Joffrey Ballet “Voices under the trees”, a masterpiece from the era of the pandemic | Chicago News
When dance historians and critics are finally able to look back at the work created by dancers and choreographers between March 2020 and whenever the COVID-19 craze subsides completely – and when the assisted live performances by a live audience can revert to “pre-pandemic normalcy” – they will immediately be able to identify the dramatic change in style and substance of the present day.
Whether the defining elements of the “pandemic era dance” will exert any lasting influence is debatable. Hopefully the masks will go away, intimate partnerships will require less hassle, and the sound of live music and applause will once again make a happy noise.
The dancers, whose art is all about physical contact and breathing, have been exceptionally hard hit over the past year and more. Still, there has been quite an evolution as these indomitable and mostly suffocatingly masked performers left solo barre exercises performed on a kitchen counter and captured on home video; solo dance sequences assembled for increasingly elaborate works broadcast via Zoom; to meticulously distanced plays that took place in backyards, on rooftops, in parks, and on bare city streets; to (more recently), large-scale works filmed in artfully lit studios where masks and other strict safety protocols were meticulously observed even as a degree of freedom began to return.
The emotional backlash of all of these works is marked by a common thread: feelings of isolation, loneliness, frustration, alienation, pent-up energy, and the desire to physically connect even though this impulse is continually thwarted. Partnership has often been out of the question (although actual couples in several companies have been an exception). And choreographers working with classically trained dancers have often turned to the tropes of modern dance more than the vocabulary of traditional ballet. It should also be noted that along the way, technical production has become unusually sophisticated.
But this is the Joffrey Ballet’s world premiere of “Under the Trees’ Voices” – feverishly choreographed by Nicolas Blanc (rehearsal director and company trainer since 2015), and performed by 15 emotionally fiery and utterly virtuoso dancers. of the company – which could very well turn out to be one of the defining masterpieces of the time. More than that, it is a work of such beauty and such dynamic intensity that it can and should easily last under standard ballet rehearsal for years to come.
On the program of the exciting and rich dramatic “Symphony No. 2” by Ezio Bosso (1971-2020) – the Italian composer / pianist / conductor who wrote music for films as well as ballets (including “Within the Golden Hour” by Christopher Wheeldon) – “Under the Trees’ Voices”, superbly filmed in Joffrey’s precious Gerald Arpino studio, unfolds in four very demanding movements.
The dancers – who are dressed in vaporous tunics adorned with delicate leaf-shaped patterns (designed by Blanc and Eleanor Cotey), and are ideally lit by Jack Mehler (whose silky leaf-shaped clouds periodically float above stage at crucial moments) – look uniformly stunning as they enter and exit each of the ballet’s four stages. And Blanc’s choreography (with the women on pointes) artfully mixes current ballet themes, with characters who could be described as “the loners”, “the couples” and “the group”.
The “couples” include three “real life” pairs – perfectly matched Jeraldine Mendoza and Dylan Gutierrez, Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili, and Amanda Assucena and Alberto Velazquez. Et Blanc has created intense and richly acrobatic pas de deux for each of them. At the same time, he captured the painful longing of loners beautifully – danced fiercely by Stefan Goncalvez in the opening scene, Christine Rocas in the third section, and Derrick Agnoletti in the final section.
Also masterful is how Blanc intertwined all of these “characters” with the larger ensemble of dancers (all in great shape). They include Edson Barbosa, Valeria Chaykina, Anna Gerberich, Brooke Linford, Xavier Nunez, and Derek Drilon.
Blanc’s ballet, filmed with a tremendous sense of movement by Tim Whalen and Michael Kettenbeil, will air indefinitely and is free. Don’t miss it!
I also hope that once the Joffrey arrives on the stage of his new home at the Opéra Lyrique (which may well happen later this year), Blanc’s work will be performed “live” (masks and all). ). Certainly, in the years to come, it will serve as a “living memory of the past”.
(In another good news for Joffrey fans: the company will be returning to the Ravinia Festival this summer after a long absence. See details below.)
More dance notes:
Other streaming works from “the era of the pandemic” premiered in Chicago over the past year include the dancer’s version of Joffrey Yoshihisa Arai on “Bolero,” to Ravel’s iconic score, and the ingenious and varied pieces created by the four choreographers (Chanel DaSilva, Tsai Hsi Hung, Pablo Sanchez and Durante Verzola) which were the winners of this year Choreographic competition of winning works by Joffrey. Each of these pieces has been performed by impressive young dancers from the Joffrey Academy Trainees program and Studio Company.
And there is more good news regarding the Joffrey Company. He will perform a one night only program at Ravinia Festival (Sept. 17 at 8 p.m.), on the stage of the Pavillon en plein air. Four pieces will be presented: “Beyond the Shore” by Nicolas Blanc, on “The B-Sides” by composer Mason Bates; “Swing Low” by Chanel DaSilva, to music by Zoe Keating, performed by members of the Chicago Philharmonic; Itzik Galili’s sexy / zany “The Sofa”, to music by Tom Waits; and Justin Peck’s streetwise sneaker ballet, “The Times are Racing,” to music by Dan Deacon.
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC) has also danced a virtual storm in recent months. An example: “In Any Event”, choreographed by Penny Saunders, a former company, which was staged in a loft space suggesting several different places, from a restaurant bar to a wedding altar. Saunders wisely harnessed the power of the stories of his dancers and their special personalities and relationships, including that of the always exceptional “real life” couple, Jacqueline Burnett and David Schultz.
Meanwhile, HSDC’s next project is “Unboxed” (which will premiere online May 10, 17 and 24), a three-work program resulting from a collaboration between Hubbard Street and Final Bow for Yellowface, a dedicated organization. to “eliminate the obsolete and the offensive.” stereotypes of Asians on stage. The pieces, choreographed by Yin Yue, Edwaard Liang and Peter Chu (and presented just as anti-Asian violence is making headlines) envision their own versions of the Chinese Tea variant so familiar to anyone who has seen the traditional version. from “The Nutcracker Ballet”.
Add to this list the always intriguing Cerqua Rivera Dance Theater, whose cabaret setting in his new home, Epiphany Hall, featured a very refined group of dancers supported by an excellent live band and even a small live audience presence.
And finally, there was the performance of a benefit event broadcast by San Francisco-based choreographer Alonso King, LINES Ballet, a company that has visited Chicago’s Harris Theater for Music and Dance on several occasions in recent years. , and whose strikingly beautiful dancers undoubtedly should. be invited to return for a return visit.
Follow Hedy Weiss on Twitter: @HedyWeissCritic