Brits Triumph @ Joffrey

4 stars out of 4

Even as our British cousins stumble through the Brexit crisis, Joffrey’s season closer program called Across The Pond shows that British culture remains beautiful and strong.  Joffrey is world premiering two new ballets, and company premiering the third work, by Liam Scarlett, the resident choreographer of the Royal Ballet, creating a gorgeous athletic evening of breathtaking ballet. Don’t miss this end to a glorious season, and you only have a few more times to see our resident ballet company on the historic Auditorium stage.   

If the British choreographers have  anything in common beyond their passports and showcasing the world class talent at the Joffrey, it is collaborating with a good lighting designer: all the works in Across the Pond are characterized by brilliant use of light and shadow, of darkness and highlight which creates dynamic stage relationships and spatial “décor” that frames the movement and creates emotions in the viewer. Jack Mehler who designed two works and directed the design of Michael Hulls in one deserves praise for creating spaces and enhancing the sculptural aspects of the stage picture creating a visual feast that remains in your eyeballs long after the final curtain comes down.  All three choreographers claim to be music driven in their creation process, and the scores chosen are meaty enough to want to listen to on the drive home.

I noticed that all three choreographers utilize some form of circular structure in their work: circling back to an aspect of each piece’s beginning to conclude.  The Brits have clearly mastered formal structure and amplified it into something new and risky and pleasurable to watch.

The program begins with Yonder Blue choreographed by Andrew McNichol.  The curtain opens on a painterly vision of blue clouds, where bare chested men and bare legged women whirl through geometric phrases to music that is exuberant but sometimes wistful.  The legginess of the movement reminds me of colts frolicking.  The blue and clouds will slowly evolve into gray and then beige, while the back scrim lowers closing off a certain expansiveness. There is a visual stunningness to this work.

Victoria Jaiani and Rory Hohenstein are partnered in a duet that allows us to rejoice in her upper body use: supple, open, sophisticated. The piece seems to be about yearning, but also about ensemble and social setting.  In one section all 16 dancers are frolicking in a way that could be mermaid-like if it were not so grounded and human.

Next up is Vespertine, a baroque inspired kinda Mark Morris-ish piece by Liam Scarlett, who also designed the costumes, with notable lighting design by Michael Hulls. Here the chandeliers float like teardrops or chrysanthemum fireworks in the sky above, and dancers emerge from the void to swoop and spin. The bow is deconstructed. Adonis glowingly moves through all of his poses on a vase.  The dark lighting and wine red Renaissance inspired gowns make it feel like you are surrounded by wood paneling and stone in a great hall.  There is a singular section for the ladies where they dance in silence with only the sounds of their toe shoes to accompany them. There is a duet for two men that mirrors the duet for a man and a woman and the contrast is fascinating.  The choreography has a taut mathematical quality but the passion of the movement transcends any formula.

Finally we come to Home choreographed by Andrea Walker with down light squares that hold dancers in prison, and strobing street scenes. The work begins with several groups of children pledging allegiance to the flag, and two men in boxes of light staring at each other. Ross Allchurch’s score booms and crashes as the hand over the heart becomes and angular and harsh militaristic gestural sequence.  Fernando Duarte is an awkward uncomfortable immigrant who does not know how to fit it. There are no pointe shoes here, just sneakers: the movement is drawn from pedestrian gestures.  Home is a story ballet for our xenophobic times, an uncomfortable and moving work.  When Duarte finally meets up with Fabrice Calmels they have a duet where they are like aliens trying to figure out how to connect.  When they finally reach the hug, the entire audience can breathe. The dance resolves with the children’s voices returning to say With Liberty and Justice For All. 

Across the Pond  is a short run so don't hesitate, only playing Thursday to Sunday until May 5th at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E.Ida B Wells Drive in Chicago’s Loop.  For more information and tickets go to www.joffrey.org/pond or call 312.386.8905.    Or go to https://www.theatreinchicago.com/across-the-pond/10471/