“It’s a big hall and big ballet,” says Christopher Beach, director of
the La Jolla Music Society, about the first offering in his 2011 dance
season — the Joffrey Ballet.
Friday’s show is super-sized in several respects. The Joffrey is the
first major ballet company Beach has presented since he launched the
Music Society’s dance series four years ago. This is also the first time
he has presented dance in the nearly 3,000-seat Civic Theatre, which is
about four times the size of his usual venue, the Birch North Park
The Joffrey is staging three of its largest touring pieces, by Gerald Arpino, Edwaard Liang and Jessica Lang. Casts have 10 to 16 dancers, and the set for Lang’s “Crossed” features 60-foot-long sliding panels.
For the Joffrey’s artistic director, Ashley C. Wheater: “It’s great
that we’re able to do ‘Crossed’ in San Diego. A lot of theaters are not
Friday’s program offers a taste of both the company’s history and its
latest direction — as Wheater puts it, “the Joffrey that was (and) the
Joffrey since I’ve taken over.”
“The Joffrey that was” reflected one of the most enduring lineages in American dance. Robert Joffrey established the troupe in 1956. After his death in 1988, leadership passed to Arpino, its longtime choreographer.
Arpino’s neoclassical “Reflections” is on the program here. “It shows
off the women and the two central pas de deux are beautifully done,”
Wheater became the Joffrey’s artistic director in 2007. Wheater had
danced with the Joffrey in the 1980s and later danced and served as
ballet master at the San Francisco Ballet.
At the time Wheater took over, the Joffrey had been adding little new
work to its repertory. He set out to commission work from up-and-coming
choreographers, such as Liang, a Taiwanese-American artist whose
credits include the New York City Ballet and Nederlands Dans Theater.
Liang’s “Age of Innocence,” a piece for 16 dancers to music by Philip
Glass and Thomas Newman, was the first piece that Wheater commissioned.
When it premiered in 2008, the Chicago Tribune called it “evidence of a
bold, refreshing talent.”
“Crossed” uses a score by Mozart, Handel and Des Prez. “Jessica
(Lang) says it has no religious context, but you can’t help it with the
voices, the singing, the chorus and some of the movement,” Wheater said.
Wheater feels he’s returning to the “blueprint of Robert Joffrey,
(who) was such a passionate man about new work.” Joffrey built his
troupe’s reputation, in part, through risk-taking commissions, for
instance, asking modern dancer Twyla Tharp to make her first ballet in 1973: “Deuce Coupe,” to Beach Boys songs.
Wheater is also continuing the Joffrey tradition of presenting modernist classics, such as Nijinsky’s “Le Sacre du Printemps,”
premiered by the Ballets Russes in 1913 and recreated by the Joffrey in
1987. Next year, the company is reviving Kurt Jooss’ iconic anti-war
dance, “The Green Table” (1932).
The La Jolla Music Society will be at the Birch North Park Theatre
for two San Diego debuts, the Trey McIntyre Project on April 16 and Complexions Contemporary Ballet on May 7.
McIntyre, whose company is based in Boise, Idaho, is “completely
contemporary with a real sense of humor,” Beach said. New York-based
Complexions was founded by Alvin Ailey veterans Desmond Richardson and
“It’s very exciting for us,” Beach said. “I don’t expect every
performance will sell out, but the audience is growing. It seems like
we’re doing something right.”
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