"Global Visionaries" Review- The Joffrey Ballet's universalist program for Spring 2017

For it’s annual spring engagement, The Joffrey Ballet is ending it’s 2016-2017 season presenting “Global Visionaries”, a charming and engaging program of three unique dances, including the world premiere of “Joy” by Swedish Choreographer Andrew Ekman. On opening night, April 26, the performance of “Joy” was dedicated to Chicago theater legend Martha Lavey of Steppenwolf fame; this beloved leading lady  passed away on April 25th. “Global Visionaries”, featuring the Joffrey’s diverse and inclusive cast of dancers from around the world similarly showcased the work of globally significant creators of dance. The program, at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 E. Congress Parkway, will close after only 10 performances, on May 7, 2017.

Victoria Jaiani in "The Miraculous Mandarin"

First on the program was “The Miraculous Mandarin”, crafted by Russian choreographer Yuri Possokhov, with it’s fantastically imagined music splendidly performed by Conductor Scott Speck and The Chicago Philharmonic behind the Joffrey on the stage.

Victoria Jaiani and Yoshihisa Arai in "The Miraculous Mandarin"

The score of the  “pantomime grotesque” ballet of the same name by Béla Bartók, 1926, referred to as “one of the scariest pieces ever written”, was described by Bartók himself, “It will be hellish music. The prelude will be very short and sound like pandemonium…. the audience will be introduced to the thieves den at the height of the hurly-burly…”

The Joffrey Ballet perform "Joy"

 There is a hint of Ali Baba’s cave about the music, stage settings and costumes. The dance is a mock-frightening sexy atmospheric piece about three thugs, dressed in clever camouflage-inspired singlets and pants designed by Mark Zappone, who use the seductive prowess of the alluringly clad Victoria Jaiani to lure Yoshihisa Arai, a rich Mandarin into their den/cave. Attempting to save his life, to no avail, are an old man and a shy man, both danced with finely shaded  modern nuance by Miguel Angel Blanco and Temur Suluashvili.  The Mandarin is threatened by hanging and other nefarious means, and is temporarily murdered by piling chairs upon him. Jaiani, who dances inside, outside and atop a square cage, in which she traverses the stage in the manner of a balance-wheel, is stunning in her evil love-cunning; the duets she shares with Arai are flavored with incredible leaps and turns. Kudos to set/lighting designer Alexander V. Nichols for the amazingly versatile construction of effects.

 

"Joy", The Joffrey Ballet

“Joy”, by Swedish Choreographer Alexander Ekman, who also designed the costumes, sets and lighting, -lighting realized by Alexander V. Nichols- opens with the 17 dancers cavorting in happy stylized leaps in baggy tan suits to clever and teasing narration by Ekman about the nature of joy. Soon the company strips down to tan underthings, and they bounce and cavort about the stage with unbound tresses, picking up and dropping their ballet shoes beneath a large green tree and a huge pelican created in outlined light. Ultimately they all trip the modern fantastic in high heels, leaving the shoes in a muddle on the stage. The piece exuded gaiety and wit, the dancers bopped in time to the bluesy sound of The Brad Meldau Trio, the experimental rock of Django Django, the  pop music of Tiga and the driving beat of  Moby; the whole was a refreshing ode to happiness.

 

Derick Agnoletti and Anastacia Holden in "Mammatus"

Last on the program was “Mammatus”, 2015, the descriptive term for sagging porch-like cloud formations, ominous in appearance, but benign in actuality. Created by Colombian/Belgian choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa for 18 members of The Joffrey Ballet, the piece is overtly dramatic and technically quite demanding, aptly set to “Weather One” by Michael Gordon.  Consisting of a very special dynamic trio of Cara Marie Grey, Fernando Duarte and Graham Maverick, the piece also includes a number of complicated duets that accomplish feats of fierce acrobatic intensity as well as intense and intricate lyrical balletic performance by the entire vibrant ensemble. The dancing couples are composed of Anais Bueno with Fabrice Calmels, Anastacia Holden with Derrick Agnoletti, and Christine Rocas with Rory Hohenstein. These six and the rest of the company are all clad in black turtleneck leotard, knee socks and gloves; save for, by way of contrast, "The White Duet "of Victoria Jaiani and Dylan Gutierrez filling the eye with their luminous prowess. In "Mammatus", the Joffrey performs underneath lightning-like angled LED bulbs, literally dancing up a storm. Thanks to Dieuweke Van Reu for costume and scenic design; lighting by Alexander V. Nichols.

Victoria Jaiani and Dylan Gutierrez in "Mammatus"

 

Order tickets and see the upcoming schedule at the Joffrey Ballet website

All photos by Cheryl Mann

 

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