Joffrey ‘Choreographers’ Filled With Adventure
Laura Molzahn on February 13, 2014
The concept of contemporary ballet opens up a whole new universe, not just of hybrid vocabularies but of limitless subjects — the timeless verities of the flash mob, for instance. Not to mention a whole new world of music. That spirit of adventure marks the Joffrey Ballet’s “Contemporary Choreographers” program, running through Feb. 23 at the Auditorium. Just for starters, the music for its three works — all created in this century — ranges from (French rock band) M83 to (classical composer) Gyorgy Ligeti to a recorded Christina Rossetti poem. Two of the three scores are postmodern pastiches. “Crossing Ashland,” by burgeoning local artist Brock Clawson, delivers a valentine to the everyday. Romantic but never sentimental, this piece for 16 opens with a crowd in everyday clothes pacing purposefully across the rear of the stage. But Clawson quickly dives beneath the surface, introducing a figure who hauls himself, belly down, across the stage on his elbows, a naked creature emerging from the ooze.
Floor work is just one of the challenges Clawson has for these classical dancers, though he also exploits their ballet training, especially in the unison sections. Despite the occasional detour into conflict, expressed in duets that could be danced with a bit more abandon, “Crossing Ashland” is overall a blessed shot of sun. Christopher Wheeldon’s richly layered “Continuum,” set entirely to keyboard pieces by 20th-century classical composer Gyorgy Ligeti, magnificently performed live, is a neoclassical masterwork that is stark, often moving and almost encyclopedic in its moods. The choreographer’s commitment, his definition and purpose require a huge investmentfrom the eight dancers, and the Joffrey performers delivered. Made up mostly of duets, “Continuum,” like Wheeldon’s “After the Rain” pas de deux, relies on the physical differences between men and women to create color and mood. A merry female quartet moves at lightning speed, while the following male quartet looks like Balanchine run amok, the men linked and entwined in fantastic contortions. Christine Rocas and Temur Suluashvili aced their angular early duet, while April Daly and Fabrice Calmels took my breath away in the elemental finale. “Continuum” is a tough act to follow, and, in fact, Alexander Ekman’s “Episode 31,” which had its company premiere at last summer’s Chicago Dancing Festival, is slight … but fun. Happily, its initial flash-mob energy, also captured in a hilarious video of the Joffrey dancers on the street and the “L,” transitions into a more nuanced, whimsical vision of childhood.