick Agnoletti early in the piece pulling off a delightful bit, diving to the floor while pulling his legs forward, his feet hanging briefly above his head. Yet, in the stream of consciousness and strange, feverish mood of this ballet, he's hardly seen again.

The movements all boast different casts: Victoria Jaiani and Fabrice Calmels are spectacular in the pas de deux of the second and April Daly and Temur Suluashvili ably lead the third.

"Son of Chamber Symphony" is one of four works on this repertory program billed "American Legends."

The return of Jerome Robbins' "Interplay" is cause for celebration, a seminal work from 1945 that warmly gleams with his innovative mix of ballet and pop dance, jazzy and yet crammed with fiendish technical demands. Long overdue for a good role, John Mark Giragosian is terrific in the lead, razorlike, winsomely charming and immaculate in delivering the work's showy turns.

I worried I'd seen Twyla Tharp's "Nine Sinatra Songs" one time too many. But Wednesday's cast made it pert, fresh and seductive all over again, the dancers relishing the chance to luxuriate in ballroom antics not typical of their repertory. Calmels and Daly, Jaiani and Lucas Segovia and the hilarious Mahallia Ward and Graham Maverick earn special mention.

When: 7:30 p.m. Fri., Feb. 21, 22; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sat., Feb. 23; 2 p.m. Sun., Feb. 24

Where: Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Parkway

Price: $31-$152; 800-982-2787 or