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Joffrey Ballet: Chicago's classy cutting-edge company

One of the top dance companies in the world, The Joffrey Ballet graced Dallas this past weekend for the first time in twenty years. The program in Dallas’ Winspear Opera House included Edwaard Liang’s, Age of Innocence (2008), Christopher Wheeldon’s, After the Rain (2005) and Vaslav Nijinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps (1913). The three performances gave the audience a mix of emotion, romance, and history all in one night.
Edwaard Liang’s, Age of Innocence

Liang’s Age of Innocence left me spellbound and favorite piece of the evening. It was breathtakingly beautiful and I didn’t want it to end. Watching the dancers I felt like I could have floated down from the mezzanine and joined the Joffrey. The dancers took in the audience like the gravity of the moon takes in the tide. I could feel myself breathing with them, sliding with them…it’s how I imagine flying would be.

Age of Innocence was inspired by the novels of Jane Austen and Edith Wharton and captures the time of arranged marriages and the roles of women. Imagine the annual season of balls where daughters might be able to select a suitor. I loved the way Liang captured the romantic courtship and was reminded of the dance scene in Jane Austen’s Emma. It was dreamy and the dancers made everything looks so effortless as they lovingly melted into each other…truly beautiful! 
Christopher Wheeldon’s, After the Rain

Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain began as a pas de six with dancers dressed in steel gray. There were many memorable images but the dancers extensions were what left me gasping for air. There was a coquettishness that the steel gray woman possessed over the men as they manipulated them en pointe. The second part of After the Rain was a gentle and graceful pas de deux danced to Spiegel im Spiegel (Mirror in Mirror). It felt like an underwater Romeo and Juliet…so lovingly tender. There was an endless lyrical quality of Wheeldon’s adagio that was left you wanting to linger in the dancer’s timelessness. It was poetry in motion. Here is a version from the Australian Ballet. 
Vaslav Nijinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps

One-hundred years ago at the premiere of Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) in Paris, a riot broke out in response to the violent fertility rite that Ballet Russes performed. There was no riot in Dallas as the Joffrey Ballet performed the re-creation of Vaslav Nijinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps to Igor Stravinsky’s powerful score.

Nijinsky choreographed Le Sacre du Printemps on Ballet Russes in 1913 and rocked the dance world. The Paris audience was expecting tutus, tiaras and pointe shoes and instead got the primitive and shocking first modern ballet created. Nijinsky's ballet started a riot in the Theatre des Champs-Elysees with audience members hitting each other, stripping and being carried off by the police.

One-hundred years later, Le Sacre du Printemps may not be considered as avant-garde as it was then, but it is still stirring.
Vaslav Nijinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps
In 1987, with no record of choreography, Millicent Hodson (dance historian) and the Joffrey Ballet reconstructed Nijinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps using interviews, reviews, photographs and sketches to follow Nijinsky’s ideas.

Forty of the Joffrey Ballet dancers in vivid colors of native Russian tribes formed circular groups against a beautifully painted countryside. Ballet dancers that are usually turned out and en pointe were pigeon-toed and flat footed. Their feet were stomping, arms flinging, sharp angles were executed, long braids whipping…it was not at all what you imagine ballet to be.

Simple movements became more dramatic and primal as Stravinsky’s music builds. The main event was the sacrificing of the “Chosen One” who is to dance herself to death in order to make the sun return. Watching the “Chosen One” (Elizabeth Hansen) start to tremble with fear as the six men wearing bear skins continue to circle her, the audience is scared for her and you can imagine the scandal it caused in 1913. 

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