Art that keeps speaking to us over time survives and becomes legendary. The Joffrey Ballet’s winter program, American Legends, offers us four dances, dating from 1945 to 2012, by choreogrpahers they consider legendary.
Jerome Robbins’ Interplay, to music by Morton Gould, opens the program. Robbins’ inclusion as a legend is a cinch: winner of Tony Awards and an Oscar, his more than 60 works have been successful on Broadway and in the movies (his West Side Story played both) as well as on the concert stage, including with George Balanchine’s New York City Ballet.
Interplay premiered in 1945; audiences at the end of a long and brutal war must have welcomed the dance’s youthful exuberance and light-hearted athleticism. The dance is still fresh and fun almost 68 years later.
It’s playful spirit is exemplified by Ricardo Santos, a good choice to stand alone in his green tee shirt with his big smile on the bare stage in the dance’s first moments.
The first movement, Free-Play, gives us hoedown steps, the leapfrogs that will later appear in West Side Story (1957), and jazzy movements done in silhouette, all of which are easy to like, while being intricate and quick-changing enough to fascinate.
In Horse-Play, featuring John Mark Giragosian, ballet steps end with a flip shrug or a hip wiggle, and some hammy sissones jumping forward end with a flurry of little self-congratulatory claps.
By-Play features Christine Rocas, a lovely dancer with a sweet smile and the fastest, teeniest bourrees (those shimmering steps on pointe) we’ve seen—so quick that they were blurred! She reluctantly dances with Alberto Velazquez, who pines for her on center stage. We’re glad she joins him, because Rocas and Velazquez demonstrate some exquisite partnering, with no pre-lift hitches that look like the movement equivalent of a grunt—ugh—during exertion. Instead, they melt into and out of the steps. Talk about “flow of movement.”
Team-Play is the finale, with the full cast choosing sides and giving handshakes that end with a cartwheel. Like the dance competition in the gym from West Side Story, the dancers challenge each other with more and more difficult jumps and turns in an exciting conclusion that shows off the company’s technical prowess. It’s also fun to see the women spinning with ponytails flying. Chalk one up for the legends.
Sea Shadow is presented to honor what would have been the 90th birthday of its choregrapher, Joffrey Ballet’s cofounder, Gerald Arpino. The ballet, first performed in 1962, is reminiscent in theme to Afternoon of a Faun, by the dance genius Vaslav Nijinsky. But unlike Nijinsky’s faun and nymphs, Arpino’s young man and sea nymph don’t seem to have any surprise or curiosity indicated in their choregraphy. There’s a curious lack of emotional content. A contemporary choreographer might have left out the minimal stage setting suggesting a beach, especially the conch shell.
What matters most, though, is what Jeraldine Mendoza and Dylan Gutierrez are given, which is some beautiful movement. Mendoza lies curled up on beach, his back to the audience. He wakens and moves about, exploring the scene, until the sea nymph shimmers in. The duet includes beautiful partnering, with swoops that suggest the nymph diving through the waves and some small supported sideways lifts with Mendoza’s graceful arms floating like sea foam over her head. Gutierrez has impressive ballon and a beautiful grand jeté. The dance ends with the pair lying on the stage facing us, the nymph lying on the young man’s back, looking as though they’re swimming out to sea. Has she enchanted him? Is he swimming to his doom? We don’t know.
Stanton Welch, Artistic Director of the Houston Ballet and well-known choreographer, created Son of Chamber Symphony in 2012, so its legendary status is pending. We can enjoy it in the meantime. The program notes tell us that the deconstructed nature of John Adams’ music inspired Welch to deconstruct the dance steps of the classical tradition for use in a contemporary setting.
Even the costumes, by Travis Halsey, are deconstructed: they’re inside-out to show the markings of their construction. The women’s platter-like tutus work wonderfully; they have a strong design on the bodice and they have the magical property of folding into a curved shape like a potato chip if needful and then sproinging back into their original shape. The tutu adds to the striking stage picture of the opening: The backdrop has a big crosshatch of four thick black lines. A man stands in each corner and in center stage is Amber Neuman, bourréeing in place while her disk of a tutu quivers around her hips. Smashing.
Derrick Agnoletti, John Mark Giragosian, Aaron Rogers, and Ricardo Santos are full of energy in their leaps and tours en l’air. Neumann, a strong and intense performer, does a series of fouette turns, whipping her leg from front to the side and spinning as she spots on different sides of the stage. Welch’s choreography is full of technical challenges that the group fully meets.
On opening night, the second movement was a showcase duet for Victoria Jaiani and Fabrice Calmels. Jaiani’s limber back and high extensions were on display as well as her pinpoint balance in the moments when Calmels left her on pointe unsupported. Even the smallest movements of each dancer are invested with attention that lends them power.
The third movement features Temur Suluashvili and April Daly, who makes a slow and mysterious entrance to join a group of six women, which she then leads. The group is beautifully rehearsed and moves in a satisfying unison. Everyone is fleet of foot. In the duet, Suluashvili circles the stage with light jumps and he and Daly impressively meet the demands of the choreography for strength and balance. The ending, with women on pointe, comes unexpectedly, just one more surprise.
The final ballet is Twyla Tharp’s Nine Sinatra Songs, from 1982. The popular piece has the dancers in ballroom dress, the women in heels. The very large disco ball hanging over the stage seemed to receive its own applause at the dance’s opening.
Casting the parts of a work being revived can be a challenge. So can costuming the dancers. Perhaps that’s why some sections of this piece looked awkward. Perhaps something was lost in the translation to other bodies. The dresses didn’t always flatter the dancers or enhance the movement.
On the other hand, some parts were filled to perfection, for instance by April Daly, who must have had a fast change and some hard breathing after her part at the end of the challenging previous ballet before beautifully gliding about in her gold-heeled shoes in the Sinatra work.
In other sections, Mahallia Ward and Graham Maverick were delightful as less experienced dancers, from a funny entrance to Maverick’s manhandling of his partner. Joanna Wozniak and Rory Hohenstein were elegant and well matched. Anastacia Holden and John Mark Giragosian were well cast and a cute couple.
Victoria Jaiani and Lucas Segovia made the most of their dysfunctional characters. Segovia is a tough guy, chewing gum continuously; Jaiani, in a simple red dress, is his match and has another one of those flying ponytails that can maim when she’s turning. Segovia lifts his partner from the floor by grabbing his way up the length of her arm; the movement warrants the number of repetitions in the choreography.
The evening was another of the Joffrey’s performances with varied and interesting choreography and polished performances.
Photos by Herbert Migdoll
Tickets and Scheduling
Single tickets, which range from $31 to $152, are available for purchase at The Joffrey Ballet’s official box office located in the lobby of Joffrey Tower, 10 E. Randolph Street, as well as the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University Box Office, all Ticketmaster Ticket Centers, by telephone at (800) 982-2787, or online at www.ticketmaster.com.
American Legends is performed Wednesday, February 13 through Sunday, February 24, 2013 as follows:
Wednesday, February 13 at 7:30 pm
Friday, February 15 at 7:30 pm
Saturday, February 16 at 2 pm and 7:30 pm
Sunday, February 17 at 2 pm
Thursday, February 21 at 7:30 pm
Friday, February 22 at 7:30 pm
Saturday, February 23 at 2 pm and 7:30 pm
Sunday, February 24 at 2 pm.