Review: New Works

May 2, 2015
Chicago Theater Beat

New Works

Review by Lauren Whalen 

Ballet is an ethereal art form, and the Joffrey Ballet Chicago strives to make it accessible while retaining all of the form’s inherent artistry. If anything, their efforts make programs like this spring’s New Works even more delightful. The four pieces of New Works – two Joffrey premieres and two choreographed specifically for Joffrey dancers – comprise two hours of sheer artistry and a wide range of emotion.

 Cheryl Mann)New Works opens with In Creases, a short ballet choreographed by Justin Peck, currently both a dancer and choreographer with the New York City Ballet and the subject of the recent documentary “Ballet 422”. Not only are there two pianists onstage, but the eight dancers interact with them, adding a fun layer to the breathtaking patterns, ripples and structures. Solos and duets intersperse with group work, and Peck’s choreography, lovingly interpreted by four Joffrey women and four men, is both intricate and intimate. The music ofPhilip Glass is an apt score for a ballet that’s both dreamy and intellectual, and Peck’s simple costume design bringsGeorge Balanchine to mind. Dancers don’t need miles of tulle to captivate, and when every muscle is on display the process is all the more fascinating. Everyone in the dance world is whispering Peck’s name these days, and work like In Creases leaves me eagerly anticipating his next move.

The next piece, Liturgy, was also choreographed for the New York City Ballet, by world-renowned dancemaker Christopher Wheeldon. As is the case with all of Wheeldon’s work, Liturgy turns traditional ballet on its neatly-coiffed head. While Liturgy is a pas de deux in the sense that it involves one male and one female dancer, similarities to other “steps for two” end there. It’s almost unorthodox how the two must rely on one another, with strenuous moves and lifts that demand every iota of flexibility and physicality. The piece has a sacred feel rather than a romantic one, and according to the program note was made so the audience may draw their own conclusions about the story and relationship of the couple. The result is a haunting and unforgettable experience, strong evidence why Wheeldon is one of the ballet world’s foremost choreographers.

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In contrast, Evenfall does have a distinct plot – and is particularly personal to the Joffrey Ballet. Choreographed by ballet master Nicolas Blanc on five current company members, Evenfall premiered in 2013 in Montauban, France at an evening honoring French artists with American careers. The ballet follows the journey of a couple (represented in their older and younger years by two different sets of dancers), through the eyes of a poet. I could have done without the opening voiceover poem, only becauseMax Richter’s reinterpretation of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons”, Blanc’s set design (which incorporates large frames that are also used as windows and mirrors), the stunning choreography and the dancers’ pure beauty add rich layers to a simple but powerful love story. Evenfall has the potential to be legendary, and it’s exciting  Cheryl Mann)to know it started right here in Chicago.

Incantations closes the evening, a stirring spectacle that is grand from beginning to end. Alexandre Rabinovitch-Barakovsky’s score is a wonderful fit for Val Caniparoli’s intense, vivid choreography and Sandra Woodall’s bright spiral-patterned leotards add an aura of magic. With ten dancers, Incantations is a stunning illustration of the Joffrey’s power as an ensemble – the piece was choreographed for the company in 2012 – and a fitting end to an epic spring program.

Due to the NFL draft, New Works is featured in the Cadillac Palace Theatrerather than the Auditorium. However, the Joffrey Ballet would be compelling in a church basement. Whatever the theater, their performances are not to be missed, and New Works is no exception. The quartet of ballets are positively majestic in both style and execution, and the dancers flawless in physicality and emotion.

   Rating: ★★★½       

New Works continues through May 3rd at Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph (map). Tickets are $41-$164, and are available through their website (check for half-price tickets More information at  (Running time: 2 hours, includes two intermissions)

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