Chicago Dance Review: STORIES IN MOTION (The Joffrey Ballet at the Auditorium Theatre)

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by Lawrence Bommer on September 19, 2014

in Theater-Chicago

TALESPINNING AT ITS MOST LITERAL

Running only through this weekend, Joffrey Ballet’s captivating evening, Stories in Motion, delivers three richly imagined dance narratives, complete with storybook sets, exotic and erotic costumes, and supple choreography to fully explore cunningly contrasted music played by an unimprovable orchestra. The result is unadulterated delight, enriched by the emotions that bloom from a well-told tale.

The Company in PRODIGAL SON, part of Joffrey Ballet's STORIES IN MOTION - photo by Cheryl Mann.

Opening the stunning trio is Elyse Borne’s staging of George Balanchine’s early ballet “Prodigal Son,” performed to a lesser known score by Sergei Prokoviev commissioned by Serge Diaghilev. Revived after at 14-year lapse, this spare and solid retelling of the Biblical tale of a son’s self-destruction and a father’s forgiveness offers seminal dance opportunities for a game ensemble.

Alberto Velazquez and Ashley Wheater in PRODIGAL SON, part of Joffrey Ballet's STORIES IN MOTION - photo by Cheryl Mann.

As handsome Albert Velazquez leaves his dad’s family tent, he hurls himself with sybaritic abandon into stylized orgies, accompanied by bald, frog-marching drinking companions who rob him blind. Abandoned by his comely servants (Derrick Agnoletti and Rory Hohenstein), the lonely lad is left to the untender mercies of a man-hunting Siren (salacious Christine Rocas). After being stripped and slumping like every Saint Sebastian ever painted, the erring child returns to the embraces of his kindly dad (Ashley Wheater, Joffrey’s artistic director).

Christine Rocas in PRODIGAL SON, part of Joffrey Ballet's STORIES IN MOTION - photo by Cheryl Mann.

Balanchine must have had fun inventing the quirky grotesqueries of these robotic revels. The short ballet is a swirl of hammered gestures, mechanical movements, even a hissy spat between the boy’s unhelpful companions. It makes the glistening grace of the bad boy’s dangerous duo with the Siren all the more eloquent–and it ends with a Pieta-like living sculpture of father and son.

Alberto Velazquez and Ashley Wheater in PRODIGAL SON - part of Joffrey Ballet's STORIES IN MOTION - photo by Cheryl Mann.

Rhapsodically romantic and unabashedly florid in Donald Mahler’s faithful recreation, “Lilac Garden” is a 1936 homage to 19th century ballet, set to Ernest Chausson’s lush Poeme for violin and orchestra. Originally set in the Edwardian era and created for his own reasons by gay artist Anthony Tudor, this “psychological ballet” happens here in the 1820s and tells how at a formal garden party forlorn Caroline (Victoria Jaiani) must give up any hope for lasting love. With butterfly fragility, she takes a forever farewell of her ardent lover (Dylan Gutierrez) and enters into a cold alliance with a formal and hapless Miguel Angel Blanco. But he too has a dalliance he must discard, a literal fling with April Daly, dryly listed in the program as “An Episode in His Past.”

Dylan Gutierrez, Victoria Jaiani, Miguel Blanco, April Daly in LILAC GARDEN, part of Joffrey Ballet's STORIES IN MOTION - photo by Cheryl Mann.

Against a lovely backdrop of painted curtains and a hovering moon, Tudor’s dances swirl and undulate, couples disappearing into the shrubbery in assorted whirling courtships followed by a society wedding. Never has the reaching out of regret felt quite so actual.

Victoria Jaiani in LILAC GARDEN, part of Joffrey Ballet's STORIES IN MOTION - photo by Cheryl Mann.

Finally, the most exciting dance-fiction is “RAkU,” created by San Francisco Ballet resident choreographer Yuri Possokhov. Alluding to the arson fire that destroyed Kyoto’s beautiful Golden Pavilion in 1950, it harks back to the Samurai era as Shinji Ehima’s percussive music (complete with choral chanting) conjures up a ritualistic Fabrice Calmels and Victoria Jaiani in RAkU, part of Joffrey Ballet's STORIES IN MOTION - photo by Cheryl Mann.realm. First performed in 2011, this historical fantasy employs evocative projections, screens, and scenery by Alexander Nichols to tell the story of a Japanese emperor (Fabrice Calmels, larger and swifter than life) who is separated by conflict from his kimono-clad inamorata (Jaiani). Her happiness is destroyed by a bad Buddhist—a jealous and pyro maniacal monk (Temur Suluashvili) who stalks her in a superbly dysfunctional pas de deux. (In contrast, Jaiani’s duet with Calmels is electric, perfectly synched and astonishingly acrobatic.) Punctuating the action are thrillingly tandem dances by busy, sword-wielding warriors (Matthew Adamczyk, Edson Barbosa, Graham Maverick, and Aaron Smyth).

Fabrice Calmels and Victoria Jaiani in RAkU - part of Joffrey Ballet's STORIES IN MOTION - photo by Cheryl Mann.

As recreated by Quinn Wharton, it’s a pell-mell saga of love and hate, perfectly pictured and textured with elements of Japanese folk dance and the slow style of butoh movement. The final moment, when the princess discovers that her love has literally gone up in ashes, inevitably recalls the dust of Hiroshima and instantly yokes an old past to a younger one.

The Company in PRODIGAL SON - part of Joffrey Ballet's STORIES IN MOTION - photo by Cheryl Mann.

photos by Cheryl Mann

Alberto Velazquez in PRODIGAL SON - part of Joffrey Ballet's STORIES IN MOTION - photo by Cheryl Mann.Stories in Motion
The Joffrey Ballet
Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University
50 East Congress Parkway
Thurs and Fri at 7:30; Sat at 2 & 7:30; Sun at 2
scheduled to end on September 21, 2014
for tickets, call (800) 982-2787
or visit www.ticketmaster.com
for more info, visit www.Joffrey.org

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