Joffrey’s “Millennials” Review – Choreographers’ Dream Team

 

From the opening evoking nature’s force with lightening and a cloud rising, a swarm of black-gloved dancers in sleek black costumes (Costume and scenic design by Dieuweke Van Reij) move with angles that evoke claw and critter. 

 

 

Reminiscent of the new terrain once pioneered by Jerome Robbins in “The Cage”, which was an exploration of the instincts of female spiders to consider their male mates as prey, choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s “Mammatus” similarly evokes a feral world.   Hers though is not species bound but rather a movement vocabulary that seems to encompass the entirety of the animal kingdom.

 

 

 

At times the dancers’ heads do a quick bob and we think birds in flocks. 

 

 

Then the so exquisitely articulated black-gloved fingers of the dancers arch with their spines into something more predator like and we think pack or pride.  

 

 

The lighting changes from time to time (Lighting design, Alexander V. Nichols), in sync with the music by Michael Gordon announcing a layer of new explorations, perhaps of mating rituals in another corner of an African savannah via four duets, or of new cloud and weather formations creating the natural world surrounds. 

 

 

Ochoa’s vision, so flawlessly delivered by the Joffrey dancers, is to create a movement exploration of animal life that is not human.  

 

 

These aren’t puppies or other house pets, but rather a taste of the wild.   In one brief moment a duo seem to kiss as humans, giving us a jolt of recognition of how out of place that seems in the animal world that Ochoa invites us into and the ever so perfect Joffrey dancers bring to life.

 

 

Dance doesn’t get more engaging than this!  What a perfect opening! As with so many Joffrey world premieres we were left salivating to see it again-- hopefully soon and often, when this stunning work finds a way into the permanent Joffrey repertoire.

 

 

“Passengers”, a second world premiere in this ‘Millennials” program was choreographed by Myles Thatcher to music by Steve Reich

 

 

Many Chicagoans who follow Lucky Plush no doubt similarly were reminded of that group’s debut of “The Queue” last year.  Both “Passengers” and “The Queue” are intrigued by strangers who meet while traveling and also the unraveling of other relations while on the road.  Both works make use of suitcases to define the stage and give the dancers’ terrain a personality. 

 

 

While the Lucky Plush exploration of passengers made us laugh, this one this one didn’t.  What it did do was make us admire Joffrey dancers as they showed their stuff. 

 

 

Unlike “Mammatus”, whose thrill was still in the air, this was about smooth movements in more traditional ballet stance.

 

 

And then as if to underscore and remind that Joffrey Ballet is always about grace, choreographer Christopher Wheeldon’s “Fool’s Paradise” was performed to achingly beautiful music by Joby Talbot, rich in melodic passion from cello (Judy Stone), violin (Florentina Ramnicaunu) and piano (Grace Kim).  At times the dancers were bathed in gentle rains of petals (Staging by Jason Fowler; Costume design by Narciso Rodriguez, Lighting by Penny Jacobus and recreated by Alexander V. Nichols).  It all combined—music, set, and dance—to evoke a dreamscape.

 

 

 

For those of us who feel that a ballet performance is not complete unless and until there are moments of pure elegance “Fool’s Paradise” gave us a banquet of loveliness to linger in. 

 

 

“Millennials” was more than satisfying—it was a visual feast.  The glue that held these three disparate works together was obviously the astounding strength and grace of the Joffrey dancers.  From a choreographer’s perspective, it’s easy to imagine that the Joffrey is a dream team to bring their creative vision to life.

 

 

Performances of “Millennials” continue through September 20.

 

The Joffrey Ballet next presents the U.S premiere of the full-length, female-powered story ballet, Sylvia, choreographed by Milwaukee native and  internationally acclaimed Director/Chief Choreographer of Hamburg Ballet, John  Neumeier. Sylvia is the first full-length production of Joffrey’s 2015-2016 60thanniversary season, and is presented in ten performances only, October 14 – 25. For tickets call (800) 982-2787, or go online to the Ticketmaster website

 

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Photos:  Cheryl Mann

 

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