Val Caniparoli returns with a new work for Joffrey Ballet

April 17, 2012
Chicago Tribune
Sid Smith


There was a time when Chicagoans regularly saw Val Caniparoli on stage, as a dancer, visiting with the San Francisco Ballet during its stints at the Ravinia Festival.

That was decades ago, and in the time since, he has been hard at work emerging as one of that troupe's and the nation's busiest choreographers. It's in that backstage role he returns to premiere "Incantations," a work he's creating for the Joffrey Ballet and its spring engagement April 25-May 6 at the Auditorium Theatre.

Caniparoli, 60, still dances, albeit in character roles--"It keeps me honest"--and still exudes a boyish, sunny enthusiasm for dance, dancers, music and the collaborative process. "Incantations" began in his mind when he got up early one morning and surveyed his own recording collection, stumbling onto a CD he'd bought but apparently ignored.

The album contained music by Russian minimalist Alexandre Rabinovitch-Barakovsky. "It was like nothing I'd heard before, and I fell in love with it right away, which happens so rarely, but, when it does, you have to go with it," he said. "There's a rich instrumentation, strings and electric guitar and marimba, for instance, but there's also this energy, this other worldly sound to it. He was born at the end of World War II and he's still alive, but he was very much an early minimalist, and I don't think he has gotten the attention he deserves. He was ahead of Philip Glass and John Adams, and he sounds nothing like them."

Caniparoli describes a vortex, a circular energy he detects in the score that partly inspires his choreography. "I also discovered that a lot of this composer's work has spiritual and religious themes. That influenced me and the design team, including these Buddhist incense coils, shaped like tornadoes, that are scenically represented in the piece. We're fashioning this image of incense coils hanging and burning in a temple."

For the overall look, Caniparoli credits set and costume designer Sandra Woodall and lighting designer Lucy Carter, who also lit the company's recent mounting of Wayne McGregor's "Infra." "I'm very influenced by the dancers I work with, and the Joffrey dancers didn't disappoint," he said. "They're collaborators here."

"Incantations" plays on a bill with revivals of Jerome Robbins' "In the Night" and Edwaard Liang's "Age of Innocence." For tickets: 800-982-2787 or