An Electric and Erratic ‘Eclectica’ at Joffrey Ballet

Joffrey Ballet performs Jessica Lang’s “Crossed”

Joffrey Ballet offers three unique visions in their aptly titled new show, Eclectica. You have the classic piece choreographed 40 years ago by Gerald Arpino; the newcomer, Jessica Lang, whose world premier blends religion with modern dance; and a new piece by universally-praised ballet artist James Kudelka. These three works each bring inspired approaches to interpreting music through dance.

I’m no dance expert, but I enjoy watching and discovering how the body can be manipulated to convey a story, or, at at the very least, a vision. In a video introduction that kicks off the evening, I was amazed to learn that both Lang and Kudelka came to the rehearsal room with no firm ideas (i.e., dance steps) in mind — the only things they brought along were a general concept and the music. Planning be dammed: Art is born from of-the-moment inspiration, apparently.

But first the classic piece. Reflections is a Joffrey standard, choreographed by Joffrey co-founder Arpino in 1971 and set to Tchaikovsky’s “Variations on a Rococo Theme.” It represents the “Arpino” style — high lifts, a flying pace and classic beauty. Or, just watch this video clip to get a better sense. Twenty minutes of beauty, delicacy and energy. For this performance, Tchaikovsky’s music is reduced to a cello and piano. While the cellist last night seemed to experience difficulties in some of the higher passages, and there were a few noticeable synch issues with the dancers and the melody line, it was a lovely and lively way to open the evening.

Lang’s Crossed uses music composed by Mozart, Handel and des Prez originally commissioned for the Church. (Get it: Crossed?) To hit this point home, a series of floating panels intersect the stage, forming crosses, barriers and screens for dancers to hide behind and make seamless entrances and exists. Lang finds moments of athletic joy (and subtle humor) in some pretty somber music compositions. Her use of angles and lifts echo her past experience as a member of Twyla Tharp’s company. A few extra dress rehearsals may have helped smooth out last night’s wrinkles: a dancer fell, a few others were noticeably wobbly, and one of the moving panels inelegantly slammed to the stage, with an offstage voice yelling “Whoa!” However, judging from the audience reaction at the piece’s conclusion, Lang has a bright future ahead of her.

Finally, Kudelka’s Pretty BALLET “explores the balance between romantic ideals and industrial ideas as they relate to art,” or so explains the program notes. I’m not sure I got all that, but there is a lovely pas de deux that demonstrates the relationship between an artist and his muse. (My friend Jamie, who went with me, had a unique interpretation of the piece: she thought it was about robots vs. ballerinas.) Using Bohuslav Martinů’s Symphony No. 2 as inspiration, the movement is playful and athletic, if repetitive. But maybe that was the industrial part?

Overall, a beautiful night, though a touch under-rehearsed. And it’s always a joy to sit in the stunning Auditorium Theatre. Although, I do miss hearing the richness of a live orchestra accompanying this world-class ballet company. Both Crossed and Pretty BALLET used recorded tracks. (I thought the Chicago Sinfonietta was the resident orchestra for the Joffrey Ballet?) Something’s always missing when dancers pour their hearts into interpreting canned music.

“Eclectica” plays through May 9 at the Auditorium Theatre. Go here for more information >

3 thoughts on “An Electric and Erratic ‘Eclectica’ at Joffrey Ballet

  1. Hi Addict,

    Yes, the Chicago Sinfonietta is the official orchestra of the Joffrey Ballet. Due to budget constraints the Sinfonietta can only perform certain concerts with the Joffrey. The Sinfonietta will be back next season for more performances with this incredible dance company.

    Jim Hirsch
    Executive Director
    Chicago Sinfonietta

    1. Thanks for the insight, Jim! I’ve been to some wonderful Sinfonietta concerts at Orchestra Hall recently, and hope to attend more in the very near future.

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