Mega-companies like American Ballet Theatre and the Paris Opera Ballet head to Chicago with great fanfare and huge trunks of scenery and costumes. Meanwhile, the Joffrey Ballet arrives on the stage of the Auditorium Theatre and knocks you out with the sheer beauty, power and modernity of its dancing.
In fact, anyone watching Wednesday’s opening night performance of the company’s “Spring Desire” mixed repertory bill might easily have found themselves wondering: Why are dancers like Victoria Jaiani, Fabrice Calmels, Jeraldine Mendoza, Mauro Villanueva, Christine Rocas, Rory Hohenstein, Joanna Wozniak (and the list goes on), not every bit as famous as those in several other world-class companies? By any measure they are extraordinary. And let your eye wander to other dancers in the company and you will see exemplary technique and expressiveness in every corner of the stage.
The “Spring Desire” program opens with a rush of anxiety and passion by way of Edwaard Liang’s “Age of Innocence,” created for the Joffrey in 2008 and set largely to Philip Glass’ uncharacteristically melodic and sweeping Symphony #3. A fiendishly difficult piece that suggests both the formality of a 19th century ballroom and the psyches of 21st century men and women, it is now being danced with superb authority. Mendoza and Villanueva were beyond exquisite in the gorgeously romantic “First Dialogue” sequence. A dazzling male quartet (Raul Casasola, Aaron Rogers, Ricardo Santos and Temur Suluashvili) was clearly fueled by high-stakes competition. And the skeletal but ravishing and impossibly flexible Jaiani, paired with her ideal partner, Calmels (a giant of a man who flies across the stage with the freedom of a great eagle), were breathtaking.
In his classic, “In the Night,” set to Chopin, Jerome Robbins evoked three different romantic relationships, blending dance and theatrical characterization in subtle ways. The delicate but forceful Rocas and the ever-poetic Villanueva beautifully captured the passion of youth. April Daly and Miguel Blanco (tense but accomplished dancers) suggested a practiced formality, if little love. And Jaiani and Calmels danced up a storm as the volatile, “can’t live with, can’t live without” pair.
And finally, the fascinating world premiere — “Incantations,” by San Francisco-based choreographer Val Caniparoli, set to an intriguing score of chimes and otherworldy sounds by composer Alexandre Rabinovitch-Barakovsky, and vividly designed by Sandra Woodall (whose spiral-patterned leotards echo both the choreography and the coils of seven silvery hanging lamps), with magically sculptural lighting by Charla Metzker.
Though the piece, for 10 dancers, seems a bit unfocused at first, it gradually builds into something altogether hypnotic and deeply sensual with the use of various circling patterns, turns, centrifugal spins and glides. The elegant and mysterious Wozniak had a chance to seize hold of her often hidden star power here, and she triumphed along with partner Matthew Adamczyk. Also driving the piece with their propulsive energy were Hohenstein, Rocas, Amber Neumann, Yumelia Garcia, John Mark Giragosian, Lucas Segovia, Caitlin Meighan and Ogulcan Borova. This is a work that surely will continue to reveal its secrets in much-anticipated repeat performances.
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