The Joffrey Ballet Winter 2009 Review - Heating Up Winter

As my companion and I headed to the Auditorium Theater of Roosevelt University for The Joffrey Ballet’s winter program, we had a special sense of delight knowing that The Joffrey Ballet  is now permanently settled in a brilliant new facility in Chicago, Joffrey Tower. We were curious about the winter program, which can be seen until March 1, 2009 because it promised so much.

"The Rite of Spring"

Entering the beautiful Auditorium Theater, I was struck again by its grandeur.  It is magnificent and ornate, and the perfect setting for ballet as the filled theater affirmed. The live orchestra, the Chicago Sinfonietta,( the official orchestra of The Joffrey Ballet, was tuning up, creating a sense of anticipation and excitement.  Leslie B. Dunner, Conductor, led the orchestra masterfully as they played music ranging from Johann Strauss, Sr. waltzes to Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.

"The Rite of Spring", The ancestors in bearskins

The Joffrey Ballet has been known as “America’s Ballet Company of Firsts” during its more than fifty-year history.  ( The company has had a commitment to taking world-class, artistically vibrant work to a broad and varied audience.  The company brings its experience from former residences in New York and Los Angeles with it here, to Chicago and its permanent residence.  In 1956 Robert Joffrey founded the company that was guided by choreographer Gerald Arpino from 1988 until 2007 and continues to thrive under internationally renowned Artistic Director, Ashley C. Wheater.

"Kattentanz", the group

Kettentanz opened The Joffrey Ballet's  winter program. Choreographed by the late Joffrey Ballet Co-Founder and Artistic Director Gerald Arpino, it is set to the music of Johann Strauss and Johann Simon Mayer. In this work which premiered on September 7, 1971, and was influenced by the English equivalent of Kettentanz, Chain Dance, the dancers seemed to float, with the women's costumes of sheer, pastel fabric enhancing that feeling.  Listening to the lovely waltzes, I felt like joining the dance but I would not want to sacrifice the treat of watching the movements on stage executed to perfection. The Kettenbrucke Waltz with Suzanne Lopez and Thomas Nicholas was exceptional.

"Kettentanz", April Daly and John Mark Giragosian

The inclusion of The Joffrey Ballet premiere of Mobile, choreographed by Tomm Rudd with music by Aram Khachaturian was almost like punctuation.The contrast of this modern dance number to the more traditional ballet numbers, heightened interest in both.  The inspiration for this piece, a serene meditation, was the mobile exhibit “Moving Objects Behaving in Linear Equipoise” by the famed artist, Alexander Calder.  Ballet West premiered “Mobile” in 1969. It is one of Rudd’s most famous works and found in the repertoire of over twenty companies worldwide.  I can’t imagine a better execution than that of Elizabeth Hansen, Erin McAfee and Michael Smith.

"Mobile", Elizabeth Hansen,Erin McAfee, Michael Smith

Hand of Fate is a pas de deux from Cotillon , a George Balanchine ballet from 1932 choreographed shortly aft the death of the great Serge Diaghilev (1929) in whose Ballets Russes, Balanchine had danced and choreographed. This dance was thought to be lost, until Robert Joffrey rediscovered it and engaged dance historian Millicent Hodson and her husband, Kenneth Archer to reconstruct the entire ballet.  “Hands of Fate”, was last performed by the Joffrey in 1991. At this Cotillon Thomas Nicholas, a handsome young cavalier chooses a partner but ends up with Victoria Jaiani, The Hand of Fate. The pas de deux was well executed and had a haunting quality.

"Hand of Fate",Thomas Nicholas and Victoria Jaiani

Following intermission, a video presentation, The Golden Age of Art was shown.  I found it fascinating to watch and a helpful introduction to the next dance and was delighted to learn that I could watch it again on the Joffrey website. (

Chosen dancer, Erica Lynette Edwards

The evening ended with a performance of Vaslav Nijinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps ( The Rite of Spring) in honor of Serge Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe Centennial sponsored by the Walter E. Heller Foundation.  The Igor Stravinsky music to which this is set was very familiar to my companion and me but neither of us had seen the dance.  This dance is a reenactment of a sacrificial fertility rite and when it premiered in Paris in 1913, pandemonium broke out in the theatre with audience members howling, whistling, cat calling and fighting in the aisles. This ballet has been considered by many to be the tumultuous birth of modernism in ballet.  Since that time more than 200 choreographers have done creations to the score but The Joffrey Ballet version is recognized internationally as the closest possible version of Nijinsky’s original.  The US & Joffrey premiere took place September 30, 1987 in Los Angeles.

"The Rite of Spring" sacrificial fertility rite

Watching it this night, I was struck by the background, the costumes, the power of the movements, and the chance to see the way in which movement accompanied the music I know so well.  I found it captivating, compelling, and moving. How fortunate for this and future audiences that Robert Joffrey reconstructed it with the meticulous research of Hodson and Archer so that today's audiences can have this memorable experience of  the music, costuming and choreography.

"The Rite of Spring", spinning

The Joffrey Ballet  certainly did its part to call forth spring. Honoring Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes Centennial with Nijinsky’s historic Le Sacre du Printemps.  With the sacrifice of the maiden chosen to dance herself to death to bring the sun, and banish winter, spring should arrive.  Alas, the snow still greeted us as we departed but our heads were filled with the sounds of the music and visions of the dance.  This performance is a must see.

"The Rite of Spring", the chosen one carried away sacrifice to bring the sun

Tickets may be purchased at The Joffrey Ballet’s official Box Office
in the lobby of Joffrey Tower,10 East Randolph Street, Chicago, IL
or at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University box office, all Ticketmaster Ticket Centers by phone-312.902.1500 or online- or

Watch for Joffrey Ballet Chicago’s Spring Program, coming April 29-May 10, 2009

Photos: Migdoll/Joffrey Ballet

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