George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins offered some of their choreography to Robert Joffrey when he was trying to launch the Joffrey Ballet more than 50 years ago. Christopher Wheeldon did the same thing recently, continuing the bond between the New York City Ballet and the Joffrey Ballet.
The opening of the fall 2010 season showcases the Joffrey dancers in four “All Star” works from the New York City Ballet.
Balanchine’s Stravinsky Violin Concerto (1972), a Joffrey premiere, opens the evening. Five dancers, clad in familiar Balanchine “costume,” black and white practice clothes, stand in a line, motionless, while violin soloist Paul Zafer launches the Toccata section of the concerto with the Chicago Sinfonietta.
Once they start moving, the ensemble, which eventually numbers 16, assembles and disassembles into various precisely executed, fast-moving groupings.
In Aria 1 featured April Daly and Miguel Angel Blanco on opening night in a sensuous and dramatic duet, with Daly making dance out of a series of backbends before a delightful ending.
In Aria 2, Victoria Jaiani and husband Temur Suluashvili brought dramatic intensity to Balanchine’s inventive intertwining. Jaiani makes the simplest movement of an arm compelling and beautiful.
The Coda is informal and happy and starts with the dancers waving. A playful mood permeates the Georgian folk-inspired footwork and arms. Even when the women are otherwise still, their hands flick with the beat.
Balanchine’s crowd-pleaser Tarantella (1964) also starts with a wave. It’s filled with good humor, fast footwork and turns, and ends with a kiss. Yumelia Garcia and Derrick Agnoletti, compact and feisty, danced to music by Louis Moreau Gottschalk in colorful costumes by Karinska.
The evening’s newest work (2005), and a Joffrey premiere, is Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain, set to music by Arvo Pärt and performed by Victoria Jaiani, Fabrice Calmels, Valerie Robin, Matthew Adamczyk, April Daly, and Miguel Angel Blanco. Violin soloists are Paul Zafer and Carol Lahti.
Part I opens with three couples in a striking pose before they melt seamlessly through a series of beautiful movements, sometimes in unison, sometimes in canon form. The steel grey setting and costumes match the mood of the music ticking in quiet urgency. There’s the occasional sound of something like clock chimes and a muffled church bell, or is that thunder?
In a series of duets, Wheeldon shapes the dancers into beautiful designs: the men skim the women into place as though sliding them on water; a woman is lifted into the air in a sideways split.
In Part II, steel grey dissolves into the soft pink of Victoria Jaiani’s leotard. Fabrice Calmels wore white pants but no shirt, which was just fine. The repeating pattern of three notes sounds like gentle rain, and the movement is slower and more sustained and tender.
Jaiani and Calmels are a good match. Holding the stage during stillness or in a very simple movement is a challenge these dancers meet, for instance when Jaiani, angled away from the audience, just leans against Calmels. He lifts her like a doll, her body making an X in the air. There are exquisite lifts, odd lifts, and backbends that echo the Stravinsky opener.
The audience whispered “Oh!” for the final moment and followed with a standing ovation and bravos for the piece.
If only the perils of performance, for audience and performers, were as funny as Jerome Robbins makes them in his 1956 work The Concert (or, The Perils of Everybody), another Joffrey premiere.
Late-comers who have to crawl over others to get to their seats? We had them opening night. Talkers during the performance? Yep. Candy-wrapper rustlers? People in the wrong seats? We can laugh at them, at least in Robbins’s delightful program closer.
After Edward Gorey’s charming show curtain got applause, it rose to reveal a bare stage, except for a grand piano at one side. Piano soloist Paul James Lewis adds acting chops to his keyboard duties as he crosses the stage and prepares himself and his dusty piano for a Chopin concert.
Gradually the audience for Lewis’s concert come onto the stage, all wearing pale blue unitards, hats, and some miscellaneous item: a tie, vest, glasses. In a series of scenes, a music lover, a pair of chatty women (see also candy wrappers), the pianist’s groupie in a big hat, and others are all drawn in quick, funny caricature.
Robbins has fun with the performers as well as the audience.
“Nerd” John Mark Giragosian is delightful when unexpectedly pressed into service as a dance partner. He struggles through a dramatic pas de deux, trying to keep up, gamely striking danseur poses before his partner, Victoria Jaiani, has to leave the stage incapacitated: on pointe in a very deep second position plie, surely one of the best stage exits ever devised.
The men of the ensemble crisscross the stage, lugging the women in various tucked or sprawled positions or in doll-like poses reminiscent of those in Coppelia or The Nutcracker, stretching them on the floor, rearranging the order (to laughs and gasps from the audience), and finally plopping them into place at the last possible moment.
April Daly, Jamie Hickey, Amber Newman, Alexis Polito, Christine Rocas, and Jenny Winton had well-deserved laughs as a group of severely under-rehearsed dancers trying to keep themselves and each other in line.
April Daly also plays the domineering Wife to Matthew Adamczyk’s Walter Mitty-ish Husband, whose fantasies are part of the perils of being carried away by the music.
In the end, the cast has all turned into butterflies, and the beleaguered pianist takes matters into his own hands…or rather butterfly net.
After an evening of beauty and fizz, it’s a pleasure to end the evening laughing.
The program runs through October 24, 2010.
50 E. Congress Parkway
Wednesday, October 13 at 7:30 p.m.;
Friday, October 15 at 7:30 p.m.;
Saturday, October 16 at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.;
Sunday, October 17 at 2:00 p.m.;
Thursday, October 21 at 7:30 p.m.;
Friday, October 22 at 7:30 p.m.;
Saturday, October 23 at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.;
Sunday, October 24 at 2:00 p.m.
Joffrey Ballet box office, in the lobby of 10 E. Randolph Street;
Auditorium Theatre box office: 50 E. Congress Parkway;
Ticketmaster Ticket Centers: (800) 982-2787 or online at www.ticketmaster.com
Photos: Herbert Migdoll