As though the puppeteer’s strings had been cut that had been moving their fluidly flying and angling legs, hands and arms, the eight Joffrey dancers gracefully folded into a single pile of Harlequins in their finale moment. There were audible gasps of appreciation. It signaled most in the audience to jump up to a standing ovation before they hailed a gondola to carry them home…
Oh, we aren’t in Venice but rather in Chicago—in its grand Symphony Center.
This was the second choreographed Stravinsky work of the evening performed by dancers from the Joffrey Ballet with musicians from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO). Pulcinella, sounding so unlike what most of us think of as Stravinsky pure, and more like the sound of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons that is performed ubiquitously in Venice for its constant stream of tourist hordes, was the music backdrop for choreographer Christopher Wheeldon’s Commedia.
Commedia might similarly strike any one-time visitor to Venice as a love letter to that romantic city that uses harlequins in art and commedia del’arte trinkets as its signature of sorts. Initially we meet the dancers in masked ball type attire, not the traditional more grotesque commedia del’arte masks. Costume designer Isabel Toledo--who has the daunting task of following in the footsteps of no less than Picasso to create garb for dancers to Pulcinella—and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, soon let the dancers peel away the masks and become a lithe moving deck of all jokers, that floats to Stravinsky’s music performed by five CSO musicians who seem a larger number, under the baton of French conductor Matthias Pincher.
For this writer, the relatively smaller number of musicians on the stage in some ways made it easier to zoom in and appreciate the excellence of these CSO performers. An early Ravel work, Mother Goose, gave us not only a chance to hear what one imagines were early stirrings of the composer’s homages to the sea, but also many personalities of Mother Goose characters created in the score. Flautists Emma Gerstein and guest piccolo player Kayla Burggraf do much heavy lifting in this and actually throughout the entire evening performance, including some surprise screeches Ravel put in that one imagines absolutely delighted the children for whom he composed this work. Patricia Dash on xylophone has staccato and scale that tell us we are in the Orient-inspired part of the work, Laideronnette, Empress of the Pagodas. When the higher pitch clarinet is in conversation with the bassoon, we know Ravel is telling the story of Beauty and the Beast.
It was easy also to imagine—at least for this writer-- that Conductor Matthias Pintscher’s touch went a long way to helping this program delight. The opening of Rossini’s Overture to the Barber of Seville seemed half-a-heartbeat more up tempo. Ravel’s Pavanne for a Dead Princess, though perhaps an unnecessary interlude between the two CSO-Joffrey collaborative Stravinsky performances, filled the hall with that work’s more familiar melody.
Some might also similarly find visual serendipity in how Pintscher’s ever so rectangular wide-armed stance as he first conducted ends up being a teaser of sorts for choreographer Stephanie Martinez’ Bliss accompanying Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks Concerto for Small Orchestra. This is a relatively short concerto- less than fifteen minutes- that seems to cover a lot of musical ground and Martinez’ choreography succeeds in creating the spotlight on this traverse of musical terrain.
Martinez shares this goal in the performance’s program notes, saying “..Its contrasting sections of reflection and exuberance make for a very high-tensioned ballet. There are quiet moments in the score, but they become more active and encompass speed as the music plays on. The first section is pure Bliss! There also is an abruptness and melancholy flavor throughout the different movements…” How fascinating to watch how Martinez somehow amplifies the freeze frames in the music, at one point giving the ensemble of male dancers poses that are somehow still kinetic. Towards the end, a tall male dancer seeming to reach high to catch a fly ball especially created a thirst to watch this and hear this, again and again.
You too may find yourself longing to see Bliss! again—and again—with a nagging feeling that it is flying by too quickly.
CSO and Joffrey Collaboration – Pure Excellence!
How excellent- from start to finish- this entire program is. Also, in this writer’s view, the pre-concert lecture by musicologist and one-time Joffrey Two dancer, Laura Stanfield Pritcher that should not be missed. From her we learned about: how Stravinsky’s talent was brought to bear on Ballet Russe performances and of his collaboration with Diaghilev; how we already know what a pavane is—that slow step march with dips done at weddings and graduation ceremonies; and how Rossini was into recycling, his Overture to the Barber of Seville being the third go round for that melody. More, it’s her enthusiasm for the program that gets you started on the correct foot, all pun intended.
Chicago Symphony Orchestra Matthias Pintscher, conductor The Joffrey Ballet
Ashley Wheater, The Mary B. Galvin Artistic Director
Rossini - Overture to Il barbiere di Siviglia
Ravel - Mother Goose
Stravinsky Dumbarton Oaks Concerto Bliss! (World Premiere Commission) by Stephanie Martinez
Ravel Pavane pour une infant défunte
Stravinsky - Suite from Pulcinella Commedia© by Christopher Wheeldon
Edson Barbosa, Greig Matthews, Xavier Nuñez, Stefan Goncalvez, Evan Boersma, Yumi Kanazawa, Evan Boersma, Stefan Goncalvez, Greig Matthews, Anais Bueno
Friday May 31 8 PM
Saturday June 1 8 PM
220 S. Michigan Ave.
Chicago, IL 60604.
PULCINELLA, THE MUSICAL NUMBERS IN CHRISTOPHER WHEELDON’S COMMEDIA © - Performers:
Yuka Iwai, Gayeon Jung, Yumi Kanazawa, Brooke Linford, Edson Barbosa, Evan Boersma, Stefan Goncalvez, Xavier Núñez
Brooke Linford, Xavier Núñez
Yuka Iwai, Gayeon Jung, Yumi Kanazawa, Brooke Linford, Evan Boersma, Stefan Goncalvez, Xavier Núñez
Gayeon Jung, Yumi Kanazawa
Yuka Iwai, Evan Boersma, Stefan Goncalvez
Gavotta con due variazioni
Gayeon Jung, Edson Barbosa
Robert Chen, Sylvia Kim Kilcullen, violins
Li-Kuo Chang, viola
John Sharp, cello
Alexander Hanna, bass