Chicago Dance Review: GLOBAL VISIONARIES (Joffrey Ballet at the Auditorium Theatre)

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by Lawrence Bommer on April 27, 2017

in Theater-Chicago


Leaps of faith meet jumps for joy. Closing its 2016-2017 season with a bold new offering by Alexander Ekman, Global Visionaries is a salute to the future and the world. Billed as an antidote to today’s pervasive uncertainty, Joffrey Ballet delivers three works—a 20th-century classic, a returning favorite, and an astonishing world premiere. The result: From now through May 7, the Auditorium Theater is at the center of the dance world. Seldom has movement seemed less random, even as it feels as natural as a waterfall.

Engaging but enigmatic, Béla Bartók’s 1926 pantomime ballet The Miraculous Mandarin seems a story out of context. With the Chicago Philharmonic placed on stage, the playing area is concentrated to depict the brutal tale of the title character: Three thugs both protect and pursue a woman (the always radiant Victoria Jaiani). They force her to lure a wealthy mandarin (Yoshihisa Arai) to destruction. Intervening in vain are an old man (Miguel Angel Blanco) and a shy one (Temur Suluashvili). Driven to desperation, the victim clambers through a cage and risks several deaths, including a pretend hanging, in his doomed attempt to adore the maiden. Rhapsodic and elusive, Yuri Possokhov’s choreography captured the frenetic intensity of Bartok’s celebrated score.

Completing the evening was Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s minimalist, 20-minute Mammatus, last seen as a 2015 Joffrey world premiere. Inspired by the thunderstorm-style cumulus cloud that takes the title, it’s punctured by a huge LED lightning sculpture by Dieuweke Van Reij—and finishes with a cloud cover of stage fog as Michael Gordon’s pulsating score ends with uncharacteristic tranquility in a lovely duet by Jaiani and Dylan Gutierrez.

Before that, however, the 20-strong, ninja-like company in black leotards drive themselves like storm clouds into convulsive perpetual motion. They’re occasionally doubled in energy by their shadows reflected in a backdrop. Ochoa prefers “organic chaos” to depict nature’s sheer asymmetry. We’re reminded of the angular and insistent movements of birds and insects. These cloud creatures engage or indulge in highly disciplined leaps and runs accompanied by the constant crescendo of Weather One, Gordon’s manic music.

In between the mandarin and the clouds came sheer sensation, a huge hit with the opening night audience. Originally called Episode 47 (since it was the 47th creation of famed choreographer Alexander Ekman), it was renamed Joy shortly before its debut. Rightly so—since in this playful and humorous work Ekman wonders for all dancers, “How can we express joy through our movements?”

Against the silhouette of a white neon flamingo and a medium-sized tree, the answer comes in a sardonic narrative that ushers in some wildly improvised fecklessness. Inspiration is intrinsically individualistic, it seems. Joy can look communal but its origin and outlet are as anarchic as each casual, non-conformist dancer in this free-form fantasy. Seldom has a dance piece felt so grafted to the personalities of the performers.

Clad in flesh-colored leotards, the dancers cavort to different drummers: Both men and women strip off their outer garments and flaunt high heels to jiggle “en pointe” (Ekman has a mild obsession with footwear). They “vogue” it up with attitude to spare. They noisily drop shoes for the sheer idiocy of the act. One happy loner just waters the tree. A man rejoices to a bird’s call, then gathers a crowd to join his watching, grabs and loses a balloon, and ends up on his own again. A lyrical duet briefly grounds the silliness in sheer style.

To reclaim a cliché, the 17-member company “do their own thing” amid Ekman’s merry moves. And they do it to an eclectic but propulsive score of experimental rock, psychedelic rousers and pop hits (Moby, Tiga, Django Django and the Brad Meldau Trio). Whether the performers were faking their fun or truly joyous, the audience echoed the euphoria in one of the loudest ovations in acclamation history. Visionaries indeed!

photos by Cheryl Mann

Global Visionaries
The Joffrey Ballet
Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University
50 E. Congress Parkway
ends on May 7, 2016
for tickets, call 312.386.8905 or visit Joffrey

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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