The Joffrey Ballet's Spring Program Review - Closing the 2008 - 2009 Season

Spring is in the air, everywhere, the magnolias and crabs, daffodils and tulips, rhododenrons..and at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University the  Joffrey Ballet’s Spring Program is in “full bloom” until May 10.  As I left the performance, my ears continued to hear the music, while exquisite visions passed before my eyes.  I had a hard time deciding on my favorite piece because I loved each one when they were performed and in the end I felt rewarded and uplifted, my spirits soaring.

Les Noces (The Wedding)

An eclectic and romantic Spring Program featuring the Joffrey Premieres of Christopher Wheeldon's Carousel (A Dance) and Helgi Tomasson's Valses Poeticos; the revival of Bronislava Nijinska's Les Noces (The Wedding), in commemoration of Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes Centennial; and Round of Angels by the late Joffrey Co-Founder Gerald Arpino close the season. The 2008-2009 season, "Time To Move! Ten Choreographers, Five Premieres, One Company" was intended to showcase not only the company's prodigious physical movements and season accomplishments, but also actual move into, and first year occupying, the new Joffrey Tower, 10 East Randolph Street, at the high profile corner of State and Randolph in downtown Chicago.

I was delighted to see the Joffrey Ballet at the beautiful Auditorium Theatre because it is the perfect setting for ballet with it classic beauty, and being there enhanced the enjoyment of the performance as did the Chicago Sinfonietta  (the official orchestra of the Joffrey Ballet).

The evening began with a Left Brain/Right Brain Productions video, Joffrey: Creative Edge of Dance.  I agreed with my seatmates Kay, Kathy and Tammy that this was a wonderful, meaningful introduction to the dances we were about to see and at the end we felt it added to our enjoyment of the dances, themselves.

Les Noces (The Wedding)

Les Noces (The Wedding) opened the program.  This work, choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska, sister of the legendary choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky - who choreographed the famed Le Sacre du Printemps.  With Le Sacre du Printemps performed during the Winter Program, seeing Les Noces provided opportunities to compare and contrast.  Nijinska was also a member of Diaghilev's Ballet Russes and choreographed Les Noces for the company in 1923.  Les Noces includes a cast of 36 with dances in four tableaux: the Blessing of the Bride, the Blessing of the Groom,the Departure of the Bride from the Parental home, and the Wedding Feast.  It depicts a Russian peasant wedding at the beginning of the Christian era when pagan rituals were retained as family tradition.

Les Noces

This dance was powerful, haunting, primitive, and stunning.  The elements I found striking in this production were the power generated by the restrained movement, the use of legs and feet without the arms to balance (conveying social constraint), the perfect timing of the large number of dancers (they could put the Rockets to shame), and the primitive sound of the music.  In this wedding, the needs of the community more than those of the couple were stressed.  The words and music of Igor Stravinsky hauntingly sung propelled the listener to a different era, as did Nathalie Gontcharova's monochromatic scenery.

Valses Poeticos

This company's premiere of Valses Poeticos choreographed by veteran San Francisco Ballet Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson to the music of Enrique Granados was lyrical and captivating.  The onstage pianist, Paul James Lewis became an integral part of the dance.  Originally created for Ashley Wheater while he was a member of the San Francisco Ballet, this lyrical ballet evokes deep emotion through physical movement.   Neo-classical in form, Valses Poeticos transforms love letters into dances with intimate pas de deux and solos reflecting the tenderness of a couple's relationship.  This was beautiful to watch and at times,  movements defied gravity.

Valses Poeticos

The Chicago Sinfonietta was in place performing the haunting music of Gustav Mahler (Adagietto from Symphony No. 5 in c#minor, Opus 47) to accompany Round of Angels performed in memory of the late Joffrey Co-Founder Gerald Arpino, who was its Choreographer. It was inspired by an etching entitled,"Ronde d'Anges" by Cavaliere d'Arpino, as well as the loss of a dear friend.  With scenery by Penelope Curry and costumes by A. Christina Giannini,  we see this emotional ballet against a starry sky and it tells a turbulent and melancholy story of a couple, surrounded by five broken-winged male angels, who are destined to part.  The movements create beauty in the positioning of bodies in space.  It is ethereal and moving.

Round of Angels

We were told that the Spring Program’s concluding dance, Carousel A Dance, was to be our “dessert”.  It certainly was and a luscious one, at that.  My greatest problem was keeping myself anchored in my seat when all I wanted to do was burst into song and dance. The wonderful music by the Chicago Sinfonietta along with the cheography was so moving it carried me away.  C hristopher Wheeldon's Carousel (A Dance), a salute to Richard Rodgers was first performed by the New York City Ballet in 2002 when it was created for a one-time-only occasion, a gala in honor of Richard Rodger's centennial.  However, the ballet was such a success that it was kept in the repertoire and is now in the repertoire of other dance companies.  Wheeldon's choreography is set to two selections from the beloved 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, Carousel, the Carousel Waltz and If I Loved You, and is lighter and more pleasant than the Musical.  The work echoes the circular movement of carnival rides, evoking the gaiety and romance of the scene, as a colorful ensemble circles the stage and a young woman and man are isolated to find each other in a poignant love duet. Carousel (A Dance) was set by Christopher Wheeldon.  I loved the carousel and you will too.

Carousel (A Dance)

The performance schedule for The Joffrey Ballet Spring Program, April 29- May 10, is as follows: Wednesday, April 29 at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, May 1 at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, May 2 at 2:00 p.m. & 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, May 3 at 2:00 p.m.; Friday, May 8 at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, May 9 at 2:00 p.m. & 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, May 10 at 2:00 p.m.

Carousel (A Dance)

Tickets, $25 to $145, available at The Joffrey Ballet's official Box Office in the lobby of Joffrey Tower, 10 E. Randolph Street, and the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University box office, all Ticketmaster Ticket Centers, by telephone at (312) 902-1500, or online at  

Buy your tickets soon for Legends, the Joffrey Ballet’s 2009-2010 season with Othello, Nutcracker, Cinderalla and Eclectica.

Photos: Herbert Migdoll

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