The world premiere of Incantations, the ethereal concluding piece of the Joffrey Ballet’s Spring Desire repertory program at the Auditorium Theatre, is pure dance magic, that moment when everything — music, choreography, performance — is in harmony.
Much of the credit for the success of Incantations goes to San-Francisco based choreographer Val Caniparoli, not only for his poetic composition but also for his canny choice of music. Incantations takes its name and its essence from a meditative score by Russian minimalist composer Alexandre Rabinovitch-Barakovsky. This contemporary composer’s work deserves a wider audience, and Caniparoli is doing a service simply by making it heard. But Caniparoli goes way beyond that, seemingly pulling the movements directly out of the tinkling score as if the dance steps were embedded in the music, just waiting to emerge.
The music and movements are at once sprightly and momentous, lyrical and other worldly. It is as if the dancers are heavenly bodies in the night sky, speeding up, slowing down, in rotation and orbit, in swirling, continuous movement. The unusual denouement into a pas de deux featuring Joanna Wozniak and Matthew Adamczyk is a gentle unwinding, the universe in a state of entropy.
All the dancers are superb, well-suited for Caniparoli’s moves, especially the thrilling alterations between turning and leaping choreographed for the male dancers, including Lucas Segovia and Rory Hohenstein, and a beautifully in-sync pas de deux featuring John Mark Giragosian and Yumelia Garcia. Also wonderful are Amber Neumann, Christine Rocas, Caitlin Meighan and Ogulcan Borova.
Form-fitting costumes by Sandra Woodall enhance the clean lines of the piece, although the body art on the backs of the bare-chested male dancers may not have been visible to many in the audience. Lighting design by Lucy Carter is perfectly cued to the music, with the dancers individually spot-lit at one dramatic moment.
The spring program opens with Age of Innocence, a reprise of a 2008 work by Edwaard Liang commissioned for the Joffrey. Liang says the work was inspired by the novels of Jane Austen, that famed choreographer of love, in which individuals struggle to express themselves beyond the confines of social decorum. Liang’s choreography did a fine job of illustrating that struggle — although why he chose to take the piece’s title from Edith Wharton rather than Austen herself is a mystery.
Age of Innocence opens with male and female dancers facing each other in two lines as in a ballroom, an apt metaphor for the sexual tension underlying Regency romance. Clad in elegant white costumes by Chicago designer Maria Pinto, the dancers move to music by Philip Glass and Thomas Newman that suggests an undercurrent of beating hearts. Jeraldine Mendoza and Maurice Villanueva perform a lovely pas de deux, followed by a group of male dancers — Raul Casasola, Aaron Rogers, Ricardo Santos and Temur Suluashvili — tossing off one jeté after another, a gathering of men perhaps paralleling Austen’s males strutting their stuff. Couples pair off, and when they reemerge later, the women dance freely in short attire, liberated from the long skirts they wore at the start — a sign, perhaps, that their age of innocence has ended.
Liang’s choreography is graceful and provocative, and the dancers do a good job of projecting the conflicting emotions they are meant to convey. But as much as Joffrey dancers excel at self-expression, they sometimes lack the unity of movement required in ensemble scenes.
Sandwiched in between Age of Innocence and Incantations is Jerome Robbins’ 1970 In the Night, looking a bit dated by comparison. Danced to Frederick Chopin’s piano nocturnes, played live by Paul James Lewis, In the Night is a trio of pas de deux that explores love at different phases, with Christine Rocas and Mauro Villanueva in the first blush of romance, April Daly and Miguel Blanco as passionate sophisticates and Victoria Jaiani and Fabrice Calmels — both outstanding — showing what happens when love falls apart.
The Joffrey Ballet: Spring Desire
Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 E. Congress Pkwy., Chicago
April 25 – May 6, 2012
Tickets $25 – $149
Joffrey Ballet box office, Joffrey Tower, 10 E. Randolph St.;
Auditorium Theatre box office; Ticketmaster 800-982-2787 or www.ticketmaster.com