The Joffrey Ballet kicked off Chicago’s spring dance season this week with a “3 in 1” knockout punch, bringing together the works of one rising, and two luminous international choreographers who work in the contemporary ballet idiom, in one show. Following in the next few weeks and months are Thodos Dance Chicago, Alonzo King LINES Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Cloud Gate Dance Theater of Taiwan, River North Dance, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Giordano Dance Chicago, Paul Taylor, and more Joffrey Ballet. What a lineup!
With the Joffrey offering now on stage at the Auditorium Theatre through February 23, this mixed repetory program introduced local choreographer Brock Clawson’s “Crossing Ashland”, and acclaimed choreographer Christopher Wheeldon’s “Continuum” to Chicago audiences for the first time. Then Alexander Ekman’s “Episode 31” had a delightful return to the stage, having its Joffrey premier last August at the Chicago Dancing Festival.
Matching the contemporary feel of the dance movements in all three works was the music, ranging from scores by John Adams, M83, and Gyorgy Ligeti, to Mikael Karlsson and Erik Satie.
The “contemporary dance idiom” was infused, however, with classical ballet technique and steps and challenged the viewer to keep up with unusual shapes, patterns, and rhythms, from contemplative to dynamic and pulsing.
“Crossing Ashland”, aptly named for a very long, very busy Chicago Street, is, according to Clawson, “about the yearning for connection that exists in the human race.” It opens with dancers, dressed in street clothes, crossing across the back of the stage as if they are pedestrians going about their everyday lives. It quickly evolves, however, into a search for place or connections, as the dancers shed their street clothes for more traditional dance attire, revealing an architectural structure and elegance in which wonderful arm movements and designs motivate the entire body.
Although not a new work, having been created in 2002, Wheeldon’s “Continuum” has been described as “a stunning abstract rendering of music into movement and patterns, enchanting, wistful, and often profound.” And so it is.
Beautiful to watch, dancers creates images in space that are sometimes reminiscent of Egyptian flat poses, similar to “Afternoon of a Faun”, or execute classical lifts but have flexed wrists, ankles, sharp elbows, and angular looks. Wheeldon keeps breaking ballet rules, which keeps you paying close attention. These various solos, duets, or quartets, with dancers dressed all in green, against a green backdrop, are particularly striking. Performed to live piano and harpsichord, played by Mungunchimeg Buriad and Paul James Lewis, the eight dancers played against changing colors of light and backdrops in this clean, moving, neoclassical masterwork.
The program concluded with “Episode 31”, a witty, often humorous and inventive piece. More of a ‘dance theater’ work than a ‘dance’, Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekman begins the piece with a video of the Joffrey Company dancers, first shown rehearsing in their downtown modern studio, then emerging from the building and running down Chicago’s iconic State Street with high energy and ebullience, torsos throbbing, arms and fists pumping the air.
Then it’s down in the subway and on the train, the stairs and platform of the ‘L’, whose overhead tracks gives Chicago its downtown name, the “Loop”, and even its newest architectural gems in Millenium Park—the “Bean” and splashing in the “Fountain”. This is just sheer flashmob fun, especially to Chicagoans, as we see our city landmarks as background to such action. It is also entertainment for Chicago tourists and onlookers, who are either oblivious, stupefied, or delighted and captivated by the raucous behavior.
Set against this opening, as the dancers then perform on the Auditorium stage, Ekman’s seemingly haphazard choreography connotes the busy confusion and fast pace of the urban street. Here is a vivacious statement on “Contemporary life”.
Contemporary Choreographers continues at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Parkway, through February 23. Remaining performances are 7:30 p.m. Feb. 20, 21; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 22, and 2 p.m. Feb. 23.
Photos by Cheryl Mann