Romance Springs on Dance Circuit
For its spring season, the Joffrey Ballet naturally gravitates toward themes of love and marriage. But its Auditorium Theatre engagement, which begins on April 29, is not all awash in romantic bliss. Take, for instance, Bronislava Nijinska's 1923 Les Noces, on the bill to honor the centennial of the founding of Sergei Diaghilev's famed Paris-based Ballets Russes. Nijinska's emotionless Russian peasant wedding is more nuptial noose than lighthearted celebration – further accentuated by the thick braids worn by the female dancers. Here the bride and groom, against a shrieking Stravinsky choral score, move trancelike through their arranged union as they encounter walls of anonymous-looking dancers in stark architectural formations. Even the bridesmaids' pointe shoes seem to slash the air and stab the ground. It's a masterpiece on par with the choreographer's more notorious brother Vaslav Nijinsky's primal Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring). But unlike the sacrificial maiden of the latter ballet, Nijinska's Bride dies a slow, passionless death.
On the lighter side Helgi Tomasson's Valses Poeticos, set to piano music by Enrique Granados, can best be described as a love letter in dance as the artists move through a lush collection of short waltzes. Also on the program is the late Joffrey Ballet cofounder Gerald Arpino's ephemeral Round of Angels, which graciously unites souls in heaven.
Chicago audiences also get to see the long-awaited local premiere of acclaimed British choreographer Christopher Wheeldon's Carousel (A Dance). The former New York City Ballet choreographer-in-residence streamlines Rodgers and Hammerstein's ghostly musical so that it centers on the tortured, ambivalent love between protagonists Julie Jordan and Billy Bigelow. It's a sweeping exploration of trust and forgiveness. Of Wheeldon's Broadway-by-way-of-ballet aesthetic, Joffrey's artistic director Ashley Wheater says, “He has evoked a fairground of movement – choreographically mirroring a Ferris wheel, a rollercoaster and a carousel.” The Joffrey Ballet performs April 29 through May 10 at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy.
Historically, Chicago – though a rich haven for dance companies in many styles -- had not been able to sustain its own homegrown ballet troupe. Since relocating to Chicago from New York in 1995, the Joffrey Ballet has succeeded at becoming our city's resident ballet company. Its presence has no doubt paved the way for rising classical-dance groups. One in particular, Elements Contemporary Ballet, was established here four years ago by dedicated teacher-choreographer Mike Gosney. Originally from Wadsworth, Illinois, Gosney spent most of his life studying ballet across Chicago. As a teacher at the Evanston Dance and Joel Hall Dance centers, he has steadily been training a group of over a dozen ballet dancers who form the core of his company. Their upcoming concert at the Ruth Page Center is titled “Progress” as a way of announcing that the group has arrived. At a recent rehearsal, the dancers certainly exuded an impressive confidence and precision as they performed an excerpt from Gosney's new “Haydn Cello Concerto in C,” a sleek mixture of traditional ballet movements flavored with a wry hip swivel or an unexpected twisting inward. The choreographer calls his daring and energetic approach to ballet a sort of kinetic architecture for the music. Gosney is very interested in creating beautiful, streamlined shapes on stage that can be breezy and fragile; quick and athletic. A former astrology student, he regards the basic structure of movement from a perspective of the four elements: water, earth, air and fire.
This theory is exemplified in his other world premiere, titled “Gray,” an ambitious ode to the many shades, moods and dimensions of a cloudy, gray sky. Because it's set to Tchaikovsky's “Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom”, the meditative ballet mirrors the progression of a Roman Catholic Liturgy, beginning with the notion of the Infinite, then moving to Reflective, Melancholic, Harmonious and Serene, or a state of Inner Peace. The duet for the Reflective section gives the impression that the man is a pilgrim carrying a female religious statue. He reveres her and, through a recurring gesture of touching their fingers to their foreheads, the two dancers seem to be releasing their thoughts or energy into the universe. Deep, grounded plies contrast with airborne lifts and an arresting visualization of the man drawing out the saintly figure's aura.
Dancer Joseph Caruana's pas de deux, “Angel,” unites the sacred and the profane in a muscular yet introspective dance that shows the personal journey of a man who has found his soul mate. In it, he reflects on the various relationships in his life that have led to his true love.
Elements Contemporary Ballet performs May 1 and 2 at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn St.
The Joffrey Ballet's spring engagement and Elements Contemporary Ballet's performance reveal the limitless intersections between classical and modern movement – all embraced by universal themes of finding love and self-fulfillment.
The Joffrey Ballet's spring program runs April 29-May 10 at the Auditorium Theatre.
Elements Contemporary Ballet performs Progress at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts May 1 and 2 at 7:30 p.m.