Posted by: trailerpilot | 02:21::2009

The Joffrey Ballet

On what turned out to be a rather odd evening at the ballet (no complaint here), four works ended up having so little in common with one another that I found myself struck at the potential for variety within a major ballet company’s repertoire.  Certainly the Joffrey, and the rest of the major American ballet companies, has long embraced the work of contemporary choreographers and a good portion of the ol’ modern dance, but this was a mixed bill of a unique sort.

The marquee event was the return of 1987’s Millicent Hodson/Kenneth Archer reconstruction of Nijinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps.  It’s very well done and honorably danced.  Erica Lynette Edwards made The Chosen One’s Raggedy Ann mad scene vividly beyond control and free will; as though the hand of God were tossing around a voodoo doll in a perverse display of deity-as-malicious-puppeteer.  It reminded me more than anything of the “Dance of Despair and Disillusionment” John Cusack’s character forces John Malkovich to perform in Being John Malkovich (which I couldn’t find on YouTube, although I did find this).  I wasn’t aware or had forgotten that Nijinsky’s ballet is in two parts; the entr’acte–an interlude that plays while subtle lighting changes suggest a narrative within a painted front-of-stage drop after the Nicholas Roerich original–is more than any other part of the ballet a window into the European avant-garde of 1913.  I sat absorbed by the beauty and simple, alive composition of Roerich’s painting and one of the most ethereal passages of Stravinsky’s score and wondered at a time when those two sensory experiences in tandem would be considered more than enough “entertainment” for a moment–indeed, along with the rest of the ballet at its premiere, they were considered radical.

Décor for Act I of Le Sacre du Printemps by Nicholas Roerich

Décor for Act I of Le Sacre du Printemps by Nicholas Roerich

Nijinsky’s choreography, or what’s been rebuilt from notes and recollections, still is arresting.  I felt as though, even if some details were missing or changed, the overall aesthetic experience that was created in 1913 was most likely the same, and I appreciated what must have been an incredible amount of painstaking work, as well as protection from the reconstruction of Sacre any apparent artistic agenda on the part of Hodson, Archer, and the rest of the “forensic team.”  I was also rather pleased to see a few patrons slip out during the entr’acte–it’s nice to know that what once caused a riot still has the power to offend.

Working backward, the pas de deux from George Balanchine’s Cotillon entitled “Hand of Fate” was another blast from the past.  Having danced about twenty of his ballets, consuming dozens more live and on video, and reading numerous biographies (not to mention hearing endless anecdotes from those who were there), I won’t be shy about claiming to know a thing or two about Giorgi Melitonis dze Balanchivadze.  This little curio, though (also restaged by Hodson), with its haunting Chabrier score and beautifully dated 1932 designs by Christian Bérard, had me seeing a side of Mr. B I had not yet met.  There’s a pose-y trifle of an introduction with six “guests” I could have done without; it mostly serves to mask a quck change out of a costume only just put on, a transition presumably out of Cotillon‘s previous scene.  There’s also a little sexy semaphoric business with full-length gloves à la La Valse‘s first scene.  But the duet itself, once underway, reminded me of Balanchine’s on-again, off-again incorporation of hard geometries and spare abstractions throughout his career, points of interest easily forgotten (for me) in the shadow of his brilliance with music visualization and easy internalization of each of the classical vocabulary’s steps’ inherent rhythmic qualities.  This duet is much more work, both for the audience and its dancers (a blessedly clean Victoria Jaiani and Thomas Nicholas), but it pays dividends by sticking with its limited palette.  If I trusted it to be redesigned well–Martin Pakledinaz and a few others have done amazing work in the realm–I would like to see it again with less-obtrusive costumes so I could focus more on its patterns and subtleties.  It ends with a mysterious series of gestures, reminiscent of the second duet in 1972’s Stravinsky Violin Concerto, that seem to be the couple signing in unison a message into the distance–the long-distance call made from their shared thoughts and ideas.  It’s an image he handles masterfully and, seen as Chabrier’s score fades into nothingness, is absolutely chilling.

I won’t say much about Mobile, the 1969 Tomm Ruud trio.  The title is actually an acronym (Moving Objects Behaving In Linear Equipoise) and it opens with a bang, the three dancers (Elizabeth Hansen, Erin McAfee and Michael Smith) arranged before the curtain rises into a Calderesque balancing act (his sculptures and mobiles inspired the work’s composition, we are told).  However, they slide out of this construction, albeit with grace, into a series of increasingly static and decreasingly interesting angular pretzels, and none of it has much to do with the Adagio from Khachaturian’s Gayane Ballet Suite that Ruud leans on so heavily.  Were the relationship between choreography and music as thoughtfully balanced as the piece’s opening image, it may have made more of an impression; as is, however, it’s merely a glacially-paced procession of wow-moments only without most of the “wow.”

Photo by Herbert Migdoll.

Photo by Herbert Migdoll

Kettentanz, the late Gerald Arpino’s love letter to Vienna, is an odd counterpart to the rest of the program because, as its opener, it’s a bit of false advertising.  The stage is brightly lit and the steps don’t mean much of anything, even if they’re murderously difficult.  It’s a little too long to be without something at its center; a very long, very challenging solo, danced Wednesday by Valerie Robin, is too playful (and, frankly, too odd) to function as the focal point this work needs.  But there’s plenty of beautiful ensemble dancing.  Arpino gives a pleasing, hypnotic slow build of departures from unision to Strauss’ Gitana Galop (op. 108) as an opening and two pas de trois (John Gluckman and Aaron Rogers with Anastacia Holden, and John Mark Girgosian with Megan Quiroz and Allison Walsh) ably show off these six dancers’ efficiency and ease with the ballet-technical version of a bar exam.  Arpino seems tireless, in a way.  I never met or worked with the man, but he tries so many things that on occasion something really works and, when that happens, it’s always a joy.  I just wish he would sit with the moment a little longer.  May he rest in peace.



  1. […] places—Bronislava Nijinksa’s 1923 Les Noces—and travels to none of them. The last Joffrey show included Nijinska’s brother’s Le Sacre du Printemps, and again I’ll say I’m […]

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