Joffrey Ballet GAME CHANGERS Review – 3 Course Dance Feast

Joffrey Ballet GAME CHANGERS
Joffrey favorite Yoshihisa Arai dancing in Justin Peck's YEAR OF THE RABBIT Photo: Cheryl Mann

Joffrey Ballet hosts GAME CHANGERS as MCA hosts MERCE

Serendipity! At the same time that Picture this Post is putting a spotlight on Chicago choreographers in conjunction with the Museum of Contemporary Art’s “MERCE CUNNINGHMAM: COMMON TIME” exhibit, the Joffrey’s GAME CHANGERS program brings us three works that similarly shine a light on ballet choreographers, who , like Cunningham, are the ballet disrupters of our day.

Better yet, these are three distinct choreographic gems whose gestault is larger than the sum of parts. The GAME CHANGERS works have in common being set to music by living composers. They include: Christopher Wheeldon’s FOOL’S PARADISE; Wayne McGregor’s INFRA; and the standout among standouts, Justin Peck’s YEAR OF THE RABBIT.

Joffrey Ballet GAME CHANGERS
April Daly and Fabrice Calmels dance in Ashley Wheater's FOOL'S PARADISE(C) Photo: Cheryl Mann


Striding out from the shadows under a smoky spotlight, two male dancers grab our attention in the opening of Wheeldon’s FOOL’S PARADISE. Soon the first flutter of golden petals rain down, as if we have taken front seats inside a snow globe. In this swirl achingly beautiful dance unfolds. We see duos, triplets, and more. Sculptural poses form and melt, morph to something new then melt again, and so on. These are dancing odes to Grecian urns that you hope will never end.

FOOL’S PARADISE is a ballerina power showcase. Like satin ribbons, they arch back seamlessly and flow forward. With their male dancers’ lift, they seem to float more than dance above the floor. It’s as if Wheeldon was given an assignment to make every ballerina the prima ballerina. While some of the male dancers might have had a few slight and subtle first night shakes, the female dancers were absolutely without flaw. (Dancers: Victoria Jaiani with Temur Suluashvili; April Daly with Fabrice Calmels; Chrisine Rocas with Rory Hohenstein; and Fernando Duarte, Amanda Assucena and Edson Barbosa.)

The way in which Wheeldon plays with Joby Talbot’s music is, for this reviewer, the most intriguing part. Originally written as a contemporary score to the 1916 silent film The Dying Swan, the music’s beauty might in other hands compete for your attention.

Joffrey Ballet GAME CHANGERS
FOOl'S PARADISE Photo: Cheryl Mann

Here though, Wheeldon artfully uses the dancers’ bodies at many points to be the harbingers of instrument solo flourishes. You see a dancer on point convey a delicate frisson and as you absorb the visual the score picks up tempo for a cello or piano bar. Exquisite!

The final sculptural pose of FOOL’S PARADISE alone makes this a masterpiece. One can only hope that the Joffrey will make it into a logo of sorts so we are reminded of it frequently and forever.


INFRA changes the subject immediately and completely—as if saying to us, “Hey, and ballet can go here too!” It is purportedly about a terrorist attack in London. We see walking figures created by an outline of lights on their everyday way in a walkway above the dance action below. Ballerinas twirl into 160 to 180 degree turns as squeaky electronic sounds mix in with a string quartet in Max Richter’s musical composition.

Joffrey Ballet GAME CHANGERS
Alberto Velasquez and Amanda Assucena in INFRA Photo: Cheryl Mann

(Dancers: Nicole Ciapponi, Jeraldine Mendoza, Anastacia Holden, Amanda Assucena, Christine Rocas, Victoria Jaiani; and Alberto Velazquez, Hansol Jeong, Temur Suluashvili, Yoshihisa Arai, Derrick Agnoletti, Rory Hohenstien.)

Try as you might, your eyes can’t help but be caught by the striding pedestrians above (Lighting Design: Lucy Carter and recreated by Jack Mehlmer)—which seems to be a spoiler for some in the audience, but for many of us, an interesting emoticon added to the ballet alphabet.

Joffrey Ballet GAME CHANGERS
YEAR OF THE RABBIT Photo: Cheryl Mann


Then the curtain comes up on Justin Peck’s YEAR OF THE RABBIT, set to music by Sufjan Stevens “Enjoy Your Rabbit”, an electronic album and song cycle based on the Chinese Zodiac. We see the corps de ballet’s arms and legs intertwined into a carets amidst Y’s pose. They return throughout to make one after another skyscraper finial with their bodies.

We are peeking into a doodler’s page who favors elegant geometric scribbles. Throughout the dance, the corps’ dancing moves in and out of the focus, and often creates a spotlight on the soloists much brighter than any lighting device. (Corps de Ballet: Anais Bueno, Valeriia Chaykina, Lucia Connolly, Gayeon Jung, Yumi Kanazawa, and Chloé Sherman; and Derrick Agnoletti, Edson Barbosa, Fernando Duarte, Graham Maverick, Aaron Renteria and Alsonso Tepetzi. Soloists: Amanda Assucena, Anastacia Holden and Jeraldine Mendoza; and Yoshihisa Arai, Dylan Guitierrez and Alberto Velasquez.)

If the movements weren’t so fluid you’d call them quirky. When two ballerinas are turned briskly like pivots in a pinball machine you want to reach out and say, “OH, do it again!” We see vectors and velocity. There is little repetition, save the sense that the ballerinas have acquired the ability to leap laterally as if propelled by cannon balls into space.

Justin Peck, foreground, leading a Joffrey rehearsal Photo: Cheryl Mann

What a treat to see Peck himself come for a bow at the conclusion of the performance. Following in Balanchine’s footsteps, he is the second choreographer in residence for the New York City Ballet. Seeing more of his work just went on the top of this writer’s next New York City trip to-do list.

This a treat for any lover of dance—HIGHLY RECOMMENDED


And learn more about the vibrant dance scene in Chicago—ballet and WAY beyond-- in the first of many Picture this Post stories, “Cunningham Through Choreographers’ Eyes”.



Through February 26, 2017;

Friday, February 17 at 7:30pm
Saturday, February 18 at 2:00pm and 7:30pm
Sunday, February 19 at 2:00pm
Thursday, February 23 at 7:30pm
Friday, February 24 at 7:30pm
Saturday, February 25 at 2:00pm and 7:30pm
Sunday, February 26 at 2:00pm.


Auditorium Theatre
50 East Congress Parkway



Purchase at The Joffrey Ballet’s official Box Office located in the lobby of Joffrey Tower, 10 E. Randolph Street, as well as the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University Box Office, by telephone 312.386.8905, or online at



Learn more about Chicago’s Vibrant Dance Scene HERE


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