Joffrey Ballet

Joffrey Ballet – November 17-19, 2017
Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley

Contemporary Diversions

Joffrey Ballet, the resident company from Chicago, has had a lively week in Berkeley, presenting community events and classes, showcasing forthcoming choreography and being ‘in residence.’ Best of all was the variety of works presented on the evening programs. This ‘ain’t ‘classical ballet as we have seen and expect.

Of the four works on the program “Joy,” by choreographer Alexander Ekman is the most unusual. The dancers (almost 27 of them) fill the stage doing their favorite activities. The narrative voice says, “Are they joyful? Are they bringing you, the audience, JOY?” After a pleasant interlude watching dancers, jump, exercise on the floor, stand on their heads and hands, the stage is cleared. All the ballerinas enter and after an active episode, they hold up their shoes and do a ‘shoe drop.’ (The shoes are toe shoes: hard to take off, hard to put on.) The men follow and the entire company dons ‘high heels’, walks and struts and shows off. Alas no soft shoe, no tap dancing, just dance fun. A classical duet performed by Christine Rocas and Dylan Gutierrez concludes “Joy,” to remind us that that dance form can also be joyous.

Victoria Jaiani and Alberto Velazquez dance “Encounter” choreographed by Nicolas Blanc, who was a well-known San Francisco Ballet principal. To music by Berkeley composer John Adams, “Encounter” is a lamentation for the male dancer who is dominated by female. In their lifts and locomotion both appear equal, but the woman leaves the man. It is sweet work, choreographically employing more lyric arm and torso gesture than is usually seen in “pas de deux.”

To the two piano score by Philip Glass, Grace Kim and Mathew Long played for “In Creases,” choreography by Julian Peck. Peck has received much notice in the last few years as an important emerging choreographer, whose works have been seen with many companies including SF Ballet. “In Creases” danced all in white (though the men wear black socks) has many interesting geometric space shapes and patterns, but for the most part they dissolve into mundane designs and do not develop. The company is very skilled in all technical matters and carried it off well.

Finally the program ended with “Mammatus.” The word, according to the woman choreographer (Yea!) Annabelle Lopez Ochoa is derived in reference to a cloud formation. She says she intended, “To create an organic chaos … animal nature …the energy in nature.” Accordingly, a huge light design like a lighting bolt lights upper stage right and inevitably descend.

The dancers, in back leotards, knee high socks and long black gloves, present an endless series of complex moves, jagged, quick, changing direction often and generally capturing the restless energy. There is a trio, three duets and finally a ‘white duet,’ that evening by Victoria Jaiani and Dylan Gutierrez. The frenetic score is by Michael Gordon. For this reviewer, although the dancers (at least 27 of them) all perform brilliantly, the constant beat and drive of both the sound and movement became tiresome.

The program pictures forty-two dancers in the company. They all deserved applause and bravos for their strength, skill, performance ingenuity and general accomplishment. Joffrey Ballet makes us look at ballet with new eyes.

Joanna G. Harris

Photo courtesy of Cal Performances