Joffrey Ballet offers GAME CHANGERS at The Auditorium Theatre

Reviewed by: Bob Douglas

Recommended

For its annual winter engagement, The Joffrey Ballet presents Game Changers, a program of three contemporary ballets by choreographers including Wonder Boy Justin Peck, Wayne MacGregor and Christopher Wheeldon. This bill of fare is presented in a total run of 10-performances.

The evening opened with Fool’s Paradise which had debuted here in 2015 with choreography by management favorite Christopher Wheeldon. It is an abstract ballet for nine dancers and moves through solos, duets and trios in a grand display of beauty and strength as the dancers’ bodies form a series of living sculptures while falling shimmering petals shower the stage. The gimmick of the petals proved lovely to watch but should not be the reason for a ballet. The choreography blended the classical technique with a modern sensibility and it was wonderful; to watch abstract choreography performed en pointe.

The second ballet was INFRA, another dance already seen here in 20112 and created originally for the Royal Ballet. Wayne MacGregor created this ballet after the London subway bombings of 2005. An extremely mournful score by Max Weber features a 59-foot LED screen suspended above the stage displaying urban animations which I found to be perplexing. The animated bodies crisscrossed during the entire work and heads never turned to look back, at a watch, to put hands into a pocket; what is the sense of it? Oh, I see – another gimmick. To me, I found the LED colors and moving images highly distracting from the 12 dancers working so diligently beneath it.

Photo Credit: Cheryl Mann

The only premiere of the evening was Julian Peck’s Year of the Rabbit, Inspired by the Chinese zodiac. This is Peck’s second work for New York City Ballet and is collaboration with American singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens. Set to a classical orchestration of Stevens’ electronic song cycle Enjoy Your Rabbit, Year of the Rabbit weaves its ensemble of dancers into intricate and architectural forms with grace to produce a visually arresting work. The minute the curtain went up I knew the audience was in for a treat! Mr. Peck is thoroughly schooled in the works of George Balanchine and his choreography showed it as well as showing up the work of the two others on the bill. Justin Peck is ballet’s wunderkind having migrated to New York City from California at a mere 15 years of age to study ballet with the American School of Ballet. After joining the New York City Ballet company, Peck has risen quickly among the ranks to soloist and recently was appointed Resident Choreographer of New York City Ballet making him the second person to hold this position in the history of the company. Amanda Assucena and Alberto Velazquez were stand out in their Pas de Deux. Brandon Stirling Baker’s lighting design was thoroughly captivating!

The entire evening however had its truest star sparkling and that was the Joffrey Ballet dancers! The company is in its finest form I have seen them and not a weak dancer among them. Bravi to all! The company is classically trained to the highest standards and not to be a pun: is on its toes! I am happy to see this today because I remember the days back in the 50s when Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino crammed their 5-member company in to a station wagon filled with costumes and sets and set out to take America by storm one small city at a time.

The current leadership of the Joffrey proudly proclaims that it is bringing “ballet for today – fearless and emotionally charged works from visionary new voices in 21st century choreography” with its offering of Game Changers. I beg to differ. Serge Diagelhev was doing this kind of work in 1920’s Paris with his Ballets Russes which would soon take the world by storm. I found nothing new in the evening and must say that the Joffrey Ballet Company is in such outstandingly fine form that it is a shame not given better works to dance.

Who would like this offering? All balletomanes that enjoy and identify with the classical tradition and enjoy seeing a finely tuned ballet company performing modern, abstract works..

Who would not like this offering? All balletomanes that enjoy classical story ballets.

Tickets and Schedule: February 15-26, 2017. Single tickets range from $34 to $159 and may be purchased at the Joffrey Ballet’s official box office in Joffrey Tower, 10 East Randolph, as well as the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University Box Office, by phone at 312.386.8905 and online at: joffrey.org.