Chicago Dance Review: MILLENNIALS (The Joffrey Ballet at the Auditorium Theatre)

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by Lawrence Bommer on September 17, 2015

in Theater-Chicago


Opening its 60th season, the Joffrey Ballet literally leaps into the future with Millennials, a three-part program at the Auditorium Theatre. Closing Sunday, it features many bold new moves within two world premieres and one Chicago debut. Even if the majority of Joffrey dancers qualify as millennials, the rationale to showcase today’s dance is reason enough to offer pieces shaped by three young artists whose visions happily never exceed and thoroughly complement the company’s capacities.

1_Mammatus_Photo by Cheryl Mann

First up is the world premiere of Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s bracingly unusual 20-minute “Mammatus,” a Goth-like series of minimalist dark dances propelled by Michael Gordon’s driven score, itself a kind of frenzied fugue. Wearing gloves, knee-high stockings, and unbecoming black leotards (that made them seem slightly insectivorous or bird-like), the entire ensemble cavort and contort below bright, lightning-bolt LED tubes.

2_Mammatus_Photo by Cheryl Mann (2)

As they transform themselves into menacing silhouettes, clinging and creepy, the frenetic pace never lets up: En masse and in four duets, they surge across a sometimes foggy floor like storm systems in collision (as the cloudy title implies). Depicting the uncharacteristically white fourth duo, Christine Rocas and Fabrice Calmels have a soothing influence on this “organic chaos.” This is not a ballet to help you keep calm and carry on but, no question, it’s got something for someone.

6_Mammatus_Lucas Segovia_Anna Gerberich_Photo by Cheryl Mann

More traditional and even tender, the middle work is Myles Thatcher’s 25-minute “Passengers,” a world-premiere storytelling delight involving nine dancers in 50’s garb on a tempestuous train trip. (Its feckless resemblance to the random romances in Leonard Bernstein’s “Fancy Free” may not be unintended.)

11_Passengers_Victoria Jaiani (center)_Photo by Cheryl Mann

Embraced by Steve Reich’s mysterious score, interweaving between train station and passenger cars (in Alexander V. Nichols’ supple set), the straight and gay action combines and contrasts a lone woman, shadowed man, young man, husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, lost girl and attendant in assorted quarrels, separations and couplings.

8_Passengers_Yoshihisa Arai_Photo by Cheryl Mann

Using suitcases as stepping stones, the nonet lurch between declarations of independence and an unwillingness to let go. The fusion of controlled classical movements and expressionistic flailing and anarchic energy works well throughout.

10_Passengers_Photo by Cheryl Mann

Most satisfying is the Chicago premiere of Tony Award-winning Christopher Wheeldon’s sensuous 2007 “Fool’s Paradise,” a tribal offering that recalls Cezanne’s chain of bathers in its sexy series of connections and disturbances. (Last season’s reimagined Swan Lake was Wheeldon’s appropriately dramatic transformation of a formal ballet into a rehearsal-within-a-dream.)

14_Fool's Paradise_Photo by Cheryl Mann

As falling blossoms settle on the stage, Joby Talbot’s erotic score, originally rewritten for the 1916 film The Dying Swan, sends the nine dancers through trios, duos and solos, their barely clothed bodies moving through a golden haze. Creating living sculptures in tableaux of unusual juxtapositions, the abstract movements never seem artificial or cerebral. The sex here may be ceremonial but that only leaves more for the imagination–and, if Wheeldon’s paradise is foolish, then ‘tis folly to be wise.

12_Fool's Paradise_Yoshihisa Arai_Amanda Assucena_Alberto Velazquez_Photo by Cheryl Mann

photos by Cheryl Mann

Millennials: “Mammatus,” “Passengers” and “Fool’s Paradise”
The Joffrey Ballet
Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University
50 E. Congress Parkway
ends on September 20, 2015
for tickets, call 312.386.8905 or visit Ticketmaster
for more info, visit Joffrey

for more info on Chicago Theater, visit

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