The concert title GLOBAL VISIONARIES has a subtitle: Acclaimed Choreographers around the Globe. This subtitle indicates Joffrey’s intent for this program—to introduce works by contemporary choreographers who have their own edge in redefining ballet.
The Miraculous Mandarin
The first work The Miraculous Mandarin was choreographed by Yuri Possokhov who is originally from Russia. He invited the full orchestra, Chicago Philharmonic (premiered with Cleveland Orchestra in 2016) on stage to play the music that had been composed in 1918-1919 and scored in 1926 by Béla Bartók. Possokhov adopted the original story line from a 1916 magazine story by Menyhert Lengyel subtitled as "pantomime grotesque".
The set and the full orchestra on the proscenium stage welcome the audience even before the show begins. Smoke around the stage ceiling is reflected by lighting. A dissonance emits from the stage as orchestra members practice. Other sets, three white and three black thick ropes hang from the ceiling, and a metallic square life-size frame is placed in front of the orchestra. Later the frame is revealed as a window.
The Possokhov's goal is to re-engage the contemporary audience with the original music and story from the beginning of the last century. By contrasting sharp angular quick lines vs. soft, round, slow—even undulating—lines combined with masculine and feminine gestures and poses, his choreography demonstrates different characters and emotions as well as what is happening in relationships between the woman (Victoria Jaiani) and six male figures: three thugs (Raúl Casasola, Paulo Rodrigues, Joan Sebastián Zamora), an old man (Miguel Angel Blanco), a shy man (Temur Suluashvili) and the mandarin (Yoshihisa Arai).
Arai makes a strong appearance as the mandarin— with clean sharp angular lines and highly technical dynamic jumps eloquently defining the space. His movements spread tension. The woman, Victoria Jaiani, expresses alluring charm through her long flexible limbs and her body. The duet by the mandarin and the woman establishes a surrealistic four-dimensional mental exchange with sculptural resonance. Metaphors are used throughout the movement, set and props. Meanwhile movements define each character of the seven cast members.
The second piece of the evening, Joy, choreographed by Alexander Ekman gave the audience exactly as titled. We experience human beauty- individual and collective.
The program notes read, "Joy explores the feeling of joy through dance to serve as a remedy to our uncertain times..." Along with Buddy Johnson's Since I Fell for You jazz music and some humorous narration, thirty-two Joffrey dancers exhibit their "joyful" improvisation movement on stage. Female dancers wear skin colored tops and both male and female dancers wear shorts. Lighting gives the stage the look of bright sunlight. There is a tree standing on stage, which is otherwise bare. The scene looks just peaceful, comfortable —an open field
Next, one female dancer woith bare feet sets off the other women dancers who are holding their pointe shoes to the height of their chests, then letting them drop them on the floor. For those of us who can recall the painful experience of wearing pointe shoes or who can imagine the pain, this especially triggers empathic feelings. While dropping their pointe shoes, they hold a neat fourth position with some vocal call to maintain their ensemble action. The stage gets dark, and a neon flamingo slowly comes down from the ceiling. Sporadic lights slowly come back, and Joffrey's technically splendid female dancers— soloist level talents all— let all their long hair down as they start to move on pointe like flamingos, occasionally hitting their shoes on the floor loudly. Transformative lighting occasionally silhouettes the dancers. This ensemble often in unison by the 19 female dancers is phenomenal! On pointe, occasionally their feet are not turned out, but instead are parallel, then backward, or on all four limbs—all this suggesting many meanings.
The third scene then begins with Hansol Jeong coming to the front of the stage and finding something "joyful" far away or over there. He starts to swing his body as he smiles, and then all the others come close to him. They then all start to joyfully swing together. Even though we don't know what those people are looking at in the distance—it could be the balloon that Jeong comes back with later — this scene seems funny. It also reminds us of the danger when our mind is trapped in careless agreement without questioning.
Next, with Tiga’s pop hit Shoes, there is a punchy beyond-gender high heeled section by all the dancers, with only Victoria Jaiani wearing pointe shoes as she exhibits beautiful pas de bourrée across the stage. Dancers call out to move together and give looks toward the audience. The last scene goes back to the initial "joyful" improvisation dance. This dance asks "Why can't we create this together?", evoking the Garden of Eden and a sense of freedom.
As Ekman states, ”The most important question I always ask myself before I begin creating a new work is, Why do we need this piece?”, the audience can certainly sense that he asked the same for this work. He is one of rare choreographers who can depict metaphorical humor through movement and a clear message.
The third and the last piece of the evening was Mammatus choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. The title is derived from the Latin word for mammary cloud, a type of cloud that causes severe thunderstorms. The music was Weather One by Michael Gordon, which begins with the sound of a thunderstorm.
The dancers are wrapped in black leotards that extend from arms to fingertips, with knee socks. Female dancers wear black pointe shoes and male dancers wear black ballet shoes.
The movement's relationship with the music is superb and exciting. The choreographer exhibited her various rhythmic approaches to the same music in the same moments by different groups of dancers. The clarity of ensemble in unison is tightly kept even while dancers execute the fastest movements. Three duets in the black leotards come and go with occasional accented neck through spine movements that remind of birds. The synchronicity of sudden stagger and then unity are pleasing to the eyes. The last duet in white costume danced by Victoria Jaiani and Dylan Gutierrez wraps up the piece with a dreamy feeling full of floating spin and lift.
Ochoa's choreography reminds the viewer that ballet movement is fundamentally abstract and doesn't convey any story by itself. In comparison with Possokhov’s story ballet, her work here shows how movement focused contemporary ballet can fully amuse the audience.
Joffrey Ballet Asks the Right Questions
What is contemporary? Why ballet now? What does ballet can? Joffrey is certainly tackling those questions. These dances prove the power of ballet in this time.
It occurs to this writer that it is not easy to satisfy ongoing subscribers of the Joffrey season as well as single ticket buyers who may not get to see ballet as much comparatively. Joffrey makes a consistent effort to speak to both types of audience members, introducing both traditional and contemporary works. We see great creativity from these GLOBAL VISIONARIES. This program is successful for all.
Now through May 7, 2017
Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 p.m.
Saturdays at 2 p.m. $ 7:30 p.m.
Sundays at 2 p.m.
The Auditorium Theater
Tickets are on sale at The Joffrey Ballet’s official Box Office located in the lobby of Joffrey Tower, 10 E. Randolph Street & the Auditorium Theater of Roosevelt University Box Office, by telephone 312-386-8905 or online at joffrey.orgjoffrey.org