After an incredibly successful world premiere of their new Chicago-focused version of The Nutcracker, the Joffrey Ballet continues its Chicago premieres with Game Changers. In his program note, Artistic Director Ashley Wheater described Game Changers by writing, “For me, good work, whether abstract or narrative, speaks of the human condition and touches the heart.” Each of the three works did touch the heart, often for surprising reasons.
Watching Fools Paradise, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, felt like watching a snow globe come to life. As the golden dancers perform solos, duets and trios on the sparse stage, golden petals fell along the back wall. The effect created a mesmerizing backdrop for dancers who often seemed like sculptures that came to life. It was like watching a sepia-colored snow globe with the golden costumes against the moving golden petals. At times the dancers’ movements showed the strength required to perform with such graceful beauty. The audience gasped when the dancers formed a human sculpture at the end of the dance. After the performance, the group behind us couldn’t stop talking about a move in which the dancers went from being flat on the ground to something that resembled a downward dog yoga pose, but with one leg lifted in the air. I don’t know that words can truly describe how impressive the move was as you watched it.
The second piece, INFRA, was created for The Royal Ballet after the London subway bombings. Choreographer Wayne McGregor used 12 dancers to create scenes of joy and heartbreak. When a dancer fell to the floor sobbing after the bomb goes off, other dancers continued on their way in a rhythmic movement reminiscent of rush hour when downtown employees rush to and from their offices. The story was a reminder that despite the tragedy, life goes on. A 59-foot LED screen suspended above the stage displaying urban animations, designed by world-renowned British artist Julian Opie, reinforced that idea as “people” move back and forth above the dancers. Our daughter was mesmerized by the moment when all the dancers were performing on the stage together, but in their own spaces. Each couple danced in a “light rectangle” on the dark stage that I thought represented their apartments. From her experience she saw the rectangles as classrooms. She said the industrial, screeching sounds and movements reminded her of active shooter drills at school. My generation had tornado drills at school. Hers will go down in history as the first generation to have had active shooter drills at school. The entire effect was chaotic, but soothing at the same time.
The final piece, Year of the Rabbit, a Chicago premiere, brought the Chinese zodiac to life through a series of short stories. The ensemble was precise and playful as they moved through the year. Each scene featured youthful dancers who made us smile as they created what has been called “a visually arresting work.” It was during Year of the Rabbit that the idea of The Joffrey Ballet as Game Changers took a different turn for me. The ensemble was a wonderful mix of people who came from different countries to create a beautiful piece of art. The program listed company dancers representing all parts of our human family from South Korea to the Republic of Georgia to Cuba to Brazil to France. Of course, many American states including Massachusetts, North Carolina, California, Utah, Wisconsin and Texas were represented. In Illinois dancers came from Rockford and Rolling Meadows to earn their place with The Joffrey Ballet. Watching all the different people, with different body shapes and skin tones, come together to create such a beautifully expressive piece of art was an inspiring way to close the show.
Category: Shari's Corner