'New Works': Joffrey is fresh and up close at the Cadillac Palace

April 23, 2015
The Chicago Tribune
Laura Molzahn


Good things come in tidy packages in the Joffrey's "New Works" program. Taking advantage of the Cadillac Palace Theatre's relative intimacy, through May 3, four chamber pieces offer a unique opportunity to see the honed Joffrey dancers as individuals, up close.

Justin Peck's 2012 octet, "In Creases," takes its cues from the first and third movements of Philip Glass' "Four Movements for Two Pianos," played onstage. With the streamlined black pianos at the rear, and the dancers in light-gray, nearly white costumes accented with black, it even looks like sheet music.

Yet "In Creases" ventures well beyond classical elegance. Glass' music, refreshingly less lyrical than usual, ventures into the comically grandiose or melodramatic; Peck follows suit with witty innovations. A male solo (thrillingly danced by Yoshihisa Arai on opening night) transforms from a running, turning, leaping circle into a mad dash over the other dancers, laid flat before the soloist. He's like a lumberjack negotiating a riverful of logs, except they're ballerinas lying on their sides, arms in fifth position overhead.

Though surely influenced by his New York City Ballet history, Peck's superbly confident invention comes from the mind, not the rote body.

Christopher Wheeldon — who preceded Peck as NYCB resident choreographer — created the duet "Liturgy" for that company in 2003, two years before he choreographed the "After the Rain" pas de deux. Both are set to exquisitely quiet music by Arvo Part, but "Liturgy" doesn't have the same corporeal blush. Instead it's pale and cool as a page from a prayer book, playing against the naked emotion of Part's breathing, keening strings in "Fratres."

The two dancers of "Liturgy" move in and out of synchrony, but the point seems to be separation, emphasized by the man's repeated throwing or releasing of the woman into the wings. Powerful, sure-footed April Daly and Dylan Gutierrez aced both the small and simple, like Wheeldon's achingly expressive hands, and the breathtaking adagio partnering in shapes so complex they boggled the eye.

The 2013 "Evenfall," by Joffrey ballet master Nicolas Blanc, proved a love letter to the company. Tailored to the strengths of its original five dancers, who also gave the work its U.S. premiere Wednesday, it uses a combined classical/gestural vocabulary to tell a clear if somewhat hackneyed story about a poet looking back on a relationship. Blanc pulls it off, thanks partly to strong stage design and strong work by Victoria Jaiani and Fabrice Calmels as the mature couple.

Val Caniparoli's lengthy "Incantations," a 2012 Joffrey commission for 10, doesn't have the other works' emotion. Alexandre Rabinovitch-Barakovsky's lightweight music could be the culprit. Best are the freewheeling solos, with their spirals within spirals, their corkscrewed torsos and legs.