As soon as I walked in to the Joffrey Tower
lobby last week, I looked up. Umbrellas – black with the Joffrey logo
on the outside and a big blue star on the inside – were hanging, open,
from the second story ceiling. As a new merchandise item*, they are
stylish and perfectly in tune with the theme and title of the upcoming
performance. Rising Stars, featuring two world premieres and a Joffrey premiere, opens tonight at the Auditorium Theatre for a two week run.
I was lucky enough to spend an afternoon watching rehearsals for the
three new pieces. By the time I got there in the afternoon, two dancers
had been injured with a third injury happening while I was watching,
resulting in recasting situations, extra rehearsals, missing dancers and
a number of calls to take those umbrellas down. It’s the umbrellas! Isn’t that some kind of curse? The
mood was a little frazzled and tense, but as we all know, the show must
go on…and therefore, so do rehearsals. First up, was Yuri Possokhov’s Bells (set
to Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2) rehearsal already in full
swing. Possokhov, formerly of the Moscow, Bolshoi and San Francisco
Ballet companies, looks more like a burly teddy bear that moves really
well than a former ballet star. Even with a bit of a language barrier
through his thick Russian accent, charisma, thy name is
Possokhov. Joking with the dancers “girls, can I teach you how to
catch?” and actively participating in this lively section of the
five-movement piece, the room absorbs his personality. Lifting,
leaning, sliding en pointe…dangerous. (I know I’m dating myself here,
but it reminded me of former Chicago choreographer James Kelly’s work.)
At one point, the correction to the men was to “brutally push them and
go!” This isn’t Sleeping Beauty, kids.
Next, I was taken to a smaller studio down the hall to see a section of Julia Adam’s Night.
Ballet Mistress Char Arthur quietly lead Elizabeth Hansen and Abigail
Simon through alternating runs of a solo from the work. With a handsome
Jack Thorpe Baker there to aid in the transitions, these three young
dancers epitomize the Rising Stars theme. This solo (a sort of
elongated, emotive petite allegro) that the dancers have dubbed “Where
the Wild Things Are – for girls” showcases the two girls’ technique,
while illuminating their differences in style. Night is loosely based on Chagall paintings and gives an intimate look into a woman’s night of dreams.
Edwaard Liang is tall, lean and focused. His 2008 Age of Innocence,
made for the Joffrey, was instantly an audience favorite. Back setting
another world premiere on the company, he naturally demands and gives
respect to every one in the room. In a cleaning rehearsal for Woven Dreams,
Liang was compassionate (apologizing to the dancers for his part in the
drama of what he called a “frustrating ” rehearsal the day before),
intense (sternly quieting the understudies chatting at the back, while
working out a particularly complex sequence) and amiable (wryly telling a
male dancer to not lift him “I’m a big girl” and noting a dancer
getting into her part, even when marking “Live it, Yumelia!”). The
work, an abstract ballet with seven movements, weaves together
dreamscapes with Liang’s sophisticated aesthetic and, of course,
Joffrey’s technical prowess.
As I mentioned before, there were a number of casting changes
necessary, so unfortunately some of the dancers the works were created
on will not be performing them. We wish a speedy recovery to the
injured dancers, an empathetic hug to those not dancing this week and a
hearty merde(!) to the understudies now taking the stage. This is your chance to be…yes, rising stars.
Joffrey Ballet presents Rising Stars, May 4 – 15, Auditorium Theatre
Tickets: Joffrey Tower Box Office, 10 E Randolph
or 800.0982.2787, www.ticketmaster.com
*Umbrellas ($25) will be on sale at the performances, as well as
online at joffrey.com and at the Joffrey Tower on the 3rd floor.
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