Joffrey's flair for reviving gems in full view

October 19, 2012
Chicago Tribune
Sid Smith


The Joffrey Ballet's fall engagement offers a glimpse of the troupe's sweeping approach to repertory, an approach that allows it to travel smoothly from 1930s expressionism to the 21st Century while at the same time hosting international geniuses of the art.

Back in 1967, programming Kurt Jooss' anti-war "The Green Table" at the height of America's own anti-war fever was a mark of Robert Joffrey's astute timing. But it was also a highly personal move: Joffrey had first encountered it as an audience member himself at age 11. One of the troupe's great strengths is its flair for reviving gems, while another is its affinity for encouraging contemporary choreographers. It's the latter spirit that brings us Jiri Kylian's "Forgotten Land," which the Joffrey acquired in 1985, and James Kudelka's "Pretty BALLET," premiered two years ago and one of the troupe's most distinguished commissions under current artistic director Ashley Wheater.

"Human Landscapes," the umbrella title for this engagement through Oct. 28 at the Auditorium Theatre, shows off the company's versatility and celebrates its good taste. We've seen our share of later Kylian in recent years, making this look at the much earlier 1981 "Land" all the more fascinating, while "Pretty BALLET" shows off the glories and potential for the art in our time.

Kudelka's work celebrates ballet in ways both thrilling and icily witty. The mostly moonlit setting, the smoky atmosphere, the see-through tulle on the women and the exhilarating rush of classical form are counterbalanced by Kudelka's wry grace notes. The corps of women hold the stage in the opening movement when the moment arrives for the men to enter, and they do so as if in mid-sequence, as partners ready to catch the women in their arms. One of the women ends up with no partner, and yet the way Kudelka designs it, the way the sequence rushes by, makes it all look balanced and natural.

Similarly, the finale boasts the entire cast--minus one dancer. The male quintet is bravura with just a hint of self-satirizing preening, while the tricky lead duet, performed beautifully Wednesday by Victoria Jaiani and Miguel Angel Blanco, is both lovely and acrobatically edgy.

Haunting and mysterious, inspired by a painting by Edvard Munch, "Forgotten Land" is about time, memory, love and loss, its fine cast Wednesday distinguished by a newcomer, Yoshihisa Arai, who, with April Daly, delivered a flashy enactment of the couple in red.

"Green Table" endures as deliciously imagined, a comic cartoon that unfolds into powerful allegory. Jooss' archetypal figures remain universal--the soldier, the grieving mother, the profiteer and, of course, Death, powerfully played Wednesday by Fabrice Calmels and a character who, like his real counterpart, keeps cropping up where you least expect.


When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Thursday and Oct. 26; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Oct. 27; and 2 p.m. Sunday and Oct. 28

Where: Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy.

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